The long run is the staple training run of every long distance runner. It helps the runner to become stronger, not only in body but in mind too. The psychological challenge of running long distances should not be under-estimated. When your body is tired, aching and cramping it is the mind that pushes the body to continue. The long run allows you to experience tiredness and fatigue, and to develop strategies to combat them. Running when you are tired is hard so you must become used to it, otherwise on marathon day it will hurt! Long runs help:
- To reduce injury by allowing your body to become accustomed to running long distances.
- To strengthen and build up the endurance of your musculoskeletal system.
- To train your mind to run long distances.
- To help you run shorter distances faster! Yes it is true, your shorter races will become easier.
Running long distances encourages the body to burn more fat as a percentage (that alone is a good reason to do them) and to store more energy in the form of glycogen. They increase the distribution of the capillaries in your body (small blood vessels in your muscles) and so overall prepare you for the day of the race feeling stronger and better prepared. Most running experts will say that it is the one session in your training plan that you should not skip.
The benefits of long runs are clear and I know I receive lots of benefits by running them, but:
- They can be a little boring and repetitious.
- Finding a variety of routes for long runs in excess of 17 miles is a challenge.
- They are time consuming.
- I feel completely wiped out after each one and usually need a little sleep straight afterwards! This adds to the overall time they take up.
- They make you ache. I ache for around two days after each one. It’s not always really painful but there’s certainly a high degree of discomfort.
So, the benefits are clear but not always tangible until the day of the race, and the negatives are many. However, nothing beats an early morning slow long run for lifting the spirits. If you run early you will see rabbits, deer and unusual birds. Running early in the morning seems to heighten the senses. You feel the air against your face more easily, less noise means you can hear your feet hit the path and the wind in the trees, birdsong is more easily distinguishable and it is sometimes possible to feel part of the world instead of being the alien locust that is man, who simply strips the world bare.
Long runs are actually quite nice!! I still suffer in the last two or three miles regardless of distance, and yes they wipe me out, but 25 minutes of wishing it was all over in the last few miles, are more than made up for by 150 minutes of easy running in the countryside.
On the actual practical running side I approach them in a particular way:
- I always run with a pack (waist or back) carrying gels and water, plus my phone and some money. Mrs Compass made me purchase a wrist band ID in case I collapsed and no one knew who I was. I did tell her that squirrels cannot read but she insisted. Seriously, if you run alone, safety is a priority – as is toilet paper……………….
- I prefer to run on a morning before I have eaten. Most long distance events begin in the morning so it makes sense to me to train in the morning too. It also means that it is less likely for something to “come up” and stop me running. Up early, run, job done.
- I increase my mileage by two miles per week and then every three or four weeks have an easy week. For example, 15 miles, 17 miles, 19 miles, 21 miles, 17 miles, 22 miles, 22 miles, 24 miles, taper. I find the easy week helps to recharge the legs.
- My regular run is an out and back that can be used for any distance up to 22 miles. It is set in a picturesque part of the North East of England and is used by runners, walkers and cyclists. However, it has a steep (ish) climb which means the run is much tougher going out than coming back. Now, to get the most benefit from a long run you need to have your heart rate in the aerobic zone. Your various “zones” are calculated using your age and resting heart rate and there are lots of calculators online that will work it out for you.
Anywayyyyyyyyyy, as you can see from the profile below it is much harder going out than coming back, so to ensure that my effort levels are kept within the zone I use minutes per mile going out and heart rate coming back. Interestingly, when I used minutes per mile for both I was running too slowly coming back (downhill).
- All marathon runners will know the dreaded “wall”, that time in the race when your fuel gauge hits empty and your legs feel like lead. Well, doing plenty of long runs will help to stop this happening as early in the race and possibly not at all. I use my long run to experiment with different eating and hydration strategies. Camelbak or bottles? Gels, Jelly Babies or both? Carbohydrate drink or plain water? Anyone who has tried to drink while running will know it can all go horribly wrong so the long runs really help to practice eating and drinking on the move. It also enables you to try new products such as the latest flavoured carbohydrate gel on the move in advance of the race.
- The plethora of technical running gear available means that there is always something new to try. With technical running tops, compression gear, training shoes, anti wicking, base layer, sunglasses, waterproof, showerproof, idiot proof garments your long run can be made more interesting by trying the latest piece of kit – I have lots of kit………………..
However you approach your long run, where you run, when you run and whatever kit you trial when you do it, don’t really matter too much. The important thing is to do it!