When programming the Long Run for our athletes, it can often be met with fear and trepidation. Like it or not, the long run is the key ingredient in a marathon training plan. To help work back some of that fear, and help you master the art of the long run, we’re shedding some light on key components of this workout:
- the purpose;
- different approaches;
- and some key considerations
There are a ton of physiological benefits and adaptations that your body will make during and after a long run that are hard to mimic otherwise. One of the most important purposes of the long run is teaching your body to burn fat and spare those oh so precious glycogen stores. You’ll also achieve increases in mitochondrial volume and capillaries inside your muscle fibers and a few other fancy scientific things. It also gives you the best opportunity to work on your running economy at or near marathon race pace. And then there’s the mind – the long run will test your mental strength, focus, and determination like nothing else. All of these components are attempts to prepare you for battle during the final 10-12k of the marathon, when both our body and mind start saying “No. Please, No.”
So, what’s the best way to achieve all of these wondrous effects and outcomes of running long?
There is so much information out there and so many types of long runs people are doing, it can be hard to figure out which are most effective for you. We see two main types of long runs as being important in everyone’s marathon training plan:
- The Long ‘Easy’ Run
- The Marathon Pace Long Run
The Long ‘Easy’ Run
The main purpose of this long run is spending time on your feet and your goals are to teach the body to burn fat efficiently and callus your legs and mind to running on tired legs.
For the long easy run, you should run aim to maintain about the same pace the entire run. That pace should be in the ‘easy’ or aerobic zone.
These runs will be your longest of the training cycle, and depending on your experience and ability level can build up to be as far as 40k. Yes, you’ll be out there for a while, so grab some friends or some good tunes and get ready to roll.
There’s nothing easy about the long run at a consistent, but easy pace. You should be well prepared for these runs and the test they will put on you mentally and physically. But remember all of those fancy scientific adaptations you’re going to be making while out there and how they’ll benefit you at the end of the day.
The long easy run should be done at most every other week. On the weeks in between, we recommend the Marathon Pace long run or some variation of it.
The Marathon Pace Long Run
You heard us correctly, this one is all about running at or near to marathon race effort for long sustained durations of time.
Don’t worry, you won’t go nearly as long at marathon pace as you will during your long easy run. We recommend tapping out at 90minutes or 25k of running at marathon effort. Any longer than that and you risk injury. When you tack on a 15-30min warmup and cooldown, you’ll still end up with a big day of work on these type of runs.
The goals of these runs are to teach your body to manage fuel and run economically. When running at this faster pace, your muscles are going to be eating up your glycogen stores at much faster rates than when you’re running long easy. These workouts, especially the final 30minutes of them, most closely mimic how your body will react in the later stages of the marathon. What better opportunity to practice your race-day fueling strategy than on these runs.
Before you lace up and hit the roads, there are a few more things to consider that will set you up for success.
Recovery – if the best workout to conquer the marathon is the long run, why not run long every damn day? Besides probably not having enough time in your day to do so, the long run also takes time to recover from. We often say that a long run ‘stays in the legs’ for 7-10 days. But, that doesn’t mean you should take every day between the long run off or very easy, which leads us to the next point….
The big picture – although we’re talking up the long run as the most important type of run during marathon training, it’s far less effective if it’s the ONLY run you do. Our point is that the long run is most effective when part of a well-rounded training plan, that includes an adequate amount of weekly running volume and to a lesser extent intensity. We often see people sacrificing training runs throughout the week in order to ‘rest up’ or ‘save their legs’ for the long run. But this common practice can often hinder the effectiveness of the long run. The long run is most effective when approached on tired legs, or at least legs that aren’t fresh as a daisy.
Fuelling – You’ve heard of hitting the wall, right? Sure, the science tells us that the human body only stores enough glycogen to get through ~2hrs of aerobic activity. But through a combination of your training and practicing taking on fuel (to replace the stored glycogen), you can break through the wall. All long runs should be viewed as an important opportunity to practice fuelling.