The Pros & Cons of Going the Distance!
Just to start, I’ll admit that I have not been as a serious runner as I was before ever since I became more interested in strength training. However, I was a very dedicated runner for about five years starting when I was fifteen. And I mean dedicated. Wake up at 4 am to run before an early obligation kind of dedicated. I competed in Cross Country and Track and Field in high school. Then, during my first year of college, I competed in multiple long-distance trail runs here in California. I ran mostly every day with a focus on beating my PRs (personal records). My Spanish/History Teacher later became my running coach, and we’d go out for runs as well. He’s participated in multiple marathons and trail races.
For me personally, running taught me a lot about life. Most importantly, it helped me build my self-esteem and confidence. Something I did not grow up with. Long-distance running was actually a very spiritual experience for me. I always had to look deep within myself in order to find that extra strength I needed to go a little faster and just a little farther. With this, I want to share with you a few Pros and Cons about long-distance running from my own and my ex-coach’s experiences!
Confidence: It’s one thing to do a couple of laps around the block. It’s another putting in those miles and going the distance frequently. You begin to develop loads of confidence; not just as a runner, but as a person in general. You become comfortable with pushing yourself to your limits and facing new challenges. This will allow you to build a head-on approach to things in life. Best of all, you’ll begin to see the inner strength and fortitude that you most likely never knew you had!
Growth Mindset: To be completely honest, you won’t always have a good run. Some days you’ll be too dehydrated. Too injured to push yourself as much as you wanted. Or just too out of the zone to truly focus on your run. Also, keep in mind that unless you’ve been running for some time and now want to kick it up a notch, you’re going to need to start small. The best approach is to have a growth mindset. Fall in love with the process. Realize that it’ll take plenty of time, effort, and dedication to get where you want to be. You’ll have miniature failures but also small successes. Luckily with time and patience, these small ups and downs will allow you to become the runner (or even person) that you’re working on becoming.
The Runners' Community: Runner Communities are perhaps the most supportive group that I’ve ever come to know.
Yes. As individuals, runners are very competitive. However, as a group, they’ll cheer you on even if they’re racing with you and eating your dust! If you join a runner’s community to train and practice, it’s also a great way to improve and get better. Trust me, nothing breaks a PR faster than you trying to beat a person that runs a mile just five seconds faster than you.
Discipline: I remember when I used to train for a race my mom would ask me, “Why do you run every day? Can’t you take a break just once? It’s…raining…cold outside…too dangerous…over 90 degrees!” My response would always be, “If I don’t do it, no one will do it for me. No one is going to build the endurance I need for my race and then magically transfer it to me on race day.”
It takes a lot of discipline to become a long-distance runner. Not to mention the mental strength needed to keep running when everything hurts and your mind is screaming at you to stop. Sometimes my ankles would be aching, shins burning, hips weak, shoulders tired, and my mind bored of the multiple laps. Yet, I pushed on because it was exactly what I had signed up for and I didn’t want to cheat myself. Most days, you won’t be running on motivation. You’ll be moving out of the sheer discipline of wanting to become better and run farther. Remember, everything that is worth it is never easy.
An Excuse to Eat More!: If you’re someone who really enjoys eating large meals, then long-distance running is a good excuse to fill up your plate! Running long distances requires a lot of energy. Therefore, you need to fuel your body right (and sleep well) in order to allow your body to recover. Of course, if you’re interested in high performance, eating highly-dense nutrient foods is a must. But make sure to be getting enough calories too.
This is an aspect that many runners have trouble with, especially if they’re vegan or mostly plant-based. (A lot of veggies can be rough on the tummy). However, there are ways to get around it like making protein shakes or eating a low-fat and low-fiber meal before going for a run so that your stomach can be at ease.
Black Toes & Calluses: Ewwl…black toes? Calluses? Yes. If you run long enough, you’ll come to experience one of these or if you’re really committed like I was, both. And a lot of them.
When we run, the extra blood flow causes our feet to swell. This swelling will cause your feet to push against your shoes, causing your toes to hit the top of your shoe. Black toes are simply the bruising of the skin under your nails when this happens for a long time or after multiple sessions. Not everyone gets them, but it is very common. Unfortunately, all your toes are susceptible to this! (From my knowledge, cotton socks and wearing a shoe size bigger can help. However, wearing a shoe that’s bigger than your actual shoe size has a higher risk of injury). I guess you pick your poison?
Calluses are our skin’s way of protecting itself when there’s constant pressure or usage on a certain area of our skin. Many runners get calluses because of the constant pressure that occurs each time their feet hit the floor. (There was a point where my feet were almost completely callused actually). From my knowledge, these are inevitable. Luckily there are creams and lotions that can help if your callus/calluses cause you pain or discomfort. Otherwise, they may be more of a benefit for your feet as a way to protect themselves from the hard impact being made with the floor.
Time Commitment: This one might have been the most obvious. All endurance sports require a large time commitment. Not just the training itself, but the warm-ups and cool downs. Body weight or resistant training complimentary workouts. Getting your nutrition right. The transportation to arrive at your training location or races. Especially if you take extra care of yourself like getting massages or doing mobility work often. So if you want to be a long-distance runner, learn how to efficiently manage your time to fit into your schedule.
Severe Dehydration: Our bodies have a natural regulatory mechanism of letting you know if you’re losing too much water or salts. This will result in the sensation of thirst if you haven’t hydrated recently. Unfortunately, if you’re running for a very long period of time in a humid or hot environment, or even on a windy day, you may lose more water than your body can track. Therefore, causing you to become dehydrated faster than your thirst signals can detect it. Some people also forget the importance of electrolytes and leave them out of their hydration routine. This can be dangerous because whenever you intake sodium (salt), it helps your body retain liquids. But if you’re drinking too many liquids without replenishing your sodium, you’ll actually end up flushing out the electrolytes you have stored within your body. Therefore, doing more harm than good.
Water Retention: When we workout, regardless of the exercise, our body experiences stress. Chronic stress or lack of relaxation can lead to hormonal disruption. This imbalance may cause your body to retain more water than usual, and even cause you to gain weight. This happens more commonly in women because our hormones are more delicate. Luckily, there are some ways for people to lose or avoid water retention altogether. However, some people may need to decrease their training significantly to give their bodies a chance to self-regulate.
Injuries: I bet you were expecting this one. Injuries happen for multiple reasons. Perhaps your footing was off. You stepped into a hole. The floor was slippery. Or you’ve been training your body to the point that it started to break down instead of recover. Others may also experience an injury if they focus solely on running, and don’t strengthen other parts of their body to help stabilize it correctly. For many runners, the strengthening of the glutes, hip flexors, core, arms, and shoulders are often overlooked. A few tips my ex-coach taught me to avoid injuries are:
- Tie your shoes. Please.
- Incorporate at least 1–2 strength training workouts to your routine (or cross-train by cycling, swimming, or walking).
- Warm-up with dynamic movements and cool-down with a light jog and static stretches.
- Do some mobility work as often as possible.
- Wear shoes that are comfortable and that aren’t too tight. Try to use shoes that have a flat sole. Avoid shoes with a foamed heel.
- Practice in softer terrains like trial or sand as often as possible.
- Mix-up your running routine. Incorporate hill work, fartlek runs, sprints, but also easy runs.
If you experience an injury, don’t become discouraged. It happens to all of us. Allow your body to rest and recover as needed so you can become stronger. Training before the injury heals properly can lead to further damage.
If you’re thinking of becoming a long-distance runner but feel uncertain if you’ll be able to keep it up, I recommend being a seasonal runner. This is what my coach would do. Some parts of the year he would take it easy and just go for a few runs every few days. Once you have a race coming up, you can start training a few months or weeks in advance. This is your runner’s journey. In the end, make it your own and enjoy the process!