As much as we as runners hate running long distances, these runs must become an integral part of our training schedule. Whether you’re training for a distance of a marathon or only for a 100m race, it is important to run long distances to improve your race timings. Long distance running helps the body in many ways to maximize performance in your target race. The length of your long runs may vary based on your target race distance. Let’s understand how adding the truly detested long runs into our training plan can actually make us better runners with these following tips.
Why should you run long-distance?
Running long distances improves the aerobic capacity of the body. When you run long, the glycogen storage of your muscles goes on increasing. Glycogen storage is basically the amount of energy that can be stored in the muscles in your body. This glycogen storage is replenished by eating carbohydrates. During your run, if the glycogen content of your muscles gets depleted, the body has to rely on fat to keep going. Energy in the form of body fat is an inefficient form of energy and it tends to become much tougher to keep going and maintain your target pace. So it becomes absolutely necessary to build your glycogen reserves so they take you through the race without having to shift to fat reserves which makes running more resistive.
Long runs also comfort the body from the rigorous pressure that builds on to it from the speed training sessions, hill repeats, tempo runs, etc. No matter how frequently you or how fast you run, the slow and comfortable long runs are the only way to build your aerobic capacity which in turn helps you last longer even at fast paces.
How often you should run long distances?
Long runs should be done not more than once a week. That said, they should also never be done without a Runners Warm Up Routine . Whatever distance your target race is, you must make sure that you put in a long run once in a weekly cycle. You can have a typical 5 days a week training plan for a 10K race which consists of two runs at a fast pace, one tempo run or repeats (which can be alternated between weeks), one recovery run and a long run. Generally, the long runs are done on the weekends as they take up much longer than your regular runs and end up delaying you for your work if done on weekdays. So you must adjust your weekly cycle such that your long runs fit onto the weekend and the faster and shorter runs find slots on working days.
You might wonder that if you run your long runs more often, you’ll be able to build a bigger reserve of energy and it’ll help you go longer. While that is partly true, the extra-long runs will take away time from your speed workouts like repeats and tempo runs which will diminish your anaerobic threshold and prevent you from running fast. Also, long runs are very tough on the bones and that repeated stress causes injuries which again end up taking time away from your running and also reduce your motivation to run.
How long should your long runs be?
The distance of your long runs depends on your target race. The distance for your long runs should gradually increase throughout your training program leading up to the race. A good training program follows the 10% rule where the long run of one week doesn’t exceed your longest run in the training program so far, by more than 10%. This is a healthy way to increase your mileage without being prone to injuries. As the long runs increase, the mileage of your weekday runs should also increase. A rough rule is to keep the mileage of your weekday runs approximately equal to your long run. This makes sure that your level of fitness is increasing steadily throughout the training program.
If you keep your weekday mileage low and increase only your long run distance on the weekends, your fitness level will not be able to keep up with those distances and you’ll begin to face problems such as nausea, headache, shin splints, cramps, etc.
You should make sure you begin at the base distance in week 1 and slowly build up to the peak distance towards the end of the training plan possibly using the 10% rule. By taking fall back weeks every couple of weeks by reducing your weekly mileage by 5-10% to give your body time to heal before it can make a jump onto the next week. Putting more mileage into your training need not necessary be the best way to go. You must make sure you listen to what your body has to say. Sometimes increasing mileage may lead to injuries that will require you to rest for up to 2-3 weeks. If you find yourself feeling lethargic and your body drained all the time, it’s a clear sign that you’re overtraining. Just reduce the mileage slightly over the following week until you feel your energy levels rise again. This will prevent you from getting possible injuries that may lead you to lose momentum and motivation in the middle of your training.
How fast your long runs should be?
The speed of your long runs is something that cannot be stressed enough. You have to make sure that your long runs are done at a very comfortable pace. If you can hold up a conversation while you’re running, you’re doing a great job. If you can sing, you might want to go a bit faster. You have to make sure your pace is within your aerobic threshold. Only when you run in the aerobic threshold of the body can your energy reserves be expanded. There is no benefit to a long run which is done at a fast pace as it moves your body into the anaerobic region which doesn’t help to improve glycogen storage capacity. No matter how tempting it might be to run fast, make sure you do your long runs at a pace that is 30-60 sec/km slower than your goal pace. For example, if you want to finish your 10K race in 60 minutes, your goal pace is 6:00 min/km. So your long runs must be done at a pace between 6:30 – 7:00 min/km.
Enjoying your long runs
Take advantage of the fact that your long runs are to be done at a slower pace. Use these runs to take yourself away from the track, and do them on beautiful roads or trails. Find a trail or an open road nearby and run there while you enjoy the scenery. You can also choose to do these runs with a running buddy and have a conversation with them while you’re running which will be fun and also act as a double check, making sure you’re not going too fast.
Embrace long runs by looking at them as something necessary to help you achieve your goals. Put some efforts and time in them and they will pay back by helping you to run strong.
You can also check our article: Running 101: How to Enjoy Running Alone