Looking to nail your long runs? Then it all comes down to your pace.
Long runs are essential for any runner, whether you’re targeting a quick 5K or preparing for your first marathon. These runs build endurance, stamina, and mental toughness. The challenge, however, is in managing your speed.
Too fast and you risk burnout or injury; too slow and you don’t push your body enough for meaningful gains.
Many runners ponder the ideal pace for their long runs, a crucial aspect for effective training and injury prevention.
In this article, we’ll explore how to determine the perfect pace for your long runs, ensuring you train efficiently and are race-ready.
Ready to start? Let’s dive in.
The Long Run Explained
The long run stands as the week’s marathon session, aimed at significantly enhancing your endurance. This isn’t just a run; it’s a transformative journey for your body. Here’s how:
- Your muscles evolve, developing more mitochondria and capillaries, preparing you for enduring runs.
- Your aerobic capacity receives a major boost, enhancing your running efficiency.
- Your body becomes adept at storing glycogen in muscles and liver, essential fuel for prolonged efforts.
- These runs double as strength-training, shaping your muscles into more efficient running tools.
- Your cardiovascular system becomes more robust and efficient with every heart beat.
The payoff? Long runs enhance your capacity to maintain a vigorous pace over time, equipping you with both the physical and mental edge needed for any race distance, particularly longer challenges.
So, how far should these runs be? It varies. Your running background and race goals guide your distance. A rule of thumb from running experts: long runs should constitute about 20 to 30 percent of your total weekly mileage. If you’re clocking 30 miles weekly, dedicate 7 to 10 miles to these pivotal long runs.
Factors Affecting Long Run Pacing
Determining the ideal pace for your long runs involves considering several crucial factors. These elements influence how fast or slow you should go, ensuring your training remains both effective and manageable. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Your Fitness Level: The most significant factor. Beginners or those less conditioned might need a slower pace, while fitter runners can handle more speed.
- Progression: As your fitness improves, so should your pacing, allowing for either faster speeds or more consistent pacing over longer distances.
- Purpose of the Run: Are you focusing on building endurance or speed? Endurance-focused runs require a slower, steady pace, whereas speed-oriented runs demand a quicker tempo.
- Race Goals: Your target race pace will influence your long run pace, especially if you’re in race preparation mode.
- Terrain: Hills and varied landscapes will naturally alter your pace. You may slow down uphill and accelerate downhill.
- Weather Conditions: Extreme weather like heat, humidity, or wind can affect your usual pace, requiring adjustments.
- Experience Level: Beginners should prioritize a conservative pace to build endurance safely, whereas seasoned runners might employ a more nuanced pacing strategy based on their experience.
Given these diverse factors, there’s no universal pacing strategy for long runs. Your pace should be tailored to your unique fitness level, objectives, terrain, and experience.
Keep reading, and you’ll discover how to find the ideal long run pace that’s just right for you.
How Fast Should Long Runs Be – The Ideal Pace
I hate to sound like a broken record, but there’s a one-size-fits-all pace for your long runs. Just like a fingerprint, your pace will be unique to you and influenced by factors such as your current running ability, goals, and overall training plan.
If you’re new to the running game and your primary goal is to increase your mileage, focus on a pace that allows you to comfortably sustain the run without needing to hit the brakes.
But if you’ve been pounding the pavement for a while and you’re hungry for progress—whether it’s shaving seconds off your personal best or conquering a new distance—let’s talk about stepping up your pace.
Overall, aim for an average long-run pace around 55 to 75 percent of your 5K race pace, with the sweet spot being around 65 percent.
and of course, there’s science behind this madness.
Now, let’s sprinkle some scientific evidence into the mix. Research supports this approach, showing that running faster than 75 percent of your 5K pace during long runs doesn’t provide any additional physiological benefits.
But let’s not get lost in percentages alone. I want to give you some practical methods to put these numbers into action.
The talk method and nose test are two viable options. Let me explain.
The Talk Test Explained
Imagine yourself hitting the pavement with a running buddy by your side, embarking on a journey of sweat and laughter. As you begin your long run, the Talk Test comes into play. It’s as simple as it sounds—while you’re jogging along, you should be able to engage in conversation without gasping for air.
But what if you’re running solo, you may ask? Don’t worry. The Talk Test has a solution for that too. Instead of chatting away with a companion, challenge yourself to recite the pledge of allegiance out loud. If you can proudly declare those sacred words without wheezing, then you’re right on track.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Research have shown that the Talk Test aligns with the ideal long run pace. By maintaining a conversational pace, you’re training your aerobic system and building endurance, all while reducing the risk of injury and excessive fatigue.
If you find yourself struggling to keep up the conversation without huffing and puffing, take it as a sign from your body that you’re exceeding the recommended long run range. It’s time to take a step back, slow it down, and allow yourself to find that sustainable pace that will carry you through the miles.
The Nose Test
This method helps gauge your running pace by focusing on breathing efficiency. The principle is simple: if you can breathe comfortably and easily through your nose, you’re at a good pace. Struggling to breathe? It’s time to slow down. This test ensures you’re running at a pace that feels natural and sustainable, aligning your breath with your stride.
Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale
Imagine running guided solely by your body’s feedback, without relying on gadgets. The RPE scale does just that. It’s a subjective measure of effort, ranging from 1 to 10. Levels 1 to 3 are as effortless as a casual stroll, while 7 to 10 represent your maximum effort. For long runs, aim for an RPE of 5 to 6, a level that’s challenging yet manageable.
This scale is highly adaptable. It varies with your fitness, mood, and physical state, offering a flexible way to adjust your effort. Some days you might feel strong, effortlessly hitting a 4, while on tougher days, a comfortable pace might feel more like a 6. The RPE scale empowers you to tailor your training intensity based on how you feel in the moment.
Different Long Runs Paces
Let me introduce you to two options that can spice up your long run paces and take your training to the next level.
The Negative Split
Negative splits in running are straightforward: start your long run at a comfortable, conversational pace. This sets a smooth rhythm for the first part of your run.
Once you hit the halfway point, it’s time to gradually increase your pace. Think of it as shifting gears, where the second half of your run becomes an exhilarating challenge to complete faster than the first.
For example, imagine a 16-mile run. You spend the initial 8 miles at an easy pace, soaking in the surroundings and chatting with fellow runners. But as you pass the 8-mile mark, you begin to pick up speed, aiming to run the second half faster, but still within a manageable pace.
The key is to choose a pace that’s challenging yet sustainable. You want to avoid exhausting yourself too soon, ensuring you finish strong and with confidence. This approach helps in building both speed and endurance effectively.
The Marathon Pace Long Run
When it comes to long runs, especially with a marathon in sight, striking the right balance in your pace is crucial. Running these long distances at your target race pace can be risky, akin to playing with fire. It often leads to excessive fatigue, increases injury risk, and can set you up for burnout.
The key to effective marathon pace long runs is to find a challenging yet manageable pace. The general consensus among experts is to aim for a pace that’s about one minute to 90 seconds slower per mile than your goal marathon pace. It’s about moving at a rhythm that’s sustainable, allowing you to build endurance without overexerting yourself.
To add variety and challenge, consider incorporating negative splits into your long runs. For instance, in an 18-mile run, start the first half at a relaxed pace. Once you reach the halfway point, begin to gradually increase your speed, working towards reaching your goal marathon pace in the final 9 miles. This strategy not only enhances endurance but also prepares you mentally and physically for the demands of the marathon pace.
The Role of Terrain
Run long enough and it shouldn’t surprise you that terrain plays a key role in how you should pace yourself. Different surfaces and elevations can affect your speed, energy expenditure, and overall running dynamics. That’s why being flexible enough to adjust your pacing based on the terrain is crucial for effective and safe long-distance running.
Let me give you crash course on how to do that.
- Flat Surfaces: Running on flat terrain allows for consistent pacing. You can maintain a steady speed without the need for significant adjustments.
- Grass and Soft Trails: These surfaces are gentler on the body but can be more energy-consuming, requiring a slight pace adjustment.
- Sand: Running on sand significantly increases resistance and can quickly lead to fatigue. Expect a slower pace and a higher effort level.
- Roads and Pavements: These provide a stable surface, allowing for a more consistent and faster pace.
- Hilly Terrain: Hills require adjustments in effort. Uphill segments naturally slow your pace but increase intensity, while downhill running can be faster but requires control to avoid injury.
- Trail Running: Uneven trails demand constant changes in pace and stride to navigate obstacles. This variability can make maintaining a consistent pace challenging.
- Adjust Expectations: Trail running often involves varying paces due to changes in elevation, obstacles, and surface types. Don’t expect to maintain your usual road running pace.