The long run is considered the holy grail workout for most endurance runners. So how do we get the most out of this workout. Can a long run be too long? Is it as important as we make it out to be? We answer all of these questions and more so you can get the most out of your weekend adventures!
What is a “long run”?
Simply, it is the longest run you do this week. It does not have to be a certain distance or duration. If you are a novice runner, your it may only be 45 minutes, and this is fine.
How fast should my run be?
The long run should be run at an easy to steady pace. That is, a pace where you can maintain a conversation without needing to squeeze in breaths between words. Learn more about the main types of runs here. If a longer run is completed at a fast pace, the resulting fatigue will be significant and require excessive time for recovery.
However, runners who work with a coach will know that adding other elements to your long run is possible. For example, adding some quicker strides to your long run is a great way to maintain speed in your training program. This could look like 6 x 30s at 5km pace spaced throughout at 30km easy run.
Do I have to do a long run?
A longer run each week is a staple in marathon and ultra-marathon training plans for a reason. It helps build endurance and stamina as well as strength endurance in your legs. Most importantly, it helps build confidence in your ability to run longer distances. However, long runs are not essential to do every weekend. Doing an easy run after a shorter hard workout can have a similar effect to a long run.
Can a run be too long?
Your long run could be too long if it is over 2.5 to 3 hours in duration. This is because all physiological and structural responses have been maximised by this point. Running longer than 2.5 – 3 hours will result in diminishing returns, as your risk of injury and time required to recover significantly increases compared to any gains in endurance.
However, this does not mean you should never run longer than 3 hours. It just means any time you run over 3 hours, it must have a purpose other than training your body.
Reasons to run > 3 hours
Now the purpose of running >3 hours will vary each time. Below is a list of some of the reasons you would want to run >3.
- Practice hydration and nutrition strategies: The way your body responds to food and the effects of dehydration become more pronounced the longer you run. So if you are training for an ultra-marathon, you may want to go for a 6 hour run where the purpose of the last 3 hours is to test your hydration and nutrition strategies.
- Psychological benefits: This could be improving your confidence in how far you can run. Challenging your ability to maintain a positive mindset later in a run and practicing psychological strategies such as self talk.
- Testing running gear: Your shoes/socks may not give you blisters until hour 5 of a run. Or maybe your shorts begin to chafe after 4 hours. These are important things to know before race day and can only be tested by running > 3hours
Two training scenarios, the same total volume, very different outcomes.
1 x 6 hour run on Sunday: You will achieve 3 hours of training your body and 3 hours of training another aspect of the running craft as above.
2 x 3 hour runs during the week: You will achieve 6 hours of training your body and 0 hours of training your craft.
Neither of these scenarios is wrong. It all depends on your current training goals. Do you need to build confidence over long distance? A 6 hour run may be a good idea. Do you need to build your endurance and stamina? 2 x 3 hour runs in a week will achieve a lot more than a single 6 hour run
If you want to train aspects of your craft in your runs > 3 hours, remember that this should be done methodically. That is, choose what you are practicing (e.g aspects of nutrition, gear, self talk etc) and note how each of those things went and what you can do to improve them next time. Training these aspects of craft should be done every 3-4 weeks as required. Anymore than this and you will increase fatigue and risk of injury without seeing performance benefits.