How to train to become good at long distance running

Goal setting

Good results in long distance running will be achieved through targeted and systematic work. It is important to set high goals, but at the same time the goals must be realistic. Further,  you need to be prepared to perform the necessary work and to spend the necessary time needed (be patient!). You must not be so “serious” that you loose the joy and pleasure.

Long term perspective

When training for long distance running, a lot of patience is needed. Normally, 4-6 years of training at a high level is needed before you will reach your full potential. It is important to acknowledge this, and to “hurry slowly”. The basis have to be secured through a good training foundation, in order to be able to tolerate hard training. The development must be gradual and balanced, Therefore it is important to work with a long term perspective and with gradual progression.


Planning of training is important to ensure the necessary systematics in the training work and correct progression. A part of this is to set long term goals, and to have some intermediate goals, in order to be able to make necessary corrections and adjustments. The most common way of doing this is to have a yearly plan, where the most important competitions are included, in order to be in proper shape for these. Planning of rest and recovery periods, resource periods, competition periods etc., need to be included in the plan.

The most important, if goals shall be achieved, is to analyse the CURRENT status; How good am I today? By doing that, you can find a way and the roadmap to achieve improved results. In this process, you need to be absolutely honest with yourself about strengths and weaknesses. Remember that a steady progression is the best way to achieve progress. Don’t be so concerned about speed and intensity in the early stage of the process when you are building the foundation. In this period it is more important to put in the necessary work towards the desired volume of training and, after a while, increasing speed and intensity. The training programme should be planned in such a way that necessary training methods are started at the right time, based on when you want to be in optimal shape. This is very important in order to have the right progress in shape. Personally I believe in, and have good experience with, periodisation in the training work. This will lead to variation in the training, which I think is suitable for most of us. My experience is good with what we call A – A – B. This means two (A-A) hard weeks with a lot of running and 2 – 2½ aerobe quality sessions. The third week (B), is an easier week with less km of running, although the quality sessions can be in line with the A weeks. Variation in the training methods for long distance running is important, since this will make the training more enjoyable. This is important for achieving progress. The keywords here are GOOD MOOD, WELL BEING, FUN and PLEASURE. The outcome is much better if you have fun during training, even if the training of course will be hard from time to time.

Choice of training methods

What kind of training methods you shall emphasise depends of two factors:

• What distance and type of competition are you aiming towards
• Your own basis and current status

The demands for a runner depends on the distances he or she wants to be good at. For medium and long distance running the performance will depend on fitness level, strength, agility and speed. The difference in performance depends on the balance between training for these different qualities in the training work. I myself have very good experience with aerobic quality sessions – which means training focused on the threshold limit. For long distance running the challenge is to get your aerobe threshold as close as possible to you VO2 max. (See these articles for more details about threshold limit and VO2 max: Physical basis, Principles for long distance runningWhat is vo2 max, What is lactate threshold, and  Things you should know about pulse) The goal is then to be able to run for a long time at a high speed. The good thing is that it is rather easy to improve the aerobic capacity, if you do it right. Another important – ofte ignored – aspect is to admit your weaknesses. By admitting these to yourself and to your coach, if you have one, you will get a better and more realistic starting point for you training work. Then you can add more sessions for the aspects you need but are not so good at, which can improve your results. A good dialogue between athlete and coach is therefore important.

Training for long distance running is too often being presented and made much more complicated than it needs to be. Do not spend too much time on unnecessary details. It is for example much more important how a training session is being performed than what kind of intervall method that is chosen. Therefore, have variation in good quality sessions, although you are training with the same purpose, which first of all should be to achieve a good aerobic base.

Intensity during training

In this area many mistakes are done. The most common mistake in my opinion is to run too fast during the normal sessions. This may lead to not getting the right quality on the aerobic sessions, and that all training performed end up to be something in-between. It is therefore important to be aware of what you want to be good at, and to find the average speed for the distance you want to train for. Let me give you an example from my own training some years ago. I wanted to run the 10 000 m under 29.58, which means that my average speed during the run should be just below 3 min/km. This means 71 – 72 seconds per round (every round is 400 m). I worked towards gradually managing this speed in my training sessions, longer and longer every time. If I had interval sessions, they were on the same speed, but with short breaks in between. I actually found out that training with a quicker speed, for example below 70 seconds per round, didn’t help me at all. The only thing I achieved when doing this, was to accumulate lactic acid, which is not a good thing to train with. Later in the season, when I wanted to run marathon below 2.20, I had to train to be good at running at the speed of 3.20 min/km for a LONG time.


It is important to vary between hard and easy training. Such variation will make the body capable of absorbing training. The rest period with recovery is the most important of all factors related to training. A hard training session should normally be followed by two easy training days. Then you will prevent being overtrained and overloaded. As mentioned above I also recommend to periodise the training weeks A – A – B (two hard weeks, followed by one easy week). It is much easier and better to plan easy and hard weeks beforehand, than getting an unwanted break in the training due to overload because of too hard continuous training. I know that some have achieved good results by hard training over a certain period, but this is unusual, and my recommendation is to work in a more structured way.

Strength and agility

Cross country skiing

In long distance running you don’t need so much strength, however some general strength training, 2-4 times per week, 10-20 min every time, will be beneficial. Easy training for stomach, back, hip flexors and arms is good. I myself did a lot of cross country skiing during the winter seasons, which gave some good general strength training.

Cooperation between athlete and coach

In order to have success with the training, it is important that the communication between the athlete and the coach is good. This must include communication about the good days as well as the bad days. Confidence between the two is therefore of outmost importance.


Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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