by Elevate Fitness Running Director, Kevin Collins
The purpose of the long run is to teach the body to be able to sustain the running movement for a long, long time without failure. That’s it. It is not a speed workout. It can be merged with tempo (sustained hard effort run) workout, but you have to use caution with this because if the run is truly long, it can wipe you out long before your race day. Ignore that and you’ll get injured. It drives me nuts when people ask me if they should run their long runs at “race pace”. No. Run your long races at “race pace”. Think if Boston & NYC Marathon Champion Meb Keflizighi ran all his long runs at race pace. Sub-4:50 miles every single weekend for 18-24 mile runs? That’s lunacy. If you want to incorporate race pace, add a short tempo run on the end of your long run or begin the early miles hard and cut it for the second half or perhaps try a “step-down” tempo that builds the pace every mile until you are finishing the long run at your hardest effort. Otherwise, separate tempo and long run. On race day, the benefits of both will nicely combine coupled with a nice taper (rest) phase to give you what you want.
Building a long run with regard to length begins with an assessment of your recent long run history.
What is your longest run ever? How long ago was that? I usually start with: what is your longest run in the past two months (a good measure of time that can allow a runner to completely fall out of running shape on 100 percent days off for that duration). What is this long run about? Fitness or a race goal? Race goal – What length?
Let’s say it is 30 minutes. Start there. If you have planned a marathon two months from this point, SKIP the Marathon. Your ascent between 30 minutes and 4 hours of running is so steep a climb for long run that an injury is almost inevitable. Start your ascents earlier. A safely conducted marathon training plan is a 6-month process. It all goes back to consistency. (Consistent runners always do long runs whether for fitness or performance year round).
If you are like me, the long run is simply about fitness. Therefore there is no timeline for building a long run, so take as much time as you need to build it. I generally give my runners 15 minute or 2-mile increases every 2-3 weeks, but if you have no particular timeline add on every 3-4 weeks. So if a long run begins at 30 minutes, progression (in length) looks like this:
|Two-week Buildup||Three-week buildup|
|Week #1||30 min||Week #1||30 min|
|Week #2||30 min||Week #2||30 min|
|Week #3||45 min||Week #3||30 min|
|Week #4||45 min||Week #4||45 min|
|Week #5||60 min||Week #5||45 min|
|Week #6||60 min||Week #6||45 min|
|Week #7||75 min||Week #7||60 min|
|Week #8||75 min||Week #8||60 min|
|Week #9||75 min||Week #9||60 min|
|Week #10||90 min||Week #10||75 min|
|Week#11||90 min||Week #11||75 min|
A two week build up might be appropriate for a 6 month Marathon goal, but a 6-month Half-marathon goal gives you more time to build up given the distance is half, so why rush the process and increase the distance/time and raise the risk of injury? This also applies to a lifestyle fitness runner. Set a standard for LONG (My standard is 90 minutes or 10 miles) and take your time getting there. Once there, Lifestyle Runner, STAY there! The true effect of a long run is not the actual length, it is the # of consecutive weeks you can get in a long run that makes the difference! Remember that a runner who achieved ten consecutive weeks of 18-mile runs is going to have a better marathon experience than a runner who did nine weekly 10 milers followed by a single 22 miler before tapering. Even in long runs, adaptation to stress of any kind is where the power is. It cannot happen in a single week any more than an aspiring elite runner can become “elite” by following one of their 100 mile training weeks in just a single week. See the big picture. Training, like long runs, is about patience and big picture-thinking!
Some Long Run Training Tips:
- When time-management is an issue, choose time-based runs over mile based runs. You can always count on being done “on time” regardless of pace.
- When choosing between a safe route and a boring one, ALWAYS choose safety over boredom!
- When a mild injury poses a question mark regarding whether or not you will be able to finish, choose tracks or a single neighborhood block so that you are always near your car!
- If heat is an issue, start the run hydrated, don’t waste time trying to hydrate during the run if you can’t do the former.
- During Summers, it’s always good practice to start each day off with a few jumbo cups of water.
- As said before, gel heel cups in your shoes are tremendous prevention of impact injuries that can be caused by extremely long runs.
- If you can’t get your long run in Friday through Sunday consider it missed! Put your effort into not missing the following weekend.
- When motivation to finish is an issue, out and back runs in a linear fashion are best. After all, if you can make it to halfway, there is only one way home.
- If procrastination is an issue, drive to your starting point. Adding a step will reduce the likelihood that you will go back home without the run complete. A promise to pick up my favorite beverage on the way to my starting point can get me at least out the door dressed to run.
- If being cold and/or drowsy is an issue upon waking for an early morning run, wear your base-running outfit to bed overnight. Reducing steps out the door in this manner can also be the answer.
- Start runs slow, there is plenty of time to warm up. Secure the confidence you can finish first before applying effort and if the pace doesn’t pick up, don’t analyze it. The run was long and complete. End of story.
- Remember that the final 15 minutes or 2 miles will ALWAYS be a struggle. This is your longest run and the limits of your endurance specific to running. The only cure to glide easily through an 18-mile run, for example, is to push the long run up to 20 miles and hover there awhile. The same for a 22 miler being the cure for an easier 20.
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