How to Perfectly Execute your Long Run: 4 Top Tips

Exercise

How to Perfectly Execute your Long Run: 4 Top Tips

The long run is an important element of training but we can often get obsessed with it, especially when training for a marathon. It’s a staple of an endurance runner's training diet but let’s not forget that it’s only one part of the training jigsaw!

What happens to our bodies in long run training?

A whole host of physiological adaptations occur during our long run as long as we get the intensity correct. We become more efficient at using fats as fuel and we get an increase in the number of red blood capillaries; this is important because it’s these capillaries that supply oxygen to muscles. During long running, we also build our mitochondria density, which are our little energy centres, and these allow us to train and run faster.

man on a long run

The long run provides us with an aerobic base, it also conditions our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons to the impact and repetition of the running action.  

So, these long runs improve our muscular endurance, running efficiency and our ability to burn fat as its primary fuel source.

How to start long run training

At first, your aim should simply be to concentrate on increasing the time you spend on your feet rather than worrying about the pace or distance. The key is working at a conversational pace that is at a perceived effort level of 6.5-7 out of 10 (65-70% of range of your HRR). Instead of a long run, this may be a brisk walk, a run/walk or a run depending on your current fitness and level of experience and you shouldn’t worry if you need to walk.

Sometimes it’s smart to have some walking as part of your long run, we do this for a number of reasons:

  • To manage your effort level
  • To reduce impact forces
  • To allow you to be on your feet for longer

There are many different ways to run/walk, you can do big blocks of running (20 minutes) followed by blocks of walking (5 minutes) or do smaller blocks of each (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking).  Each of us are different and it’s important to follow a method that works for you.  Walking isn’t cheating - it’s a smart way of avoiding injury whilst increasing the amount of time on feet.

Four Long running tips to help with your training

Getting the Mind in Gear

By its very nature, the long run can become repetitive.  A lot of long run training is about getting the mind ready to endure running for that length of time. Some distraction techniques can be employed to help get you into the long runs, such as listening to an audiobook, podcast or music to help relieve the boredom (but think safety - you need to be able to hear your surroundings), or running with a friend –you can have a chat which will make the run go so much quicker.

woman on a long run on the beach

The only trouble about distraction techniques is that they can take you away from listening to your body and getting in tune with it. When we listen to our bodies, we can gauge our effort levels, fatigue, hydration and energy levels and respond accordingly. This is an ongoing process but it’s also beneficial as this is exactly what you’ll need to do on race day.

The other element you should practice on your long runs is staying mentally positive. It’s very helpful for race day since the last thing you want when running a marathon is to feel sorry for yourself, so it’s important to start developing the mental resilience

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 to keep going, shutting out any negative thoughts, channelling your inner positive energy and maintaining concentration.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Let’s be honest, no matter how much we love running, there are times when the long run can get a bit samey, so it’s probably a good idea to choose different running routes.  You might want to pick an ‘out and back’ route, which can be mentally helpful since you’ll know where you are and know that you’re homeward bound as soon as you turn around!   Of course, it’s nice to have a change of scenery and try somewhere new, but beware, you need some navigation skills, or it could be a very long run indeed!  Online mapping tools can be helpful here and some watches also allow you to send that route to them.

My preference, in the early part of my marathon build-up, was to try and run off-road as it’s so much kinder on the body and mind. I was lucky in that I lived in the Yorkshire Dales and I had some really good surfaced trails to run on. Please make sure that if you’re running off road that it’s safe and you let someone know where you’re going.

Other options are to get a lift out to a point and run home!  When I trained in Kenya, we would be dropped off in the Rift Valley and we then had to run back to base - the problem was that it was all uphill and at altitude, which I don’t recommend, but it certainly was very different!

If you can use public transport or persuade a friend/partner to drop you off, then you can explore somewhere different and enjoy a new route.

Upping the Pace

As I’ve mentioned above, in the first part of your marathon preparations, your long run should be controlled and is mainly all about time on feet, running at a conversational effort level. However, once your body is conditioned to cope with the distance, repetition, and impact then we can start to increase the training load further.

We talk a lot about running at “Marathon Pace” towards the end of a long run as you prepare for your race. Running at goal marathon race pace (MP) on slightly tired legs is an excellent way of mimicking the fatigue you’ll feel on race day, but without going overboard.

We develop the amount of time that you will run at Marathon Pace during a long run and it’s important to remember that Marathon Pace should broadly be at a conversational level but where there would be a slight pause mid-sentence, it’s definitely not where you’re puffing and panting and breathing heavily!

man during a long run

If you’re struggling with the effort level in your long run, then adding some regular walking breaks can help you to get that effort level under control, allowing you to go further for longer.

Run with Style

While we’re out on our long run it gives us a chance to practice a couple of things which are important for race day. We don’t know what the weather conditions are going to be like, so practice different kit and shoes and socks in various weather conditions. On race day you want your kit to be efficient and not let you down by causing you to overheat, get too cold or chaffe, so practice makes perfect. We also want your running style to be as economical as possible, so thinking about your arm carriage, being relaxed in the neck, shoulders and hands; all these things will save energy and help you get to the finish line.

So, to sum up…. be patient, train at the correct intensity, don’t do too much too soon, allow your body to adapt and grow stronger, add variety to your runs, work on your running style, experiment with different kit so you’re prepared for race day and develop your mental resilience so that you’re strong, focused and ready for the big day.

Good luck!

 

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