Especially for new runners, nearly every outing can feel like a marathon, but what is officially considered long distance running? “Long distance” is typically defined as any running event that covers over 3 km (1.9 mi). This includes everything from the 3000-meter steeplechase to ultramarathons stretching well beyond 26.2 miles.
We’ll discuss the fascinating history of long distance running events, how to train for them, and great gear for tackling the challenge. Let’s pop on our most durable shoes and comfortable socks and chase down the facts about long distance running!
The History of Distance Running
Distance running is rooted in the most basic and ancient human tradition: survival. Anthropological evidence reveals that running was a hunting tactic used by early peoples across the globe. Meanwhile, many ancient cultures employed fleet-footed mail carriers like the Incan chasqui, who could cover more than 300 km daily thanks to a kind of messenger relay race.
The earliest records of long distance running in competition come from Greece. The legendary herald Pheidippides ran approximately 150 miles rallying Spartan troops to aid Athenians embattled by invading Persians, and Greeks would later stage races to honor his story that became the modern marathon.
Long distance running as a formal sport began to take shape in the late 19th century. The first contemporary Olympics was held in 1896 (in Athens, of course), and the marathon played center stage. This period also established standard distances for races, like the 5K and 10K. As long distance running continued into the 20th century, it gained popularity among everyday people. Events like the Boston Marathon, which began in 1897, are still landmarks on the sporting calendar.
Eventually, runners began pushing the envelope with ultramarathons. These events test athletes beyond conventional limits by exceeding typical race lengths. For example, the Comrades Marathon in South Africa takes participants across an 88 km route—more than twice the distance of a typical marathon!
Fun fact: the Comrades Marathon's first-place finishing time in 1921 was 9 hours, but modern runners post times under 5 and a half hours. What changed? Advances in training techniques, nutrition, and running gear have continually transformed the sport, and the convenience of slipping on your shoes and heading out the front door has made it a broadly popular form of exercise. That means more people are learning to test their limits and take on bigger challenges.
Key Distances in Long Distance Running
If you’ve asked another runner what is considered long distance running, you’ve probably been given a list of specific events: 5Ks, half-marathons, and more. Of course, there are many casual and charity running events of varying lengths that are technically “long distance”, but the following are by far the most common official formats:
- 5K Run (3.1 miles): Often seen as the unofficial gateway to long distance running, 5K races are popular due to their accessibility for beginners.
- 10K Run (6.2 miles): Double the distance of a 5K, these events offer a more challenging length while still being manageable for novice runners.
- Half-Marathon (13.1 miles): A major milestone for many runners, half-marathons test endurance without the full intensity of a marathon.
- Marathon (26.2 miles): The classic long distance race, marathons are the main goal for any runner looking to test their athleticism and mental game.
- Ultramarathon (26.2+ miles): This event exceeds the traditional distance, ranging from a few miles more to several times a marathon’s length.
Many runners begin with a 5K as they train for a half-marathon or marathon, and moving up the chain of races poses a more significant challenge each time. However, with the proper preparation and gear, gradually increasing your endurance is as simple as sticking with it.
Long Distance Training Tips and the Best Gear
Training for long distance running takes more than just increases in mileage. It’s a steady, comprehensive approach to improving performance over time. These are the three key elements of long distance training: consistent distance increases, solid nutrition and hydration, and ample rest and recovery. All three are equally important—meaning healthy habits can be just as pivotal as pushing yourself during a run.
By gradually increasing your mileage, you’ll avoid injury and slowly build up more endurance. Good nutrition and hydration will give you a boost of energy and help you recover faster. Meanwhile, taking time to let your body heal and build strength ensures you maximize your gains. You can also invest in cross-training, like strength and core conditioning, to minimize the risk of muscle injury.
Also, while the appeal of running for many is its simplicity, when you’re starting to take running more seriously you can’t overlook your gear. Reliable shoes, breathable clothing, and durable socks are a must, and even though they seem common enough, they can help you perform noticeably better and avoid injury and aches and pains.
For example, socks like the F4 Tech combine durable design with Sorbtek technology to channel moisture away from your feet, keeping them cool and dry no matter how far you’re planning on going. Once you get the running bug, you’ll find yourself running in all kinds of conditions, and with the right equipment it’s rarely too hot or too cold to keep putting in the miles.
Are You Ready for Your Next Long Distance Run?
Of course, in the end, what matters is enjoying yourself, not worrying about what is considered long distance running! With comfortable shoes and socks and a desire to hit the pavement, you can reap all the health benefits and enjoyment of time outside whether you’re doing some sprints or taking on a few miles at once. And if you’re ready to build up to the genuinely heroic distances, all it takes is some patience, consistency, and the right gear. Be sure to hydrate, eat well, and wear appropriate clothing for the weather.
That includes your running socks, which can play a pivotal role in your performance. At Fitsok, we create high-performance socks for runners, designed by runners. Our socks are built for the most extreme conditions, giving you an edge anywhere your feet take you. From the reinforced footbed of the CF2 Cushion Quarter to the any-climate ISW Isowool Trail Cuff, Fitsok equips you for the long road ahead.
Explore our complete collection today to unlock your full long distance potential!