Long Run Secrets: 6 Runner-Tested Tips to Ramp Up Your Miles

You know you’re a runner when the entire week revolves around your long run. 

Between work, family, general adulting, and even a hint of a social life, it can be tough to find the time to get out on your feet for hours at a time. 

Sound familiar?

For many a runner, the best part of the week is wrapped up in those hours. 

Heading out the door on your long run means entering your own world for a while and putting everything else on pause. 

From the moment you get going, life gets a bit simpler for a little while. 

The only thing on the docket is pumping your legs and getting lost in your thoughts. Busy people know how precious that kind of time is. 

Long-run training help get ultrarunner Lucie Hanes to the finish line of the Silver Rush 50-Mile Ultra in Colorado.

The staple of any training program

No matter how you feel about it, though, the long run is here to stay. 

It’s a staple of any training program, and might be the biggest time commitment you make to running on a regular basis. 

You can expect to be out there from anywhere between an hour or two to upwards of three, depending on your endurance goals. 

“Long” is relative to how far you’re aiming to go on race day.

Training for shorter races doesn’t mean you don’t still need endurance, but long runs in preparation for a speedy 5k will look pretty different than for a marathon or an ultra. 

Learning how to incorporate the long run into your training provides physical and mental benefits.

The smart way to increase weekly mileage

A good rule of thumb is to make your long run 20-30% of your weekly mileage. 

There’s wiggle room there: marathoners and ultrarunners might push into the 40% range, for instance, as they begin to hit 20+ miles during their heaviest training weeks while anything under a half-marathon usually calls for a more spread-out schedule. 

Either way, that’s a lot of time to log on your feet. 

So what’s the point of making such a big commitment every week? 

Physical benefits of the long run

Make the long run part of your training, and you'll tap into a bunch of physical benefits...

Endurance: Physically, the body depends on cumulative sustained efforts to build endurance.

Adaptation: A long run that gradually increases in distance each week pushes your body just past the limit of its current comfort zone.

Progressive overload. The increasing mileage adds a progressive load that trains a few key systems to better handle long distances.

The laundry list of bodily adaptations includes:

  • Larger capillaries and more blood vessels for stronger blood flow 
  • Greater muscular strength from your legs and feet to your heart and diaphragm  
  • Hardier tendons and ligaments to withstand ground impact 
  • Higher V02 max for increased oxygen intake 
  • Improved digestion as you practice your fueling plan 
  • Better energy efficiency to extend the life of glycogen stores
  • Faster speeds as you adapt to the repetitive movement

Mental & emotional benefits of the long run

The mental and emotional benefits of running long might even surpass the physical advantages.

If you’ve ever run a race at your limit — in terms of distance, speed, or both — then you know the sheer difficulty of coming up against those walls.

The feeling of pushing the envelope knows no match. More often than not, though, it’s your mind that calls it quits before your body.

Mind over matter

You’re likely more physically prepared for that discomfort than your train of thought wants you to believe. But without your brain on board, there’s no chance of reaching the true limit of your running ability.
 
After all, the body relies on the mind to tell it what to do and how to do it. If everything inside of you is screaming, “NO!” then your legs and lungs will naturally follow suit. 

Long runs teach your mind to absorb the discomfort without backing down before the point of actual exhaustion.

You’ll be out on your feet for an extended period of time, during which you’ll have the chance to battle the limiting beliefs that threaten to put an early cap on your potential.

Mental adaptations from regular long runs include:

  • Stronger resilience for long durations and high speeds 
  • Better tolerance for pain and discomfort 
  • More confidence in your plan, fuel, and gear
  • Greater patience and ability to remain in the moment 
  • Increased mental space to process 
  • Higher capacity for memory and focus 
  • Stronger sense of self and comfort in your own company
Patience, practice and experience are some of the best ways to learn how to maximize the benefits of long run training.

How to find the perfect 'long run' balance

Build up enough long run experience, and you’ll find yourself both physically and mentally fit to tackle the race of your dreams — or even just ride the waves of everyday life.

There’s not much that a long run can’t make better. 

But, like with all good things, there’s a sweet spot between too little and too much. 

For the best return on your investment in long run training, it’s important to ride that line carefully. This isn’t a case of “a little is good, so a lot must be better”. 

  • The fatigue factor. Going overboard on long runs can easily lead to overwhelming fatigue that hinders the rest of your training, not to mention harming your overall health. 
  • Energy expenditure. Long runs involve a ton of energy expenditure plus put plenty of stress on all of your physical and mental systems. 
  • Stress.. That high amount of stress is what makes long runs so productive, since recovering from stress makes you stronger for the future. 
  • Recovery. But the key word here is recover. Nothing good can come out of stress unless you factor in quality recovery time. 
  • Too much, too soon. Ramping up mileage too quickly from one long run to the next or going on long runs too frequently doesn’t offer enough space for recovery in between, so there’s no time for adaptations to occur. Instead, you just accumulate fatigue that never turns into growth. 

That’s why it matters to approach long runs with a strategy in mind.

Beware of these long run mistakes

Common long run mistakes include:

  • Pouring over half of your weekly mileage into one long run
  • Increasing mileage on your long run by more than 10% of the last
  • Going on back-to-back long runs
  • Running too fast during your long run 
  • Forgoing fuel before, during, or after your long run

Long Run Secrets: 6 Runner-Tested Tips to Ramp Up Your Miles

Some of the above tactics might be appropriate for your training under the supervision of a knowledgeable coach. 

But if you’re going it alone, keep these tips in mind for a successful long run strategy. 

1. Plan your week

1. Plan your week

One weekly long run usually does the trick and settles into that sweet spot for the most improvement. 

  • More than that, and you might carry exhaustion into the other components of your training schedule that are just as beneficial. 
  • Less than that, and you won’t undergo enough stress to trigger helpful adaptations. You should also ensure that your long run stands alone. 

Make sure that easy runs (or rest days) bookend your long runs so that you’re not stacking up stressors from day to day. 

2. Increase mileage gradually

2. Increase mileage gradually

The 10% guideline mainly refers to weekly mileage, but you can use it as a good basis for your long run mileage too. 

Try not to increase the distance of your long run by more than 10% (give or take) compared to your last long run. 

Adaptations come from giving your body slightly more than it can handle, but not so much more that you wind up stuck in stubborn cycles of injury or depletion. 

3. Decrease mileage regularly

3. Decrease mileage regularly

That being said, don’t increase your long run mileage every week.

Every four to six weeks, consider decreasing the length of your long run for a little extra active recovery. 

  • Think of it like a deload. You’ll still be engaging in the same type and intensity of movement, just dialing it back a bit so that you’re able to keep upping the ante throughout your entire training block. 

Even a 20% shorter long run offers your body just enough of a break from the relentless pile of miles to recoup energy for the hard weeks ahead.

The rest will do your mind good as well. The mental focus it takes to make it through hours of running is just as draining as the physical piece. 

A lighter long run every few weeks will make sure your well of enthusiasm doesn’t run dry. 

4. Check your pace

4. Check your pace

Long runs don’t always have to be low and slow.

Infusing a few strides or tempos in the middle helps simulate a hard race better than carefully prescribed speed workouts can.

The trick is to make sure that you’re running at a pace that you can sustain throughout the entire run, even if you do throw in some higher intensity bursts. 

Long runs are your chance to figure out your best race pace. 

  • Go out too hard, and you’ll crash by the end. Start too slow, and you might lose your edge. 
  • Yet again, it’s about finding your sweet spot so that race day doesn’t come as a surprise. 

Good thing you have a long run on the calendar every week to test it out. 

5. Fuel up

5. Fuel up

Every part of your body likes having consistent fuel for energy.

Deprive yourself of a hearty pre-run breakfast or go out for hours without enough calories to keep you going, and you’re setting yourself up for a very unpleasant bonk.

Yeah, you might have to wake up early to start your long run and your stomach might not love eating on the go at first… but that’s not an excuse for skimping on food.

Endurance sports dietitian Kylee Horn of Fly Nutrition asserts that most runners need:

  • A solid meal of 500-700 calories before starting their long run
  • At least 200-300 calories every hour. 

The good news is that you can train your stomach...just like you train your legs, lungs, and heart. 

How?

  • Use your long runs to practice your ideal fueling plan so that you can dial it in before race day. 
  • Figure out how much earlier you need to wake up before your run so that you can digest enough calories to get you going
  • Nail down the fuel that sits best with you while you’re running. 

It’ll take some trial and error, but you’ll be glad you went through the rigamarole when you actually have the energy to cross the finish line with some semblance of a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

6. Recover hard

6. Recover hard

Train hard, recover harder.

Take the rest of the day after your long run to focus on:

  • Refueling
  • Stretching
  • Mobilizing, and...
  • Plain old R&R

Easy walks and yoga flows help keep stiffness at bay, but now’s not the time for anything that gets your heart rate up again. 

You’ve done plenty of that for now. 

Remember, the goal is to absorb and adapt. 

Put just as much effort into your recovery as the run itself so that you come back stronger as soon as possible. 

What are your long-run strategies?

Share your long-run tips in the comments.

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Lucie Hanes
Ambassador
Eagle, CO

Ultrarunner, rock climber, occasional artist, fond of good wordplay. Small human on big adventures with big goals and big feelings.

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