‘Long-distance running’- I’m sure whenever you come across this word, your mind automatically links it with synonyms like ‘Marathon’ and many others. But, what if I told you it is much more than that in reality?
Running nonstop for at least 5 miles is defined as long-distance running. It is definitely a taxing mental and physical activity that can exhaust even the most experienced athletes.
Do you know that long-distance running started as early as in 490 BC when Pheidippides, a Greek Soldier ran nonstop for 25 miles from the town of Marathon to Athens? Marathon became the premier endurance event in the 1896 Athens modern Olympic Games and its course was re-lengthened to 26.2 miles in the 1908 London Summer Olympic Games.
You might know people who rant about the benefits of long-distance running, without having a clear idea of what actually are those benefits. Let me tell you that apart from offering full-body fitness and improving your immunity, there are endless benefits that you can reap from a long, sweating run! Keeping merits aside, there are also numerous risks associated with long-distance running.
If you are someone lacing up for more miles, read through this article till the end for a proper insight on the benefits and risks of long-distance running!
Benefits of long-distance running
1. Improves Endurance
During Long-Distance running, your body develops a greater aerobic endurance. Therefore, to attain the same performance level for the next time, your body doesn’t have to work as hard as the previous time.
Additionally, long-distance running opens up your capillaries and strengthens your heart. Therefore, this helps in flushing out the waste products from fatigued muscles and sending energy to the working muscles better.
Gradually as you run long, your leg muscles will benefit. This will also help in developing more endurance and you won’t find yourself getting injured as often or easily.
Here’s a tip: Consider Long-distance running as your new hobby if you are single or newly-divorced. Why? Because Endurance running is closely related to a man’s reproductive potential. In the hunter-gatherer past, it was something that women saw as a sign of a good breeding partner. According to various researches, picking up long-distance running may hence, impact your ability to find a mate as the above mentioned instinct among women is still alive today!
Read this article on High Intensity Interval Training to improve your endurance.
2. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Long-distance running is really good for your heart. The heart is largely a muscle and it follows a simple rule- The more you train it, the better it functions!
Long-distance running is a fantastic aerobic activity to train your heart because to keep up with your exercising, your heart has to function at an increased level. Over time, this makes your heart more efficient and stronger.
But what does an efficient heart really mean?
An efficient heart is that-
• Which works less to deliver the same amount of blood to your body
• Which helps in increased circulation of blood
• Which delivers more blood
It has been also shown by researches that people who engage in regular cardio like long-distance running have an increased ability to control BP, thus reducing the risks of developing artery and heart diseases.
The rule is quite simple: The more blood gets delivered to several parts of your body, the better those parts function!
3. Increases Muscle Power
Your body recruits fast-twitch muscle fibres to help slow-twitch tasks (like running a marathon) during long-distance running. Therefore, you have more muscle fibres trained to get you through the marathon.
Other related benefits of long-distance running include the increased size and number of mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouse of your body cells.
Long-distance running can also be a complement to an athlete’s weightlifting as it can help to increase muscle mass. It stimulates activity in the circulatory system and sends oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, where it helps to repair existing tissues and build new ones.
This exercise can help build your muscles stronger as your muscles work in the same way as your bones: The more you train them, the stronger they get!
Therefore, an increase in your muscular health is another benefit of long-distance running.
4. Enhances Immunity
Long-distance running definitely improves your immune system. Below are some key areas where long-distance running helps:
• Better knee health: If you want to protect yourself from potential knee injuries down the road, you should take up some long-distance running, as it prevents the onset of a knee injury by strengthening your knees and adjacent muscles.
• Improved mental health: Long-distance running stimulates the psychological release of serotonin, a chemical that helps your mental health in a positive way.
• Lowers your risk of suffering from Cancer: Research has shown that individuals who undergo long-distance running have a lower risk of developing some types of cancer and enjoy a higher life expectancy as compared to their non-runner counterparts.
Some of the steps that the marathoners are advised to follow in order to support their immune system are-
• Supplement with Vitamin C
• Reduce outside stresses
• Get plenty of sleep
5. Burns Calories
Have you ever wondered why haven’t you seen a runner with a pot-belly?
Simply because long-distance running pushes you to discover your full athletic potential and helps you remain slim.
Burning serious calories is a must mention among the various aids provided by long-distance running. It will burn more calories as compared to other aerobic exercises. To prevent the formation of body fat, your body will burn lots of calories during a long-distance run. This also helps to boost your body’s metabolism.
But how does it happen?
Basically, long-distance running develops and increases your fat-burning capacity. A desirable fat-burning capacity is when your body learns how to tap into your fat supply optimally.
Also, long-distance running helps in improving the after-burn, that is, the body’s ability to burn calories even after exercising.
Long-distance running will definitely come in handy if-
• If you are willing to shed some weight
• Keep your weight perfect in future
Risks of long-distance running
You should keep in mind that some not-so-great and pretty strange things can happen to your body, if you have ever increase your mileage abruptly or quickly.
Going by the definition, ‘Trauma’ is a state of shock and is the response of a deeply disturbing or distressing event. It overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope which diminishes their ability to feel the full range of their experiences and emotions.
Other fitness risks or traumas associated with long-distance running are-
• Itchy Skin
• Night Sweats
• Sore Throats
• Black Toenails
• A decrease in Libido
• Asthma and allergies
Intense endurance efforts can cause a lack of glucose in the bloodstream which may result in your mind playing tricks on you.
Consuming energy gels, electrolytes, and staying hydrated throughout your long run should help to control these risks.
Therefore, people with biomechanical issues, heart conditions, or other risk factors should not begin training for a long-distance run or a marathon without close medical supervision.
2. Musculoskeletal Injuries
Long-distance running, like any other form of exercise, exposes you to the risks of injuries. In fact, injuries like strains and sprains concern a lot of casualties during long-distance running.
In addition to overuse injuries, long-distance runners may also experience injuries such as-
• Muscle collapse
• Muscle strain
• Muscle cramps
• Skin abrasions
Apart from the above-listed injuries, most marathon runners experience muscle soreness. However, elite marathon runners have also complained of experiencing gastrointestinal distress and back or joint pain.
Stat No. 1- 29-43 percent of Marathon runners develop injuries during training!
Stat No. 2- As weekly mileage increases, rate of pre-marathon injuries increases.
Takeaway tip: Long-distance running exposes an individual to numerous bodily injuries, especially musculoskeletal injuries. However, what you may not know is that most of them can be avoided by warming up and stretching just before the long-distance run!
‘Hitting the wall’ – This phrase is used to refer to the point in long-distance running when your body has used all of its stored glycogen or carbohydrates and has to rely on fat for its primary source of energy. If you have ever attempted long-distance running or are currently training for one, you have probably heard about it! This is when most of the benefits are seen.
This is however, a truly miserable experience as your body feels fatigued and your pace slows down dramatically! So, what’s the best way to avoid this?
The answer is LONG-DISTANCE RUNNING itself!!
But, it is recommended that you gradually work your way up and should not begin with a really long-distance run abruptly.
When it comes to long-distance running, there are bound to be ups and downs, no matter how much you train. Don’t be discouraged if some runs don’t match your personal best and if you hit that wall, consider it as a great opportunity to sign up for another long-distance running and work towards a new goal!