If you’re training for a half or full marathon, the long run holds a crucial place in developing your distance running stamina.
For most runners, they either look forward to their long run, or they dread it. Consequently, seems like there isn’t much of an in-between. It’s usually one extreme or the other.
No matter which camp you’re in, the long run is the cornerstone of every effective distance running plan. The incredible benefits of the long run give it a regular spot in every training plan.
It’s often said that if you have to miss any workouts in your training plan, DO NOT miss the long run because it is such a vital piece of your conditioning.
Before we get into all of the great reasons you need to incorporate long runs into your plan, let’s define what exactly a long run is.
What defines a “Long Run”?
First, we should probably establish what exactly constitutes a long run.
In the simplest terms, it’s the longest run of your week.
For some runners, it might be 6 miles. For others, it might be 22 miles or beyond. This all depends on your fitness level, training, goal race, ability, and willingness to surrender a huge chunk of time to running.
No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, the long run truly is a staple workout. Therefore, it is a foundational and universal training tool to help you improve your running.
Benefits of Including the Long Run in Your Training Plan
There are several benefits of including regular long runs in your training plan. Some are physiological, many are mental, and we often see them manifest in fitness improvement.
Many of these benefits manifest in physiological adaptations that occur when you increase your distance.
- Your body becomes more proficient at burning fat, which is it’s optimal fuel source
- You teach your body to more effectively utilize and replace its muscle and liver glycogen stores
- The size, number, and density of muscle capillaries and mitochondria (blood vessels and cellular factories that facilitate aerobic energy) increase. This means your body can deliver more oxygen and work harder.
- Your VO2 max increases (the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise). The higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen you can utilize during a hard effort, and the more power you’ll produce during a workout.
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Additionally, there are a number of mental benefits that must not be overlooked when preparing for a distance race.
- The feeling of accomplishment when you push your body farther than it has ever gone before
- Learning to mentally tolerate running for longer periods of time. Build that mental toughness and resiliency!
- Use the long run as an opportunity to practice your fueling as you would on race day.
- Confidence that your body can go the distance on race day
Even more, you are likely to notice the benefits of regular long runs by several different fitness gains.
- Distances that used to be ‘long’ runs now feel shorter
- You’ll recover faster after running steep hills or after brief bursts of speed
- Personal records are often earned in longer distance races due to the volume increase
- Confidence grows as you learn to work through fatigue and discomfort
- You might even experience a desire to run longer events!
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Long Runs
Now that we’ve covered how important long runs are as part of your running routine, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your long runs to ensure maximum benefit and fitness gains.
Prioritize your long run
If you have to miss a workout during the week, DON’T miss this one.
Get the distance right
Your long run should make up around 25-30% of your total weekly mileage, and will likely increase each week to increase your distance tolerance as you get closer to your race. This distance may vary depending on your event and goals.
Start with a good, carbohydrate-filled breakfast 1-2 hours before you run
This will top-off your energy stores and ensure your body has the fuel it needs to go the distance. By eating 1-2 hours before you hit the streets, your body should have enough time to digest the breakfast and let your stomach settle.
WOAH! Slow down your pace
The object of the long run is to spend a lot of time on your feet, not to see how fast you can go. (Save your speed for a different workout, and race day.) Your pace should be easy, and the effort consistent. Depending on your route and how you feel that day, you might need to take a few walk breaks.
Hydrate and fuel properly
This is one item that I see many runners underestimate, especially if they’re trying to lose weight. Your long runs are not the time to cut calories! For any runs over 90 minutes, you really need to consider carbohydrate consumption. Aim for 30-60 grams per hour. This will help you keep your energy and effort level consistent by providing an easily absorbed source of quick energy and allow your body to run efficiently. Carry your fuel and hydration with you for convenience in a running belt or vest.
Find ways to create excitement and anticipation around your long run
Try a new audiobook or a new playlist to mix it up. Even better, plan a new route every once in a while or travel to a nearby park or trail for some difference scenery.
If distance races or long adventure runs are on your schedule, then long training runs are a MUST for your training plan. They are—by far—the most effective way to condition your mind and body for the adventure that awaits you on race day.
Which camp are you in? Do you love your long runs or dread them?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>