Sports Medicine Australia’s expert guide to long-distance running

Nov 2, 2023

Sports Medicine Australia’s running expert, Dr Luke Nelson, shares his top tips on preparing for, and running in, a long-distance event.

How soon should I start training for a long-distance run?

This depends on the target distance, your current fitness and how many days per week you can dedicate, but generally speaking the greater time you have to prepare, the longer you have to build and let your body adapt, and the better you will perform.

If you are starting from scratch and want to build up to a 5km, then we like to say 2-3months.

For those already running 5km and wanting to step upto a 10km, this again should take around 2-3 months.

Looking for that extra challenge to run a half marathon?

You should be comfortable running 3-4 times a week for at least 30 minutes before beginning a half-marathon training program. Then around 2 months of training get you up to the 21km mark.

For those wanting to set the goal of a marathon, we prefer our runners to have the experience of running a half marathon and then building over 12-14 weeks.

If I have never run much before, how should I start?

Brisk walking can be a great way to start.

Start by performing 3 x 20min walks per week for 1-2 weeks then you can delve into a walk/run program. A program we’ve used frequently is:

  • Week 1: Walk 1 min, Jog 1 min x 10
  • Week 2: Walk 1 min, Jog 2 min x 7
  • Week 3: Walk 1 min, Jog 3 min x 5
  • Week 4: Walk 1 min, Jog 4 min x 4
  • Week 5: 20min continuous run

What are the most common injuries and how do I avoid them?

Overload injuries in running are unfortunately quite common.

The generally accepted figure is that 50% of runners will get injured per year. (Van Gent 2007)

In fact, almost half of novice runners who abandon a running program do so because of an injury. (Fokkema 2019). The most common injuries seen in new runners are patellofemoral pain (pain around the kneecap) and medial tibial stress syndrome (shin pain, also commonly called “shin splints”).

One of the best ways to avoid injury is to gradually increase your running and take it slow.

A lot of runners will make the mistake of the “two toos”: too much too soon and run too fast too often.

If I do get injured, what should I do?

Don’t panic but DO seek the advice of a health professional who is experienced in treating runners. They will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and a plan to keep you running. Thankfully with most running injuries, running can still be continued to some extent.

How do I know if I am fit enough to run a long-distance?

If you allow yourself time and do it properly, you can build up to longer distances.

How do I ensure appropriate nutrition and hydration?

It’s important that with an increase in exercise comes an increase in fueling. A well-balanced diet should always supplement an exercise plan. Caution should be warranted if you are in a calorie deficit, as this can make you prone to injury. In regard to hydration, drinking to thirst will often suffice during runs.

For further advice seek the expertise of a qualified sports dietician.

What support do I need?

It’s important to surround yourself with a great support team. This could consist of a coach, health & exercise professional and/or dietician.

What are your top tips for race/event day?

The number one rule on race day is don’t do anything new.

Don’t wear new clothes or shoes. Ensure you know what clothes, socks and shoes you will wear for the race. Ideally, you would have a run a few times with all of this gear to ensure it is comfortable and doesn’t rub

For half-marathoners and marathoners, fueling during the race is important. You want to take 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour. This can be in the form of sports drinks or gels. Ideally, you would have already practised this fueling – see rule number one above.

Develop a fueling plan and stick to it.

You will likely have a poor sleep the night before the race due to nerves and excitement, but don’t worry. It will have negligible impact on your race performance. Try to get as good night’s sleep two nights before the race.

Don’t skimp on the anti-chafing cream: apply to all areas that might friction or rub, especially in warmer conditions.

Avoid stress by arriving well before your start time. This will allow you to warm up and take that last-minute toilet stop.

Have a pacing plan for the race and stick to it.

Ignore the excitement at the start, running too fast early in the race can have dire consequences later.

Warm up before the race: aim for five-10 minutes of running including a few minutes at your racing pace. This will ensure you are ready to go from the starting gun.

Lastly and most importantly, have fun out there. Soak in the crowd and the atmosphere and enjoy that final surge running on the hallowed turf of the MCG.

Dr Luke Nelson is available for interview.

Dr Luke Nelson is Sports Medicine Australia’s running expert. He has worked with several elite and Olympic athletes from a wide variety of sports including Australian Rules football, athletics, water polo, golf, triathlon, cricket, athletics, ice hockey, volleyball and soccer. He has run multiple marathons and ultra marathons.

Media contact: Seamus Bradley | [email protected] | 0410 256 902