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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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:
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”.
That’s why it matters to approach long runs with a strategy in mind.
Common long run mistakes include:
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.
One weekly long run usually does the trick and settles into that sweet spot for the most improvement.
Make sure that easy runs (or rest days) bookend your long runs so that you’re not stacking up stressors from day to day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good thing you have a long run on the calendar every week to test it out.
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:
The good news is that you can train your stomach...just like you train your legs, lungs, and heart.
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.
Train hard, recover harder.
Take the rest of the day after your long run to focus on:
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.
Share your long-run tips in the comments.