Long runs are the bread and butter of any race training program, especially for the 10K, half marathon, and marathon. When your success in the race depends upon endurance, you need to build your endurance, and nothing does that more than the long run.
Most programs call for long, slow distance runs where you run at a conversational pace for the entire duration of the long run. Pace doesn’t matter; only completion of the prescribed distance. These long runs are great if you are a beginner or moving up to from the 5K or 10K to the marathon. Running an easy pace for your long runs allows you to build endurance without risking injury or overtraining.
When you’ve run multiple half and full marathons and want to earn a PR, it may be time for you to progress beyond the easy-paced long run by adding stuff to your long runs. If you do the same 12, 16, or 20-miler over and over again, your body will adapt and you will see less progress in your training. Adding stuff to your long runs adds in variety that requires your body to work harder and prevents you from hitting training plateaus.
Adding distance will also help improve your endurance, but there’s a point of diminishing returns after you have been running for more than 3 hours. You can pick up the overall pace, but you don’t want to go so fast for so long that you race your long run and exhaust yourself for race day. By adding surges, fartleks, tempos, hills, or fast-finishes to your long runs, you add a new stimulus to your training program. As your body works to adapt to this new stimulus, you will become stronger and faster.
Long runs with fartleks, tempos, fast-finishes, or any other additions should not replace your regular easy-paced long run every week. Rather, swap out every other or every third long run for a long run with stuff and keep the rest of your long runs at your normal pace.
Long Run with Surges:
Surges are the safest (in terms of injury-risk) and easiest way to introduce faster running into your long runs. Surges are similar to strides except you add them in during the second half of your run instead of after your run. You simply pick up your pace to around 10K pace for 30-60 seconds, with at least 2-3 minutes of running at your normal pace before surging again. You don’t want to sprint so fast that you exhaust yourself; the purpose of surges is to teach your legs to run fast when tired and to keep you feeling energized during a long run. Aim to run 5-10 surges in a long run, based on the length of your run and your level of fitness.
Add it in: Add five 60-second surges to a 10-12 mile run, with 3 minutes of easy running between each surge.
Fartlek Long Run:
Fartleks mean speed play and are a great way to incorporate faster running into your long run. Unlike speed workouts such as 12 x 400m at 5K pace or 5 x 1 mile at 10K pace, fartleks are unstructured both in distance and pace. For example, you could run 8 x 3 minutes hard with 2 minutes easy in the middle of your long run. “Hard” is relative to how you are feeling that day; you are measuring according to effort rather than a certain pace.
Add it in: After warming up for a few miles, run 5 x 5 minutes at an hard effort. Recover at your normal pace for 5 minutes. Cool down at your normal pace for the remaining duration of your run.
Tempo Long Run:
A tempo run is an effective workout for building speed and endurance. If you’re preparing for a half or full marathon, tempo runs help you get physically and mentally used to running harder for a longer time and help your internalize your goal pace. Sandwich the tempo miles in the middle of your long run so you have plenty of time to warm up and cool down. You can run your tempo miles at either your lactate threshold pace (which is between 10K and half marathon pace) or at your goal half marathon or marathon pace.
Add it in: For a 15 miles long run, run at your easy pace for 5 miles, then run at your tempo pace for 6 miles, and finish the last 4 miles at your easy pace.
Rolling Hills Long Run:
Hills work wonders for runners: they help improve your form, they strengthen your glutes, and they offer the benefits of speedwork without the pounding. If you’re training for a hilly race, running hills will specifically prepare you for the race course. If your upcoming race is flat, conquering hills in training will make a flat course feel even easier and faster. Choosing some rolling hills for a long run is a great way to add a boost to your training and provide some new scenery if your normal route is flat.
Add it in: Find a hilly loop or out-and-back course and run your entire long run along it. Try to maintain equal effort on the uphill, flat, and downhill portions.
Fast-Finish Long Run:
At the end of a race, you want to be able to pick up your pace and race as hard as possible towards the finish line. Fast-finish runs (also called progression runs) helps you practice running faster when your legs are tired. It’s easy to adapt any run into a fast-finish run, but doing so on a long run offers more specificity for race day. A good rule of thumb is to pick up the pace in the last quarter of your long run. Depending on your goals, you can set a certain pace (usually around goal race pace) for your fast finish or run it according to effort.
Add it in: For a 16 mile long run, run the first 12 miles at your normal comfortable pace. Gradually speed up in the last four miles so you are running at or near marathon pace.
Question of the Day:
Do you add “stuff” to your long runs?
What’s your favorite type of long run?