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Long Runs

Advice for anyone looking to increase their distance

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.

Discussion

  • Good podcasts (to taste), good scenery (easy round here in godzone). Don't have a problem with them "hanging over me" at the weekend, I look forward to the Sunday morning run. Quite meditative really. Sometimes just a steady long run, sometimes with a structure. The only ones I don't really like are the long marathon pace tests, cos they are big and scary.

    Actually I particularly like the 20 milers as they take me through a lovely bit of wetland where I can hope to see some interesting birdlife.

    I generally take a bit of food and drink and a lightweight windproof jacket + hat and gloves which go on and off depending on climate and effort levels.
  • LOL, show's what I know about fat burning!!!

    Ah well, at least I can point to not intentionally be fat adapted! I'd also say that I still don't run quite in the range that others do in terms of LSRs, MP+60s is about as slow as I ever fancy going on the road.
  • Saturday morning I planned to do a long run ending in parkrun. Didn't happen: combination of not getting up early enough to do it all and then general directionless meant that at 8:45 I was nowhere near the parkrun start!

    Somewhat inspired by this thread, at least subconsciously, I decided to just keep plodding around even though I didn't have any food or drink with me. 16 miles is easily the furthest I've ever run without any provisions so very pleased with that :-)
  • I did 16 miles ( 10 through mud) yesterday. I remembered to take a gel with me but didn't use it or feel I needed it.
  • One thing I hadn’t considered until I did my Abingdon long runs was my recovery time. With little or no fuel or water, I reached the point where I was making it home, but a bit wiped out. Including fuel and water on the run left me feeling more capable post-run. An important consideration for maintaining a happy run-life balance :-)
  • A decade ago I was a slave to gels and sports drink. Fuelling during every long run.

    After a decade of weaning myself of the gels and sports drink, for up to 20 miles I don't eat or drink, and it has zero effect. Also I don't eat or drink before going for the run. I just get up, put my kit on and go.

    Perhaps that's because I believe the S in LSR is significant. I think that it is important to run the lsr at least one minute per mile slower than MP, and probably nearer two.
  • Good points Fetch .for me recovery this time round is so different from my first time marathon training. But then I'm not training to hit a target time which I was before. I don't feel I'm at the limit which I was last time ( Maybe I should be trying harder)
  • I've never thought about that fetch. I'm not sure eating on my run would aid my recovery though. Might do, I suppose, might be worth experimenting. I know I can be grumpy when I get in from a long run because I am *sooo* hungry! So might help home relationships I suppose!

    I managed some MP (hoped for MP, I suppose) + 60s in second half of my 21ish mile long run. :-) G
  • 20 miles completely fasted? Wow! 🤯
  • DavidFR, I agree with that for the LSR. Only exception would be if I'm trying to do an MP run (e.g. 14 with 8 at MP, or 16 with 10 at MP or longest I've done is 20 with 13 at MP) then I'll usually need to fuel for that and will usually drink a 500ml Lucozade before and have maybe one gel with me too.

    However, an MP run is the exception of long runs, for me. 9 out of 10 long runs are slow, possibly hilly (for fun and extra effort) and like you I do them with no food. Like I say, I sometimes have an apple or a couple of mint sweets with me, but more for something to do than for fuel! :-) G
  • Hi everyone. I'm in the process of moving up from a regular 5K runner to try a half marathon later in the year. Just starting on a training regime for this and so new to a 'long run'. The article says "A minute slower than marathon pace is plenty fast enough" - so how do I calculate what my marathon pace might be? An a minute slower than what - a minute per mile?

    Thanks in advance.
  • Easiest way to approximate is to use the Fetch standards - read across from your current 5k pace and that will give an estimated marathon time, and you can calculate your MP+1 minute from there. Err on the side of slowness though - in recognition of the fact that the fetch standards are a little optimistic for marathons, and that slower is better than faster for long running (generally).

    So for example, 25m30 for 5k translates to 4h00m00 - which is 9m10s marathon pace. So MP+1minue would be 10m10s, but somewhere in the region of 10m30-11m00 per mile would be perfectly sensible long run paces.

    Fetch race standards - fetcheveryone.com/race-standards.php
  • Many thanks @larkim
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