What Is Considered a Long-Distance Run? Race Types & Rules Listed!


Ever since the first running boom occurred over 40 years ago, long-distance running events have permeated the racing calendars of runners around the world. These events were developed as tests of fitness, so a runner could prove to themselves (or others) that they had what it took to complete the distance.

Way back when I was a high school track runner, any event longer than the 400-meter run was considered a distance event. But outside of that scenario, no one else would think of a race less than a mile long to be long distance.

So, what is considered a long-distance run? There are a couple schools of thought as to what “long-distance” means. Some people think that a long-distance run takes at least 60 minutes to complete (and often much longer), regardless of the distance you cover. For others, a run must be longer than 10 miles before it would be considered long-distance.

Here are some of the most common running event distances:

RaceEvent DistanceAverage Finishing Time
5K5K (3.1 Miles)30 minutes
10K10K (6.2 Miles)1 hour
½ Marathon21.1K (13.1 Miles)2 hours
Marathon42.2K (26.2 Miles)4 hours
Ultra-Marathon50K (31 Miles) – 161K (100 Miles)5 hours+
Long-Running Races Distances & Average timing

Using the two different definitions above, most runners would consider any of the races ½ marathon and longer to be long-distance events. The 10K distance is right on the edge of what would be included in the long-distance category.

A more experienced athlete who is used to running for hours at a time would probably consider a 10K race to be more of a sprint, whereas someone who is a 5K specialist might certainly think of it as a long-distance race.

Marathons and ultra-marathons are the big daddies of the long-distance events, each one taking several hours to complete. 

The marathon world record holder runs in a little over two hours, and undoubtedly he would consider that to be a long-distance run. Ultra-marathons are a category composed of any race that is longer than 26.2 miles in length. The most common distances for these endurance testing events are 50K, 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles. Runners who have attempted the marathon and feel the need to push themselves even further will often look at the ultra-marathon as their next test of their running prowess.

What Are the Different Types of Long Distance Running?

You might be surprised to know there is more than one type of long-distance run. The most common running events are held on the road. But there are many other distance events where a runner never touches their feet to the pavement.

Recreational running may have started out on the road, but since those early days, there have been a wide range of different types of events created. They say variety is the spice of life, and so it is with sporting events. If you are bored with the usual road race, you might want to consider signing up for one of the following types of events:

Track Races

Track Races have been around for much longer than road races have been popular. They are most commonly held for high school or college runners, but luckily there are races for runners of any age!

These meets are usually organized by local groups such as the St. Louis Track Club, and are open to the public to participate in for a small fee.

Track races are a great way to find out just how fast you can go since they are on a flat, cushioned surface. Another benefit to track events is the accessibility for spectators to cheer you on, which can add a huge burst of energy as you are coming to the finish line!

Trail Races

Trail Races are quickly gaining in popularity and can be found in many rural areas. These events are a wonderful opportunity to spend time in nature while testing your endurance. One of the most famous trail races is the Pikes Peak Ascent, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Each summer, over 1,000 runners show up to challenge themselves and see if they have what it takes to run more than 13 miles up one of the tallest peaks in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Snowshoe Races

Snowshoe Races are less common, but if you happen to live in or visit an area with a snowy season, you might just come across one of these events.  Think of one of these races as a more difficult version of a trail race. If you’ve ever worn snowshoes and walked any distance, you can picture what it might be like to attempt to run in them for several miles.

If you haven’t yet worn snowshoes, just imagine trying to walk or run along a snowy pathway with something like a tennis racket strapped to the bottom of your feet! If this sounds interesting, check out the website of the US Snowshoe Association for more information about the sport including a listing of races around the United States.

Orienteering Races

Orienteering is a race that merges running with navigation. Imagine a trail race where everyone picks their own route. However, Instead of traveling through marked routes or man-made obstacles and jumping over fire pits with a crowd of other runners, orienteers race through unmarked terrain alone, with a map and a compass.

Stage Racing

Unlike typical single-phase ultra races, which may take several days and require competitors to sleep along the way, a stage race sprits the distance into phases, where all participants are allowed to stop and go to bed (usually camp) after completing each stage.

At the end of all stages, the result is calculated based on the cumulative duration spent in each of the stages. One popular example of such a race is the marathon des sables which cover 251 km over Six Days held in the marocain Sharah Desert.

Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle Course Racing is another sport that has become quite popular in recent years. Events with names like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder can be found in over 30 countries.

To complete these courses, participants encounter challenges like rope climbs, mud pit crossings, barbed wire crawls, and more – all in addition to running a distance from 3 miles to the marathon and beyond.

Common Long Distance Running Rules and Regulations

One of the wonderful things about long-distance running is that there aren’t a lot of rules and regulations that need to be followed. 

During a race, the following rules should be observed, in addition to any other restrictions (such as a ban on headphones, pets, or strollers) that the event organizers may have in place.

  • Runners may not accept aid from others – Technically this means you should not accept food or drink from other runners or spectators.  It also means runners must complete the race under their own power.
  • Do not impede the progress of other runners– Basically this means do not trip anyone, nor block anyone else’s path as they are running.

In addition, there are several guidelines that are mostly based on common sense that one should pay attention to in order to stay healthy and safe.

  • Stay hydrated – Try to take a drink every 20 minutes or so while you are running
  • Run towards traffic, not with it – If you are running on a two-way road, make sure you are facing the cars that are closest to you in case you need to take evasive action
  • Pass on the left and let people know you are coming – Good etiquette for both the track and on trails, this is a helpful way to keep people from inadvertently stepping directly into your path
  • Be aware of your surroundings – Even (and especially) if wearing headphones, keep the volume low enough to be able to hear traffic and pedestrians that might be trying to get your attention
  • Wear brightly colored clothing when running in low light conditions – it’s always helpful to stay as visible as possible when out on the roads – you can even wear lights if you have them
  • Don’t start out too fast – no matter if it’s a race or a workout, starting out too fast can make for a miserable day! Once your body becomes starved for oxygen, it can feel like you are running with lead weights in your legs

Is Long Distance Running Healthy?

In general, YES! However, it is recommended that everyone should consult with a physician before attempting to undertake a long-distance training regimen.

Now of course there are exceptions to every rule. Like most sports, running can result in injuries. Especially if a novice athlete tries to take on too many miles before their body is ready. Even an experienced runner can run into problems by overtraining. In such cases, the body can and will begin to break down due to the stress of overuse.

But it is generally agreed that long-distance running yields positive health results for most athletes. Running long distances can help one to shed unwanted pounds, gain lean muscle, and can even improve the mental state of mind.

The combination of the amount of time spent exercising combined with the rate of caloric burn and oxygen utilization during a long run can boost the cardiovascular system. This will result in stronger heart muscle, as well as leg muscles.

Check out our post on How Long Does It Take to Get Into Running Shape & Out ?!

So now you have a better idea of what events would be considered long-distance running! You also have options for different ways to race long distances, whether it’s on the trails, in the snow, or through an obstacle course. No matter which method you choose, I hope that race will bring you joy and good health!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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