You’re the 5K and 10K master. You’ve run them so many times, there’s not a racing strategy you haven’t tried. Lately, though, your interest and motivation for the “shorter stuff” has started to wane. You’ve been thinking more about moving to the dark side – the territory of the “long run”. Is it time for you to leave the comfort of single figures and ramp up your miles to the double (or even triple) digits?
WHAT IS “LONG”?
This is all relative. For new runners, a long run could be in the region of two to three miles, but for an experienced campaigner over 5K and 10K like you, then to truly go long we’re looking at distances of 20 miles plus. But if you’re going to tackle long, then it’s worth doing it properly. Set your sights high, perhaps a marathon (26.2 miles), and then the sky’s the limit in terms of distance. Ultra running (anything longer than 50K) is a whole new world of distance.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM GOING LONG?
Running longer is certainly different from the snappier stuff you do when preparing for a 5K or 10K. In training for 10K, you focus on running as fast as you can for a relatively short distance. If you’ve been doing it right, then you’ll have been focusing on tempo and threshold running, using intervals and speed work. When you start
to think about going long, your approach has to shift. Going long hurts in different ways. You will notice from your speedy racing over shorter distances that typically discomfort comes from your inability to hold a particular intensity – it’s the intensity that causes you to slow down.
Long running is different: it’s the duration that causes the stress. You start off slow, and slow down. Fact. Great long distance runners have an ability to tolerate discomfort for an incredibly long time.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
There are some majestic fitness benefits from running longer. In terms of running physiology and body conditioning, long runs help establish economical running through developing slow-twitch muscle fibres, oxygen utilisation and fuel/fat burning capacity, as well as your body’s ability to store glycogen as fuel. This is awesome
for your endurance. Long runs help to strengthen bones, tendons and ligaments, and develop your cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory systems.
The tricky thing is that it also places extra demands on your body, which can lead to increased injury risk, increased energy requirements and increased time allowance. That’s why progressing into your miles is very important.
PROGRESSING – HOW TO DO IT
Before you jump into a programme of long running, here are a few things to consider…
What is your longest run to date and what is your aspirational long run distance? You shouldn’t increase the distance of your long runs by too much too soon, and neither should you do long run after long run without a break. Add miles gradually and progressively. Smart runners build better long miles, they don’t just go out and run slow miles. Running smart long runs should see your overall strength, stamina, fitness and conditioning improve as the months progress, and not leave you feeling tired. If that’s the case, you have clearly done too much too quickly. Take care not to overdo it and follow the ten per cent rule where you don’t increase your weekly volume by more than ten per cent at a time from week to week. Conservative training is important, and the slower you build your long run mileage, the better for your long-term success.
If you’re going longer, how fast should you run? The longer you are running, the slower you should be running. So, if when you’ve been doing your workouts for 5K and 10K you’ve found yourself operating at lung-bursting pace at times, you know this isn’t sustainable for long runs! Where you may have been at an eight or nine out of ten in terms of effort in your 5K and 10K training, you’ve got to dial that down for your longer runs. Learn to run slower and lock into an effort level of three to four out of ten where you can hold a flowing conversation.
Fuelling the miles
One thing you will notice as you start to tick off the big miles is the demand this places on your energy reserves. When you run slower, you are working a different energy system than when running faster. Now, we’ve all got enough supplies to keep going for ages at a very slow speed, but very few of us are conditioned well enough to be able to access and effectively use those stores. It’s possible to teach yourself to be more “fat oxidative” on longer runs (for example, through fasted long slow runs) but these adaptations take time. Consider taking some fluids and fuel with you.
TOP TIPS FOR INCREASING YOUR DISTANCE…
KNOW YOUR LONG RUN PACE: It will feel easy when you’re feeling fresh at the start, but might feel tougher when you’re tired. It’s not essential to stick to this pace all the time, but use it as a guide for the majority of your miles.
DON’T RUSH PROGRESS: Be patient and steady. The best long-distance foundations are laid slowly over a long period of time.
MIX IT UP: Just because you’re focusing on long running, doesn’t mean neglecting quality entirely. Although 70 per cent of your weekly training might be done at a slow pace, adding a little quality into the mix helps you stay on top of speed and can improve your technique and efficiency.
LISTEN: Learn to listen to your body as the training miles creep up. Interpreting the signals from your body is the best way to avoid long-term injury and burnout. If it hurts, rest.