Going the Distance: Five Tips on Running a Long Distance Race

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You've seen them out there: lanky runners with six-pack abs. They wake up at 4 a.m. for a daily dose of torture and then diligently count calories. Often spotted in tennis shoes and sports jackets, they can be found talking numbers, stretching at random, or showing off on the treadmill. 

The elite runner is a rare and intimidating breed, but long-distance running has been rapidly gaining popularity as an accessible, mainstream sport. If you don't do it to experience that famous runner's high, then at least do it for the killer leg muscles. Don't know where to start? We can help.

Want to run a long-distance race? Find our tips after the jump.

1. Commit
The sooner you have a plan the better. For local races, head to www.arizonaroadracers.com and do some race research. Pick a race based on mileage, scenery, difficulty, attendance, and registration price. Don't skimp out on a little research or you'll be stuck climbing 1,000 feet in your first race. Next, pay your registration fee immediately. Money commits you in a way that determination can't.

The next step is choosing a goal and finding an appropriate training plan. There's plenty of websites that offer a basic training plan. Click here for help evaluating an ideal pace goal, and visit here or here for some training plan ideas. We chose this "Break 2:00 or Bust" plan below from the July 2010 issue of Runner's World.

2. Prepare
Preparation starts weeks before race day. Runners need to pay attention to what they eat to ensure a proper intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and overall fuel. Start evaluating what you eat and pay attention to how it affects your workouts. 

Also, don't wait until the last minute to buy new shoes and gear. One of the worst mistakes runner's make is rocking new gear the day of the race -- holy chaffing and blisters. Check out Sole Sports or Runner's Den.

3. Train
This one is obvious -- so don't screw it up. It's not a big deal to stray from the training plan a couple times, but making it a habit means you're not following the plan and therefore might not make your goal. 

Even the rest days are important. If nothing else, try not to miss your long runs or speed workouts -- they are the most important to your success.

4. Practice
Use your weekly long runs as a practice for race day. Test which pre-run dinner gives you the most energy. Try out your race-day running gear. Play with different snack options and practice drinking water without breaking pace -- it sounds simple. It's not.

5. Stay Healthy
There's nothing like a bad cold or injury to put your plan, or worse race, on hold so do your best to prevent common ailments. Stretch before and after runs and try to incorporate cross-training or strength exercises into your week early on in the plan. 

Strengthening and stretching muscles helps prevent injury. Ice often, get plenty of sleep, and take your vitamins.

Note: The Highs and Lows
The first few weeks of training, and then some weeks here and there, are going to be extremely tiring. Try to look at as a good thing. Man I'm sore. Glad I got a good workout! Some mornings, everything is going to go right. Your shoes will feel great, your lungs will feel calm, and your legs will feel strong. Those days you'll reach a new speed. Remember those days. Some days, for apparently no reason at all you're going to be tired, sore and out of breath. Don't take it too seriously. It's just a bad day.

The best week in training is near the end, when suddenly your hard runs don't seem hard anymore. Shockingly, they're actually kind of fun. After weeks of seeing no progress, suddenly all the results will hit at once and you'll feel great. That's how you know you're ready. Enjoy it. When race day arrives try to trust your training. Don't push the speed or cut yourself short. You've become one of them.

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