The Long-Distance-Running Debate

Long-distance running: Is it a bogus way to get fit or can it make a difference on your next backcountry hunt?
The Long-Distance-Running Debate

Opinions are like you-know-whats, and everybody’s got one, right?

I spend lots of time reading both online and print articles about running, lifting, CrossFit and the like. And as of late, I’ve found a lot covering distance running. Everyone has their own ideas and theories about how often one should work a long run into their workouts. When one person’s idea doesn’t match up with another’s, the floodgates open and the cyber-bullying begins. I even have an editor buddy who works in fitness. He  sent a three-page letter from an irritated fitness instructor. The fitness instructor did — very distastefully, by the way — let my buddy know how much he disagreed with his article on distance running.

Given the potential floodgates, I probably shouldn’t touch this subject, but I’m gonna. It’s my belief distance running aids backcountry hunt success like nothing else.

Below are a pair of arguments that I’ve seen floating around lately, along with my feelings on each. Plus, I’ve included tips for your next long run.

Anti-Distance Debate

Debate 1: Distance running is bad for you and causes more harm than good.

The Fit Bowhunter: Yes, distance running can be very bad for the body. Constant pounding on your knees and ankles isn’t good. However, if you schedule one distance run per week and tailor that run to where you’re at physically — by also factoring in your training schedule — a good, long run can be very powerful.

The problem with distance running is people get in a hurry. If you’re currently running one or two miles a day, your distance run for the week shouldn’t be 10 miles; it should be four miles, max. Also, take time to map out long runs. If possible, run on dirt (even a dirt road is better than asphalt or concrete).

The key to distance running is to be patient. It’s a marathon, not a sprint …no pun intended. For the past three years, I’ve been competing in ultra-marathons and have not sustained one injury while distance running. Just be smart about it.

Debate 2: Distance running doesn’t do much for your overall fitness. A 30-minute CrossFit workout is much better than running 15 miles.

The Fit Bowhunter: This is like comparing apples to pineapples — the two are so different. I love CrossFit and work it into my system regularly. It gets the heart rate up and keeps it up at an intense level for a short time time period. The goal with distance running, however, is to hit and stay at a comfortable elevated heart rate that you can sustain for a longer periods. For example, this past Saturday I ran 11.8 miles, and my average heart rate was 152 bpm. That’s low for me, and I still pushed myself fairly hard. I know that if I can operate efficiently at a heart rate of 152 bpm while pounding the dirt, the more efficient I will be when moving through the backcountry this fall. I’ll be able to go farther, recover faster and feel better throughout the hunt. Simply feeling physically better leads to better mental decisions. A tough backcountry run is much more like a long-distance run that a 30-minute, cross-fit session.

Courtesy of iStock

Courtesy of iStock

Your Distance Run

Regardless of where you are in your training schedule, plan one distance workout per week. Take a look at these tips:

When to schedule your long distance run.

Some like to schedule this workout earlier in the week when they are fresh while others prefer to pound miles later in the week. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter! Do what feels best to you, and don’t be afraid to change. If you have a distance run planned for a certain day and, on that day, you just don’t feel right. Maybe the legs are lethargic and the body aches, then move it to a different day.

Smart carbs fuel the run.

Starting the day before your distance run, fuel your body with smart carbs. Don’t ignore the proteins, but you need smart carbs from fruits and veggies. Personally, I stay away from grains when hitting the carbs. I find the carbs I get from fruits and vegetables sustain me longer and don’t make me feel nearly as full and bloated. You will also want to take in lots of water and electrolyte-rich drinks.

Keep it casual.

Unless you’re training for a personal goal in a long distance race, keep your distance runs casual. Sure, it’s OK to kick up the intensity a bit if you’re feeling good, but find a heart rate that feels all right and try and to operate in that zone. Remember, you can always slow down and drop your heart rate if you need to. Start slow, and finish hard. If you don’t have a heart monitor, a good long-run training gauge is to take out your phone every few miles and call someone. If you can have a two or three-minute conversation with the person on the other end and not feel like you’re dying, you’re doing great.

During your run, feel free to stop.

This is a mistake I see lots and lots of newbie runners make. Distance running is hard on the mind. Sometimes it just feels good to stop and walk for a bit. It also helps to carry a few energy gels and nutrition bars. It’s amazing how some quick carbs and a little bit of sugar can make you feel better. I also carry a hand-held water bottle, but when I’m planning to run serious distance, I drive out on my route and stash a few water bottles filled with electrolyte-rich sports drinks.

Don’t rush it.

Lastly, don’t get in a hurry to boost up your mileage. This is how injuries happen. I increase the distance of my weekly long-run one or two miles per week. However, if during the run I don’t feel good or something in my body is telling me to stop, I stop. We are training to get healthy and dominate the backwoods, not to end up on the injured list.


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