Whether you’re training for a 5K or 10K…or have an upcoming Half or Full Marathon, you should have a long run in your weekly plan. Long might mean something a little different to each of us…but a long run is an important part of every runners training program.
While the Runner’s World story “Why Non-Marathoners Still Need Long Runs: Long runs help you race better at any distance” might be referring to elite runners, we can all apply it to our own training in smaller ways.
In November of 1961, legendary coach Arthur Lydiard told the 1960 800m gold medalist, Peter Snell, to go run a marathon. Before that, Lydiard had Snell incorporating the Waiatarua circuit, a grueling, 22-mile long run up and down the Waitakere Ranges in New Zealand, as part of his 100-mile training week. What was a man who would race for less than 2 minutes doing running for 2 hours? This type of training was completely unheard of for middle-distance runners back in those days.
But it paid off.
Only two months after his Lydiard-mandated marathon, Snell ran a world-record mile (3:54). And in the 1964 Olympics, he won gold in the 800 and 1500m events.
The long run has been popular ever since.
Why is this? What are the physiological changes long runs produce that are beneficial to someone who is racing for a short period of time? According to Running Times columnist and coach, Greg McMillan, there are three key physiological adaptations that occur in the body during a long run: enzymatic, capillary and musculoskeletal.
When you run long, you increase enzymes in your muscle cells and grow capillaries, which are the small vessels that surround the cells. These important changes allow more oxygen to be delivered to working muscles.
You also strengthen your muscles, tendons and ligaments. “These adaptations help you in shorter races like the 5K because it’s still primarily an aerobic activity,” McMillan says. “The more oxygen that you can deliver to the working muscles, the better your performance will be. And the stronger your muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments become, the more you are capable to conduct better race-specific training like intervals.”
So how far is far enough? According to Arthur McMillan, for non-marathoners, the right long-run length “depends where you are in your running career.” For someone not accustomed to running long, he advises working up to 90 minutes to properly stimulate the body’s adaptations. McMillan then suggests that athletes increase the duration of their long runs up to 2-3 hours.
Rubio has an alternative approach. Instead of prescribing a minimum time limit, he breaks out the long run using percentages of weekly mileage. At first he has runners run long using 20 to 25 percent of weekly mileage at an easy pace. He has them alternate other long runs using approximately 15 percent of weekly mileage preferably on a hilly course. Progression is key.
The take away…both Rubio and McMillan agree that runners training for shorter distance events still need long runs.
Beginning runners should follow these guidelines, even if they are working towards a 5K or 10K race and not a half or full marathon.
- 15 miles/week = 3.75 mile long run
- 20 miles/week = 5 mile long run
- 25 miles/week = 6.25 mile long run
- 30 miles/week = 7.5 mile long run
If you’re comfortable with a half marathon distance (13.1 miles) and just want to maintain your fitness and be ready to run a half marathon on short notice (maybe not run your best time but be able to finish without too much discomfort) your long run should be 8-12 miles. Besides maintaining your fitness, these long runs will give you all the benefits: increase muscle and capillary growth, allow more oxygen to your working muscles (allowing shorter runs to become easier), and to strengthen your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
5K specialist Chris Solinsky goes as long as 2 hours for his long runs. You might think this sounds crazy or counter productive…but Solinsky says, “[The long run] teaches your body to be efficient. Before I did long runs, when I was in high school, I was a lot less efficient than I am now. The long runs groom your body into running as effortlessly as possible.”
So what is your long run plan? Going out Saturday or Sunday?
Whatever day we don’t go long is a planned rest day but it’s still important to stretch! Oh…and don’t forget that one :60 plank on our long run and rest day!
Day 3 Exercises: Long Run + 7 Key Stretch for Runners + :60 Plank (Your Choice)
Day 4 Exercises: One :60 Plank (Your Choice) + 7 Key Stretches for Runners + Rest!
Even if you have no races in the works…the long run is addicting. The feelings after finishing your long run…empty, clean, worn out, sweat purged…the good ache of muscles that have done you proud…that feeling is worth every early weekend morning.
Eat a good dinner, hydrate, go to bed early…then get up and purge yourself of all the stress built up during the week. Go long Crew! 🙂