The Art of the Long Run

The long run is the cornerstone to any long distance training plan (marathon and half marathon especially). Often times the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the long run are ignored with the simple instruction to “run far.” There’s a bit more to it than just tacking on miles and with fall training plans in full swing, it is the perfect time to dissect the long run.

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Why Run Long: The long run is essential in preparing your body to perform at long distances. There are several changes that occur in your body and mind during the long run that will assist you on marathon day. Your body adapts physically by becoming a more efficient aerobic machine. Your body learns to use fat as fuel as it deals with glycogen depletion and you become better at maintaining your energy levels. Running long runs also teaches your body to become more efficient in gait and stride. There are also mental adaptations. Perhaps when you start your long run is 6 or 10 miles, gradually you increase this distance until you are running 20+ miles. Mentally, six miles doesn’t seem so far anymore. You’ve increased your capacity to deal with discomfort.

How Long is Long: A general rule of thumb is that a long run is 90 minutes or more. Your pace will dictate how far you can get in 90 minutes and using this guideline, “long” has more to do with “road time” than it does with actually distance. I think this is a helpful guideline for runners of any level because it allows you to start your long run at a distance that is commensurate with your experience. For a 10 min/miler a 90 minute run would be 9 miles. For an 8 min/miler a 90 minute run would be 11.25 miles.

How Often: It all depends on what your training for, typically a marathon or half marathon program requires running long once a week. Ultra runners often do multiple long runs in a week, providing them the training they need to complete distances longer than the marathon. Most training plans for a marathon have the long run build over a series of weeks until you reach the 2o mile mark. If you want to complete a marathon one long run of 18 or 20 miles is sufficient. However, I am of the opinion (and you can find differing opinions) that if you want to do more than drag yourself across the finish line of a marathon, multiple long runs of over 20 miles are essential. Ideally three to four long runs of 20 miles or more. They don’t necessarily have to be back to back weekends, you can put a step back weekend between these twenty  milers (in fact this is probably the better way to schedule them). For example run 20 one weekend and 12-14 the following weekend.

Increasing Long Runs: There are a whole host of coaching theories and rules of thumb for increasing the long run. Most training plans increase the long run by 2-3 miles each week. In addition to this basic formula you can also take into consideration running coach, Jack Daniels’ recommendation that the long run comprise no more than 30% of total weekly mileage for runners running less than 40 miles per week and less than 25% for runners running more than 40 miles per week (Daniels 49). For example, if you had a base of 30 miles per week your long run would be about 9 miles. As you increased weekly mileage (lets say by 15%) the following week to 34.5 miles your long run would be about 10.4 miles. Which is an increase of a 1.5 miles from the previous week. It’s important to remember that these are, in my opinion, very conservative guidelines. In the past I’ve increased weekly mileage by more than 20 or 25% (clearly breaking all running “rules”) and very often my long runs have comprised a lot more than 30% of my weekly mileage. In regards to weekly mileage and long runs you want to avoid extremes: don’t increase weekly mileage exorbitantly and it is unwise to rely on the weekly long run to bulk up your weekly mileage.

Thoughts on Pace: It is very important for your long runs to be at an easy pace. Some call this “conversation pace,” another rule of thumb would be to run 60 to 90 seconds slower than your goal marathon pace. Running the long run too fast can leave you burned out and susceptible to injury. Easy paced running is also key to training your body to run in a glycogen depleted state.

Source: Daniels, Jack. Daniels’ Running Formula.

Are you training for a fall marathon or half marathon? Do you like the long run? 

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–Sarah

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m currently training for my first marathon – some of this stuff I wish I knew before hand, but all good stuff to keep in mind for future trainings. My goal with my first marathon is to complete it. And get my baseline from there for improvements. I may never run a marathon again, so it is also something for me to cross off of my bucket list. I took an extremely conservative route with my training for this and just up-ed my long runs by one mile each week, topping out at 20 miles with two weeks of taper. I think for future races, I will incorporate a few more of the longer runs followed by a shorter run the following week instead of always increasing the mileage. Thanks for this info! Even if I never run a marathon again, this info is definitely useful for future half marathons and other races!

    • scanney says

      I’m glad you found this helpful info! You cant definitely follow a lot of the guidelines for a half marathon too.Good luck in your full!

  2. says

    I’m running Chicago and Memphis this fall/winter and the long run is always my favorite part of a training plan! This is a great post and really great info. This is the first cycle where I’m doing at least 3 20/20+ milers and I’m also incorporating some fast finish long runs. It’s recommended you don’t do them back-to-back and not more than 2 a month and I count them as part of my speedwork, but it’s a great way to practice running at goal pace on fatigued legs.

    • scanney says

      i think that those multiple 20 milers and fast finishes will really help you!I did do two of my four 22 milers back to back it was two “peak weeks” I had before my taper started three weeks out. It was tough but I recovered just fine and did well at the marathon.

  3. says

    Thank you for the great refresher on a workout I totally do not put a lot of thought into! I tend to be a Lower mileage runner so my long run can definitely end up being a higher percent of my weekly mileage than you mention here! I have been toying with increasing weekly mileage and this may be a good impetus to do so!

    • scanney says

      I think that can be tough to get that percentage especially if you’re a lower mileage runner. But I think you just want to avoid overloading your body on the long run, really those weekly runs should be preparation for the long run. So runs of 6+ miles during the week will help you and build endurance.

  4. says

    Yes, training for a full marathon in Plymouth, MA at the end of November. I’m really excited to get back in a long run groove! I’m pretty comfortable running 10 miles at this point, but I’m psyched to get back up in those high teens and touch that 20 threshold. For my first marathon, I only did one 20-miler, but I’m excited to get in hopefully 3 before this next try.

    • scanney says

      Is that the miles standish race? I think it just started a couple years ago. I’d love to hear how it goes. I’ve contemplated that one. And if you can manage three 20′s you will definitely be well prepared for the marathon!

    • scanney says

      I love that feeling. Especially when you go to run errands later in the day and you think “wow I already ran this route cause I ran 20 miles this morning” haha:)

  5. says

    Yes – I just started training for my first marathon (have done a half) and I quite like the long runs. To be honest, I love them. I love the feeling you get after an hour of slow running that you can run for another hour and still be good to go (this doesn’t always happen, mind you).

    • scanney says

      Slow running feels like a welcomed break for me. I like the quiet thinking time and try to pick scenic routes.

  6. says

    Great breakdown here! It can be so confusing. I absolutely love the long run, but it’s hard to find the TIME to do it. I’m training for two half marathons in the fall but a good friend of mine is training for her first full. I’m trying to do as many of her long runs with her as I can, but Saturday mornings are tough unless we leave insanely early!! We have 16 this weekend and I’m really looking forward to it :-)

    • scanney says

      Those long runs are tough to fit in. I never sleep in on the weekends when I’m training for a big race. I’ve got to be done by 8 or 9 or else it eats up a day with family. Good luck with your 16 tomorrow!

  7. says

    hey girl
    Great post and I so needed this to get my bootay in gear for fall. I’m training for hood to coast now but have a half and possibly a full in the fall. Have capped out at 8 miles for the summer. I hate the heat. Loved the pic and needed a glimpse of my beloved fall running weather!

  8. Happy Fit Mama says

    Great breakdown of my favorite run of the week. I’m contemplating doing four 20 milers this training period…still thinking on that one. I’ve slowed my pace down quite a bit for my long run and have played around with race pace miles in the middle or at the end a few times. It definitely helps give the feel for running on tired legs.

  9. says

    Love this breakdown of the Long Run. I have been guilty of running long runs too fast in the past, more of a pride issue but recently for this Fall’s Marathon I have been much more modest in my speed on the long run. I will try and finish faster but have learned the hard way not to push it too much. This weekend I have 15-16 on the schedule and due to travel and some serious weather issues (more than just rain) I may have to push it to Monday but I’m hoping not.

  10. says

    Hi Sarah! I’m gearing up for a marathon this Fall. It will be my first, but I’ve loved running since I was a little girl. Four babies in a relatively short amount of time and I’ve just been out of it for a while. Just purchased your “Embrace the Hill” t-shirt and can’t wait to get it. I say this phrase all the time about some hills I’ve conquered both literally and figuratively, so I just loved finding this shirt on your site. I found you threw Kelly from “Redhead on the Run”, a dear friend. Thanks so much!

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