THE (MANY) BENEFITS OF THE LONG RUN
It’s one of those all-too important ingredients in the science of running training. No matter which day of the week you do it, the long run should be an essential part of your weekly training plan. Here are some reasons why:
It’s a great way to help you reach your weekly mileage goal.
One benefit of the long run is that it can be a great way to ensure that you reach your weekly mileage goal. We all have running goals and a lot of them depend on the mileage we run each week. A long run can be that “filler” that gets you there. It can also be a great way to maintain running strength during a period of low mileage, whether it’s because of work or family commitments, or because you’re on the road to recovery after an injury. The long run can truly be your salvation.
It can extend the aerobic benefits of your workouts.
If you’re already routinely doing speed workouts, the long run can help you extend the fitness gains from those workouts. Depending on the pace and distance of the long run, it can work your cardiovascular system, which is still recovering from the speed workout, and continue to work it. Pete Pfitzinger, exercise physiologist and two-time Olympic marathoner says that “eight to ten days is the typical window for fully realizing recent gains” from a workout. Obviously it varies from runner to runner but this is the generally understood timeframe, and perfectly-placed long run can add to those gains.
It builds mental strength.
Long runs are a great way to develop mental strength. Since it is the longest run of your week, there are certain mental barriers that it forces you to overcome, barriers that you may not face during your other runs. In short, long runs make you mentally tough!
It builds physical strength.
In addition to extending the cardiovascular fitness gains of a workout, long runs can also develop your physiological system by promoting muscle development (especially in your legs, shoulders and upper back) and the development of mitochondria (energy-producing structures found in cells) and capillaries (tiny blood vessels that transfer oxygen and waste products in and out of cells). All of these physiological benefits, combined and developed over time, can turn you into a more efficient runner.
It gives you a chance to catch up with your running buddies.
You all lead busy lives. Heck even your kids lead busy lives! It’s not always possible to stay in touch with your running buddies during the week. The long run is one of those times you can all come together, spend some quality time with your fellow runners and share what’s been going on in your respective lives. There’s nothing more fulfilling that catching up and getting some quality miles in the process.
It builds confidence and allows realistic goal setting.
I personally can’t imagine training for a marathon and not running at least two to three 20 or 20+ mile long runs before the race. There is no better way to gauge your preparedness for a long race such as a half or full marathon without doing the appropriate long runs during your training cycle. It gives you an indication of your fitness level and allows you to plan future long runs and set more realistic race goals. It can also go a long way (no pun intended) toward building and reinforcing your confidence in your ability to run the race at your target pace.
It allows you to explore places you wouldn’t otherwise experience.
Since long runs are...well, long, they encourage you to get creative and explore different locations and routes you may not normally consider running, and some of the running adventures you find yourself in during this process can be simply unforgettable.
It allows you to test out new apparel, nutrition and even footwear in “race-like” conditions.
I often encourage my athletes to choose one or two of their longest runs and pretend that they’re running the actual race. Wear the same clothes and shoes, use the same nutrition, hydrate at the same points along the course they plan to during the race, basically treat the long run like a simulated race. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and this is especially true when training for longer-distance races.
It gives you a sense of accomplishment.
It’s safe to say that if you’ve completed a 20-mile run or longer, you are in the minority among the general population. However, you don’t have to run 20 miles to feel a sense of accomplishment. Long runs are inherently challenging and this is why they make you feel like you accomplished something meaningful, because you have! Even if you do nothing else with your day.
It gives you a reason to eat a lot.
We’ve all heard that runners like to eat. I think another equally appropriate statement is that runners NEED to eat. The caloric requirements of running may find you eating all the time, and if you love food as much as I do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Long runs can give you a reason to indulge, but they can also balance out any uncontrollable bouts of calorie consumption. On a typical 16-mile long run, I can burn up to 20 calories per minute, and even if that run takes me only an hour and forty minutes, that equates to 2,000 calories spent in less than two hours! Something to think about.
It gives you something to talk about (or brag about) on Monday morning.
Unless you work with a group of other runners (and even if you do), your long run can always be something you carry with pride into work on Monday morning. Go ahead, gloat a little. After all, you did the work!
Here are some common myths about the long run:
It has to be over a certain length.
Long runs can be any distance longer than your longest run of the week.
It has to be over a certain pace.
Long runs should be very individualized and the pace should be specific to to your running goals. In some cases, long runs should be run for time, instead of pace and distance.
It has to be done on a weekend.
This is a common practice but a long run can be done on any day of the week that makes sense. Some runners who subscribe to a 10-day training cycle as opposed to a 7-day training cycle may elect to do their long run on a weekday. It all depends on your specific situation and schedule.
It has to be done outside.
There are benefits to running on the treadmill when the weather is not conducive to running outdoors. Treadmill runs, among other things, ensure that your runs are honest and remain on pace.
It’s only for marathoners and half marathoners.
The best mid to long distance runners in the world routinely incorporate long runs into their training plan regardless of the distance they race. It is a staple run for a wide variety of distances.
Now that you know why long runs are so good for you, come and join us on our weekly group long run. If you’d like some advice about how to effectively integrate long runs into your training plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or catch me at the next group run.
Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.