The Importance of Running Long with Coach Liz Crain

The long run is simply, the longest run of the week. This can mean different things for different runners. For some runners, this might be 5 miles, for other runners it could be 22 miles, it all depends on what your training goals are, what fitness level you’re currently at, and time you have available. Regardless of where you are in your running, the long run is an important workout to implement into your training because it is beneficial in many ways. Running long will build your cardiovascular system, build mental toughness, and help you practice fueling for your race!

Physiological Benefits of the Long Run

There are many physiological benefits that come with running long. The three main adaptations that occur in your body are enzymatic, capillary, and musculoskeletal. More specifically, long runs increase the number and size of capillary beds, mitochondria, key aerobic enzymes and hemoglobin and myoglobin that all help facilitate aerobic power. All of this leads to an increase of the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during exercise or an increase in your VO2 max. Also, the long run increases your fuel efficiency by teaching your body how to more effectively use your glycogen stores for energy while also improving your body’s ability to use fat for fuel.

Other Benefits of Long Runs

Long runs have plenty of physiological benefits all runners can benefit from, but it doesn’t stop there! Running long can help you in other ways as well! Your long run is a good time to practice many aspects of running. You can practice your running form during your long run and with practice and consistency your form can improve over time. The long run is also a good time to practice fueling and nutrition with all of the different products out there nowadays it’s good to figure out what products work best for you. This is best done on your long run because you can ensure that the fuel/hydration products you’re using sits well in your stomach and doesn’t cause any unwanted GI issues. Another big benefit of the weekly long run is that it builds mental toughness. Having a long run weekly forces you to overcome many mental barriers that may not occur with your other daily runs. 

Types of Long Runs

There are a couple different types of long runs you can choose to include in your training. Here are the main types of long runs I like to incorporate:

Slow and Steady Long Run: This long run is the most common type of long run, and what most people think of when you say long run. This type of long run is run steadily at or near your easy pace. Which means this should be a conversational pace. This is the type of long run most people are familiar with. Slow and steady long runs should be done by runners of all abilities, but especially by runners who are still getting used to the distance of the run. 

Fast Finish Long Run: Finishing fast is the main objective of this type of long run. Finishing fast can mean one of two things: 1) Running the last couple miles of the long run at your goal race pace 2) Progressively getting faster and running the second half of your long run faster than the first. This type of long run is best for intermediate to advanced runners that are aiming to PR or run a certain time. 

Rolling Long Run: These long runs are similar to the slow and steady long run, but involves running a purposefully hilly course or route. You should aim to run at the same effort level throughout the run, which will lead to natural increases and decreases in pace on the hilly segments. These runs are good for runners of all abilities and should definitely be incorporated into your training if you are running a hilly race. 

How Long and When to Run

Most runners should have a long run every week, but if you are an injury prone runner you may want to consider running long every 10 days. Typically these long runs are done on weekends or days you have off from work. Running long is different for everyone and depends on what your goals are and what your fitness level is. Below is a table of long run ranges by race, remember that these are just general guidelines and everyone’s long run schedule will look different.

Long Runs By Race Distance

5k 5 – 15 miles
10k 8 – 17 miles
Half Marathon 13 – 20 miles
Marathon 18 – 22 miles

Liz Crain is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Liz, check out her coaching page.