Top 10 Long Run Tips

The long run is a key part of your training programme, no matter what distance you are training for. 5K runners can benefit as well as marathon runners. The weekly long run is a workout that many look forward to while others dread. It’s a staple part of my training, and I really look forward to my Saturday morning long run.

Here are ten tips to make your long runs more enjoyable and more beneficial.

Run with a friend

I’d always suggest getting a training partner or someone who is as crazy as you are who wants to run as long as you.  It might be that you are training for the same event, or you are both just able to do the distance.  Don’t worry about your pace, or their pace.  Settle into each others pace, and don’t push each other beyond your limits.  If your friend does runner at a slower pace than you, it doesn’t matter.  There are plenty of times you can run faster on your own.  The benefits you’ll get from running long with a friend, far outweigh you not being able to make your pace goal specific.

You’ll find that the time will fly by and you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.  You won’t be thinking about every little niggle you feel or how high that next hill is.  Instead you’ll be chatting away getting to know each other and learning from each other’s running and life experiences.

And if your friends aren’t looking to run the same shorter distances than you, run part of your run with them.  Run to their house, then do a route from theirs and back to yours.  I’m doing 15 miles this Saturday, 10 with my friend and 5 on my own.  🙂

Make your distance goal specific

You should adjust the distance of your long run according to the race distance you are training for.  You should also consider the type of route… a to b route, out and back route, loops, hills, flat.  Run some of the course in training if you can.

A marathon runner should gradually increase the distance of the long run up to about 22 to 24 miles. It is not really necessary to go longer than that, although I did try a 26.2 miler 6 months before completing a marathon for real as I ‘wanted to make sure I could do it’ and learned a lot from doing that (pacing, hitting the wall and energy intake).

A 5K runner should do about 8 to 10 miles, a 10K runner should go 11 to 13 miles and a half marathoner should work up to about 14 to 17 miles.

Run some miles at goal pace

All long runs are not run at the same pace. Make your pace specific to your goal. If you goal is simply to finish a marathon, you long run pace should remain easy throughout your workout.  However, if you have a goal race pace, you must increase to goal pace for a portion of your workout. For the marathon distance run the first half of your workout at an easy pace. After that, speed up to goal pace for about a quarter or a fifth of your run. Then, slow back down to an easy pace for the last quarter or fifth.

If you do not run a portion of your long runs at goal pace, you will not be physically or mentally prepared to run that pace in the marathon. Do not run more than half of your long run at goal pace. The same procedure may be followed for half marathon training. When training for a 5K, do a goal pace mile in the middle of your training run or at the end. 10K runners should do 2 miles at goal pace either in the middle or end of the long run.

A good few I’ve done include:

22 miles: 18 easy, 4 miles faster.
20 miles: 12 miles easy, 6 miles faster, 2 miles easy.
26.2 miles: 5 miles easy, 16 miles steady, 5.2 miles faster.

I’ve also worked on trying to run negative splits, where you run the first half of your run slower than the second half.  You get a great feeling of achievement with this type of run as you can usually finish strongly, however it can be a bit of a challenge to hold back the pace at the start / first half!

Count the long run as a hard day runners believe that the long run is an easy day, because most of the workout is performed at an easy pace. The long run is actually a hard day. In many instances it is the hardest workout of the week. Plan on taking the day after a long run off. It is best to rest totally. If you must run, keep the workout after a long run very easy.

Saturdays are my usual long run days, and I nearly always take the Sunday off, followed by a short easy run planned on Monday mornings.  Sometimes I take the Monday off too in order to recover fully from the long run.

Run most of your miles at the same time

Many fitness professionals are trying to tell us that you get the same benefit from two 30 minutes workouts as you get from one 60-minute workout. That is simply not true. The total calorie burn may be equal, but the fitness gains are not. Two 30-minute workouts will not prepare you for 60 minutes of continuous running.  The more time you spend on your feet, the more you build your endurance and stamina up.

Run a familiar route or map your route

Try not to run a route that you are not familiar with when doing your long run. Save the adventures for your shorter runs. You need to have a good idea of the distance you are travelling when doing your long runs. If you want to add some variety and try a new course, try to measure it first with either your car or your bike.  Or if you want to run a new long route, do it with a friend or map it out on or first so you know where to go and how long it will be.

Drink fluid and take on energy

Dehydration and heat related illnesses are common problems when doing a long run. Drink fluid to avoid this. It is better to drink a sports drink rather than water.  The sports drinks contain both carbohydrates and sodium, which will help your energy level and the mineral levels in your blood.

Generally speaking if a run is upwards of 1:20 you should be taking on some sort of energy.  Be it lucozade or energy gels (after an hour run I would take a lucozade when I finish).  For longer runs, you can leave a lucozade bottle (and or a gel) half way along your route in a plastic bag, or do a loop so that you pass by your car/house half way so you can pick up the bottle half way.

For any run upwards of about 10 miles (1:30) I carry my hydration pack with me, it just makes sure I take on water when I need it and allows me to store anything I need (gels/keys etc) in the pack too. It ensures I avoid that dreaded dehydration headache later in the day (had it once after running a 13 mile training run – never again!)

After about 2 hours of running your body starts to run out of glycogen stores (what keeps your muscles going)… so top these up every 45 minutes to an hour with carbs and calories (in the form of energy gels, bars or food).

Take a recovery week

Depending on your experience, if your long runs are 10 miles or less, you can do them every week without risking over training or injury. Once you start running longer than that consider taking a break from the long run every 3-4 weekends. The break between long runs will allow your muscles and connective tissues to heal and will help you avoid burnout or injury.

I’d suggest training in 3 or 4 week cycles.  For the 4 week cycle… you increase the distance of the long run for weeks 1,2 and 3, then in week 4 you cut the distance back (ie, 8M, 10M, 12M, 6M).  Then restart your long run increases in week 1 again (ie. 13M, 15M, 17M, 8M), then up again (ie. 18M, 20M, 22M, 10M).

Increase milage gradually

Making large increases in mileage is a mistake. Don’t increase more than 2 miles or 10% per long run. Making bigger jumps in mileage will increase the possibility of injury.  It all depends on what distances you are running regularly at the moment and if you are finding them easy.  If you run 8 miles one week, then up it to 10 miles and its really tough, drop it down to 6 or 7 the next week, then start to rebuild the distances up again the week after (up to 9 or 10 again).

Run a loop

Running a loop course offers many advantages over an out and back course. A loop course of any distance will work, but one that is between 3 and 4 miles is ideal. A loop around a park or leisure centre works well because there are usually toilets available. A loop course will allow you to keep your sports drink hidden at your car or behind a bush or tree. That way you do not have to carry the fluids with you.

Running a loop is also safer. You are never a long way from your starting point. With an out and back course, if you become excessively fatigued or if the weather gets bad, you may be as much as 12 miles away from shelter. The loop is also ideal for gradually adding distance. If you have a 3-mile loop, you can add one loop when you are ready to increase your distance.

The only thing is it might get hell of a boring going over the same ground again and again and again!  Perhaps this is where the training partner comes in to take your mind off the repetition?

Here are some more links you might like:

Running Long
Things I’ve learned from running the marathon…
Rituals & preparations for long runs / races

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