Running Hard, but Running Controlled: Long Runs

Let me preface my comments by saying that for many runners – runners of all ages – there needs to be a build up of the long run to a level that they will maintain for months.  This post pertains to that long run, not the preceding long runs where the athlete is building their volume.

I firmly believe that to fully develop the aerobic system you have to run a weekly long run.  And that run should not be slow.  Doesn’t have to be a “race from the gun” type long run (though I’ve done my fair share of those) but at the least it should be a progression of running that takes the athlete through faster paces as the run progresses.  Or, say you’re running 17 miles.  You run the first six really easy, then the next four still talking, then you run five at a pace where you could talk but you probably aren’t talking, and then you squeeze it down just a bit more for those final two miles.

That said, when you do a hard long run, you should be able to say, “I could have run one, two or even three miles longer at that pace.  Those extra miles would have been really hard – maybe even felt like a race – but I could have done it.”

Don’t finish a hard long run fully spent.  A solid long run takes many athletes longer to recovery from than threshold workouts or some track workouts.  If you follow the Sunday long run then Tuesday workout schedule you may not be recovered for Tuesday if you crushed Sunday.

Final thought.  Be patient with your development on long runs.  Good athletes who are running fast times may not be able to run great long runs.  Eventually the long runs will get faster, but if you’re not at a level where you can run your long runs very fast, don’t worry…just be able to say “I could have run one, two or even two miles farther at that pace.”

Run your long runs hard, but run them controlled.

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  • Maine Track XC

    What are your thoughts on incorporating threshold work into the long run. I like to have my kids run the last 3 miles at threshold pace, or do they long run then do some threshold miles?

  • Peyton Hoyal

    Great post, Jay. This type of long run is appropriate to bridge the gap between general aerobic work and race pace intervals (for 1500m-10K racing). I believe in multiple “threshold” paces or, speaking more generically, multiple aerobic pace ranges that ellicit a greater stimulus the faster you go. What is the connection between a fifteen mile run done at 7:00 pace and 10x400m done at 65sec? There is none that equates to the specifics of a distance race, especially the further you go. As Canova would say, the steps are too far apart. You have to have some “glue” in the training that links speed with strength to improve specific endurance, and that is where these long runs shine. Races of any distance cause a linear increase in blood lactate, and your workouts should do the same. “Speed” or aerobic training in a low lactate environment does nothing but stimulate the neuromuscular system, and this alone will not help you PR in the 5K.

  • Matthew

    Great post, Jay. Two things:
    Is your opinion of why the long run is important the same as my sense? That is: extended work (over an hour, especially over 90 minutes) drives the physiological changes of increased capilarization and increased mitochondrial production? In this understanding, it is the time aspect, rather than the distance…
    Also, I think you once wrote about doing a “fast finish” to the long run, to practice running a short bit fast on spent legs. Do you still think that is a good idea?

  • Elijah

    What are your thoughts on finishing the last 10 minutes with a steady hard progression but then running the last 400-800 close to all out? I have found that running the last 400 all out or very hard(mile pace, which feels all out) on the track or road is a great way to get the legs moving. I especially feel that it helps simulate a different kind of kicking when tired response. That dead leg feeling at the end of a long run is much different than the feeling after intervals. I usually prescribe it during the transition from base into harder anaerobic training. I feel that it helps develop that mental toughness in the beginning of the season that has not yet been cultivated. Any thoughts?

  • Doug Petrick

    I understand the length of the long run for a marathon race, and get the length of a long run for a 5k race. How does the length of the run for a half-marathon correspond? Is it half of the marathon long run (17mi/2)? Is it approximately 75% of the 13.1 mile race distance? It is only based on time…for example if you plan on goal time for 13.1 miles to be 1:30, then the long run is should be 10% less time than your goal time…1:15, however much distance you can cover in that time frame. Or is the long run for the half-marathon 25% of what you do weekly in terms of miles? Even though I work with 5k racers as the longest distance for HS kids, I am confused about the appropriate length for a long run for half marathon racer. Any help with this?

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