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  • Go Long!

    The importance of long runs

    It doesn't matter whether you've just escaped your sofa like some sort of fitness butterfly, or whether you're training for your umpteenth race – the long run is the foundation upon which all training plans are built. And it can be just as beneficial whether you're training for a 5k or a marathon.

    First up, there's the obvious benefit of becoming accustomed to being on the move for long enough. For marathon training, this really is a no-brainer, but when you're in the last five minutes of a sharp 5k, it can be reassuring to draw on the mental toughness that you get from the drawn-out discomfort of longer runs. Of course, you don't need to scale the same heights to complete a 5k, but the endurance benefits from long slow running will undoubtedly help.

    A regular long run is also the perfect opportunity to practice everything you need to get right on race day. That jazzy shirt you got for Christmas might be great on shorter runs, but the never-ending repetition that can cheese-grater your extremities, and the multitude of weather conditions you might experience on a longer run will encourage you to focus on finding the most comfortable options.

    It gives you the opportunity to experiment with different ways to fuel and hydrate – during and before your run. Find out where the fuelling stations will be on race day, and what's on offer - then try a similar set-up on your long run to see how you cope. If it doesn't work out, you need to think about how to fuel at the times that work for you. It's an opportunity to find out what will work best for you, and what will leave you hallucinating about custard creams by mile eight.

    The most common newbie mistake is to run too fast. Save it for the race! The golden rule of training for a purpose is to remember the purpose of every run. Long runs help your body adapt to harness and optimise a lot of important systems. It's improving its ability to make use of fat, increasing its capacity to store more glycogen, and strengthening your heart, so it can help deliver oxygen to hard-working muscles. A minute slower than marathon pace is plenty fast enough to do all of this. Any faster and you're just wasting energy.

    By avoiding the urge to burn rubber during your long run, you'll be able to give your full attention to that speed session later in the week. But do make sure you spread out your key training sessions. Planning intervals on the day before, or the day after a long run just isn't sensible. Equally, make sure your schedule allows for a scaled back week each month, to avoid burning out.

    Increasing distance should also be a sensible, gradual process. Adding an extra 10-15 minutes each week to your running time will get most runners to where they want to be. If you find the idea daunting, then try sticking with a favourite route, but add a few small diversions along the way. I find that it can be helpful to add the extra miles to the start of your route, rather than the end. As you approach home, and tick off the landmarks, it's good to know that you've already got the miles under your belt.

    When planning your run, it's useful to choose a route with potential shortcuts home, just in case things don't go to plan. Similarly, look out for corner shops and petrol stations, and places where you could use the loo if you need it. And if you want a drink on the route, but don't want to carry it, scout out some safe places where you could hide a bottle the previous day.

    It can also be extremely helpful to do your long runs with friends or club mates. Not only do you encourage and look out for each other, but you can take turns holding the water bottle, and it can be a fantastic shared experience.

    Most importantly, long runs can give you a wonderful feeling of liberty as you eat up the miles using just the power of your own body. Running fast feels good, but there's nothing like that sense of equilibrium you can reach on a long run where it feels as though you could run forever.



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    • Bang on.
    • great article... although if you're as lazy as me it may help to make most of your long runs out and back. I then only have to motivate myself to get to halfway and then have no choice but to complete the full distance to get back home :) this will remain the perfect strategy for me right up to the inevitable day where something goes horribly wrong 10 miles from home!
    • Another great one Fetch! Top writering! :-) Another way to turn a 'normal' run into a long run if you're a bit daunted by planning the big one is to daisy-chain them. If you've got some pals you can do 5 miles with do 3 before and 2 after and bingo! you've done 10. Or run 5 miles to a parkrun jog it and run back - tada! 13 miles etc. Cheers :-)G
    • I do love finding 'run forever' pace. :)
    • Great article yet again. I have a few long run strategies I try to run with a group (for company) I run several shorter loops (for added mental training) or I run to and from a local 5K race (for the sheer hell of it). I tend to hallucinate about digestives though.
    • '...there's nothing like that sense of equilibrium you can reach on a long run where it feels as though you could run forever. '

      Brilliant... Thanks Fetch
    • a great writeup Fetch ;-)
    • :-) I'm a rubbish group member I'm afraid. I enjoy the articiles but have limited environments in which to share them :-( I keep waiting to be expelled.
    • Forget whole books about running I would say that has to be one of the best articles I have ever read :-)
    • Brilliant! Cheese grater you extremities :)
    • Great article. I tend to run 2 loops or a figure 8 so I'm never too far from home if the worst happens. I find it helpful to have that mental safety net.
    • Great write up Fetch. II tend to do out and back or lollipop shaped long runs knowing I'll happily run out 10 miles then I *have* to run 10 miles back. And the sense of running back home always motivates me. If I did loops near home I'd stop when it felt tough. My best long run tip is dont forget the Haribo!
    • Great article but it begs the newbie question about what is the appropriate length for a long run when doing 5k/10k/Half? When asked I usually say aim for over 90 minutes rather than a distance but horses for courses.
    • Mykey - try this one: http://www.fetcheveryone.com/cms-40
    • top article :)
    • This is so true and people ignore it....you don't wanna get a pb training run. I treat it as a day out.
    • Cheers Fetch. I'd forgotten about that one :-)
    • A fantastic article and always room for more tips thanks Fetch!
    • good advice.
      I mix up loops and out and backs. A loop means I can leave derinks/gels on gatepost and have alool break :)
    • My long runs are the least scenic and the most supermarket-dense. I also try and run not too far from bus routes - never needed them yet but good to have a back-up plan in case my legs fall off.
    • Yes I like to add the extra miles at the start of my long run rather than the end. Temptation to cut short is taken away then.
    • Another tip for a loo stop if you are in a built up area - local hospitals!
    • I love my long runs heart

      I didn't always though then I learned that it's about time on feet not speed or even running ! And that run forever feeling ? Priceless x
    • Brilliant!
    • Long slow runs make long slow runners.... Seb Coe but then what doe she know?
    • I try not to run routes with shortcuts home it's too tempting to cut the run short if things get tough. In stead I run away from home/car meaning I have no choice but to get back.
    • For every race distance below marathon the advice is to run longer than that on your long run. This make sense. Why is it different for the marathon? The expert opinion seems to be that it would take so long to recover from say 28-30 miles and if you go to fast then sure. However if you can do it and do it slow surely it is a major boost to know you can exceed the marathon distance.
    • PS - not that I have ever done that!
    • Good article. Although the precise pace that a long run should be is open to debate. Personally a whole minute slower than marathon pace is on the slow side (it would be a very casual jog for me and some others - long runs dont need to be THAT slow). Perhaps a minute slower than half marathon pace is better advice - of course it depends on the individual and race target.

      Then theres the issue of what distance a long run should be - again depends on the individual (target race ability etc). 10-14 miles is a general guideline for competitive long distance runners but of course for a marathon you need to build to 20+.

      @William108: Thats an awful comment - Sebastian Coe (like myself) was a middle distance runner so long runs are not going to benefit performance as much as for long distance runners.
    • Of course SODIron. I meant that the comment 'Seb Coe - what does she know' was awful. But 'long slow runs make long slow runners' is true to an extent.
    • Few elements in the usual array of marathon training options seem to arouse so much feeling as the long run. For my little book on marathon running (sorry its in Danish) I looked around to see what the gurus (self-appointed or otherwise) said. There is a sort of consensus.
      Frank Shorter said your long run should be 20 miles or two hours whichever comes up first. Ingrid Kristensen is quite insistent on not exceeding two hours. Paula Radcliffe is reported as doing up to 22 miles in 2:15 (thats pretty swift!). On the subject of pace Deena Kastor did up to 15 miles of her long runs at marathon pace (echoes of SODirons post there). Common to them all is that their runs took them to around the 22 mile mark.
      As a runner who was lucky if he could do a marathon in twice the time it took these gods and goddesses to do their long runs I dont feel that 2 hours is quite enough But just where 2 hours draws so close to three hours or more that you cant possibly recover to train properly the next week is surely also a matter of the intensity you choose to do it at. And there is no more than a fair correlation between total mileage in training and peoples marathon results if we take plodders like me. The picture is perhaps slightly different with the blokes who do between 2:56 and 2:23 with an r2 of 0.66 (that one is for you Sir Fetch ).
      I always liked long runs. I regarded them as a bit of an adventure. I even managed to do them very very slowly and sometimes I got lost and was out for five hours at a time. Mind you I never did run a marathon as fast as Id have liked to
    • This is vital for aerobic fitness you also have to learn how to shit on the move too :-o
    • Oh and I disagree with everything SOD says :-)
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