Run Long (And Love It!)

{by Rebecca Florio}

On September 10, I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon. Even though I had trained for this moment all summer long, I could hardly believe it had come. Only six months ago I could barely squeak out three miles, and now I had just run 13.1 with an official time of 2:08.
It was a journey, to say the least. One I wasn’t sure if I would ever see the end of, but now I’m so glad I did not give up.  I learned so much along the way — about perseverance, my limitations, and God’s strength in my weakness — that was worth all the aching muscles. You can read my full recap of the race at my blog.
If I could go from virtually not running at all, to running thirteen miles at a time, I believe any one can! Trust me, I am no one special — I just needed to overcome my fear of long runs. To my great surprise, my long runs became a highlight of my week! Here are eight simple tricks to increase increase mileage and learn to love it.
1. Start small. Don’t try to jump into seven mile run right away if you’ve never run more than three. Trying to reach an unattainable goal is just going to lead to frustration and burn-out. I like to focus on increasing running time rather than distance. So if right now you can run for twenty minutes, try to work up to twenty-five and then thirty and so on. Small changes really do add up! 
2. Go slow and steady! A huge part of running longer is learning to pace yourself. Think of your energy as a piggy bank. You don’t want to spend it all during the first ⅓ of your run, but you need to spread it out evenly so you can make it to the end. Keep to a breathable pace where you can hold small conversation.
3Learn to fuel. If you want to run far, you’re going to need to give your body the energy it needs. 1-2 hours before you run, eat a carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber snack or meal (depending on how much you’ve eaten today or how long you expect to be running). Choose something you know your body digests well. This isn’t the time to try a new Chinese dish or spicy taco. Some of my favorite pre-run foods are banana with peanut butter (the potassium settles your stomach and the PB offers some staying power), banana toast, or a homemade trail mix of dry cereal, dried fruit (dates are great!), and almonds. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to digest — there is nothing more unpleasant than having your breakfast sitting like a rock in your stomach. And of course on of the best parts about running is refueling :). After your long run, focus on protein to rebuild and repair your muscles. A huge fruit-yogurt-protein powder smoothie is my favorite post-race snack.
4. Cross-train. You can’t go on a long run every day. Your muscles need time to repair and rebuild and you need a break from pounding the pavement. When training for the half-marathon I averaged about four runs a week —  1-2 long runs (seven miles or more) and 2-3 shorter runs (anywhere from two to five miles). It’s a good idea to designate a few days a week for other types of exercise — biking, hiking, walking, weights, abs, etc — to target different muscles. The stronger your whole body is, the farther you’ll be able to run without pain.  
5. Go early! I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite excuses for running is “I don’t have time.” And it’s true. Running takes time. I’ve found that setting my alarm and setting out for a run first thing in the morning is much more effective than trying to squeeze out a block of time once my day has started. It’s also the best way to beat the heat of the sun! I’ve really grown to love morning runs for the energy they give me the rest of the day.  
6. Find a running buddyI am so grateful for my sister Elizabeth who trained with me and for three other friends that met us every week for a long run. The motivation and company was invaluable.
7. Listen to a sermon/audio book. Use your running time wisely! Download a sermon, Bible audio, or recorded devotional to your playlist. Sometimes, I zone out once the eighth song starts playing, but I’ve found that a dynamic speaker or story keeps my attention off my heavy breathing and aching feet and gives me other things to think about. Win!  
8. Everyone has bad runs. The day before our half-marathon, I went for one last run. It was just going to be a quick and easy three miles, to release some pre-race jitters. Well, it was awful. First of all, the only time I had was 2:00pm, the hottest part of a very hot afternoon. I had been out all day and not eaten for hours (note to self: a pumpkin spice latte does not adequate fuel make). I got a side-stitch during the first mile and ended up having to walk up most of the hills. Bad runs are frustrating, but they do happen, for any number of reasons. The best thing we can do is not give up, but lace up our sneakers and head out again.
Thank God for the strength that He does give you and ask Him to help you not focus on your own weaknesses for on His grace. We can run for God’s glory!
“I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last?….If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.” 
– Chariots of Fire