If you’re training for a marathon, half marathon or even a 10k race there are various sessions you should be including in your weekly training regime. The daddy of them all is the long run. It’s the one session you need to do every week. But why is the long run so important? Could we get away without doing it? Let’s find out.
What IS the Long Run?
This may sound like a dumb question, but what is long for one person may not be long for another. It depends on how experienced you are and what race you are training for. There is no ‘set distance’ for a long run. It’s whatever suits your needs at the time.
The long run is generally anything from 5 to 25 miles and sometimes beyond. Typically if you are training for a marathon your long run may be up to 20 miles. If you’re training for a half it may be 10 miles, and 5 miles for a 10k.
In most cases, you build your distance week by week. For a marathon, your first long run might only be 10 miles. But each week you add a couple of miles, peaking between 18 and 20 or longer if you want. There are no set rules!
What is an LSR?
The long run is often shortened on training logs to "LSR". This stands for one of two things:
- Long Slow Run - So called because it is generally agreed that your long run should be done at a slow pace. Conversational pace. Some say perhaps 1-2 minutes per mile slower than your planned marathon pace.
- Long Sunday Run - Most people work during the week and have things to do on Saturday, so they tend to do their long run on Sunday.
What are the benefits?
In short, everything! Your long run will build endurance, stamina and strength. It will improve cardio fitness and even speed! You can miss your hill session, interval session, or tempo run every so often but as long as you keep your long run in there every week, your race training won’t be far off track.
The long run is also where you get to test out your race plan for things like nutrition, hydration, clothing, and equipment. In the weeks leading up to your race, you need to work out what you are going to wear. What is comfortable over an extended period of time on your feet? Which of your clothes don’t cause as much chafing? Which of your running shoes don’t give you blisters?
You’ll be able to discover what drinks sit well on your stomach. The main reason most people don’t finish a long-distance race is gastric trouble. Consuming too much or not enough water or energy drink can be disastrous!
The same is true for nutrition. Many people manage very well with artificial gels, but others struggle with nausea and sickness. It is a very individual issue. What is right for one person, may not work at all for another. Your training, and the long run in particular, is where you find out what works for you.
Beyond the physical training, nutrition, hydration, and clothing tests, running further than you may ever have done before demands mental strength. That comes with confidence and you get confidence from experience. If you know you can be on your feet running for 3-4 hours in training, then you should have increased confidence that you can do it on race day.
In terms of aerobic fitness, you generally don’t gain much after around 2 hours of running. Often a long run can last up to and over 3 hours. Furthermore, the longer you run, the more you risk injury, especially if you are new to running. Running distances is a gradual process and it takes time for you to adapt and condition yourself to being on your feet for that length of time.
Is there an Alternative?
If you don’t have time for the long run then you may not have time for the alternatives:
- The Long Short Run - Perhaps you have a goal of running 30 miles a week. You might normally divide this as three 5-mile runs and a 15-mile long run. Or if you are doing 40 miles a week it might look like four 5-mile runs and a 20-mile long run. As an alternative, the Long Short Run would have you divide these runs equally through the week. So for 30 miles you would do four 8-mile runs or five 6 milers. These are longer, short runs. Running more regularly during the week for further than you would normally run, will mean running on tired legs. This can, to some degree, mimic the effects of the long run.
- HIIT - This more radical alternative dispenses with long runs altogether. Proponents of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) regimes argue that short bursts of high-intensity full-body exercise, as well as short runs, can condition the body to run a marathon.
The problem with both these methods is that you don’t get to do the planning and testing of clothing, hydration, and nutrition that are a key part of a successful race. You also don’t get the mental confidence that comes from knowing you can make it through 3 hours of running.
It is safe to say that the long run is here to stay. If you want to run a marathon or another long-distance race, you probably need to make time for that regular long run. It has been a staple diet of the long-distance runner since the early 1970s and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Check out the Zwift Events page for the Weekend Long Run.