Whether you’re a newbie 5k runner or a hardcore marathoner, long runs are essential to any successful training program.
Endurance running builds stamina, speed and mental toughness like nothing else, especially for the half marathon and beyond.
But knowing how to do the long runs right (and safe) can often confuse any runner in the midst of their training.
So, what is a long run? How long should it be? How to schedule it? Etc.
These are some of the questions I will answer in today’s post.
So are you excited? Then here we go.
Long Runs Demystified
I used to fear the long run, erroneously believing that it has to be a larger-than-life exhausting adventure, or it’s nothing.
Chances are, if you are a beginner, you’re feeling the same way.
Couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, what is all about?
As the name implies, the long run is a prolonged effort run with the main purpose of increasing your endurance and stamina. In essence, it’s the longest run of the week.
Long runs parameters vary from one runner to the next, depending on fitness experience, training goals, motivation, and racing aspirations (if you have any).
As a result, a long run might mean different things for different runners. For beginners, that might be a 7-miler. For the more experienced, it might be a 16-miler, or longer.
So, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m defining the long run as any distance longer than 8 miles, as well as runs that last over one hour.
Long Runs Benefits
There are several incredible benefits of long runs. Sure, some of these benefits are still true for any running workout, but they are more evident the longer you run.
Here are a few:
Running for extended periods increases the strength of the primary running muscles (glutes, quads, and calves), and connective tissues, as well as those of the respiratory system—including your diaphragm and core muscles.
The long run is the ideal opportunity to spend lots of (quality) time working on your form and honing the different aspects of proper running technique.
According to research, long runs build capillaries around slow-twitch fibers, the energy factories that fuel your movement and cell respiration.
In layman’s terms, the more capillaries surrounding your muscles, the more oxygen your body can deliver, and the harder and longer you can run.
In my humble opinion, this is the most significant benefit of long runs.
Looking to get faster? Long runs are the way.
Speed is built upon the right foundation of stamina and endurance. So, as a result, your chances of reaching your full speed potential are drastically reduced without the adequate stamina to back it up.
In other words, think of endurance as the launching pad for your speed.
I can go on and on about the importance of long runs, but that’s a topic for another day.
Long is a relative term. As previously stated, one runner’s long run is another’s easy 7-miler.
With that in mind, here are the main factors that determine how far you should go:
- Fitness level,
- Training goals (What are you aiming to achieve)
- The type of race you’re training for, (the date of the event)
- Your inclination to sacrifice a big chunk of your precious time for running.
The General Rule
Most experts recommend that about 20 to 30 percent of your weekly training volume should be devoted to the long run.
For instance, a recreational runner covering less than 30 miles per week might do a 10-mile long run (30 percent of weekly mileage) whereas an elite athlete logging 80 miles per week may do a 16-mile long run (20 percent of weekly volume).
Here are more recommendations for long run distance based on target distance goal.
- Mile or 1500m = 4- to 10-miler long run
- 5000m = 9- to 15-miler long run
- 000m = 11- to 17-miler long run
- Half Marathon = 14- to 20-miler long run
- Marathon = 17- to 22-miler long run
The cardinal rule of long distance running is to go slow and steady.
More specifically, long runs should be performed at roughly one minute slower than your marathon race pace, or around 90 to 120 seconds per mile slower than your current 10K pace.
Also, make sure to monitor your heart rate and keep it within approximately 65 to 75 percent of your maximum. Whatever you do, do not exceed the fast end of that range as doing so increases the risks of injury, excessive fatigue, and overtraining.
As you can already tell, this is easier said than done.
In case you don’t have a current 10K or marathon pace time or are not using a heart rate monitor, then run at a conversational pace.
This is the type of pace in which you can keep a conversation with a training buddy (whether you’ve someone there or not) without gasping for air on each step.
That’s around a 5 out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale.
If you can’t speak in full sentences, then you are going too fast. Slow down, walk, and recover.
How to build up the miles
Once you determine your long run pace, the next step is to know how to safely build up the miles.
The secret to building long distance safely and efficiently is to keep it slow but steady.
Here is how to proceed:
First off, pick one of your running workouts as the chosen long run day. This is typically your weekend workout, or the longest run of the week.
Plot a running routine so you can add no more than one to two miles (or 5 to 10 minutes) from one week to the next. This is the no-nonsense progression rule you need to abide by.
Make sure to never exceed the upper range as doing more than your body can handle increases the risks of injury and burnouts. And you don’t want that.
Just keep at it. Then, and only then, running a half marathon or marathon will not be within your reach. Time flies by, and before you know, you’ll be running 10, 12, 16, even 18 miles each session.
Also, make sure to leave your other runs and cross-training workouts at the same intensity and distance. Do not try to change many variables at once—that’s a recipe for disaster.
What’s more, make sure to take a de-load week every three to four weeks of training. Increasing your long run distance without proper rest is never a good idea.
So, be sure to reduce your mileage on every fourth week or so, before progressing to the next.
Furthermore, fuel and hydrate during the run. Eat something or use energy gels every 20 to 30 minutes on runs over 90 minutes.
Typically, most runners do one long run workout every week.
Run twice a week if you are preparing for a long distance race, such as a half marathon or a marathon.