The Long Run: How Long and How Fast?

In training, whether for the Shamrock Shuffle 3K or the Flying Pig Marathon, we should all be doing long runs. A long run is just like it sounds, a run that is longer than your typical, daily running effort. While there is some debate as to how often you should complete a long run, the general rule of thumb is once per week. Long runs are a fantastic way to improve your physical and psychological fitness. After completing your first 5-mile run, a 5K (3.1 mile) race seems a lot more manageable, and you gain many endurance benefits from the time spent on your feet. One thing many people don’t know but will find particularly exciting about a long run is that, if you run at an easy pace, you are encouraging your body to burn mainly FAT as energy. Long, steady efforts teach your body to burn more fat and store more carbohydrates (glycogen). This will make you a more efficient runner on race day. My favorite thing about long runs is that they are more about the time spent on your feet than about how fast you can cover a given distance. This is because longer running efforts tend to strain the small tubes (capillaries) that connect to veins in your feet and lower legs. This strain encourages a growth in capillary number, creating a more, vast network of small tubes that can better provide oxygen and nutrition to the muscles where you need it most. A simple way to think of this is like an irrigation system on a plot of land. The capillaries allow more efficient watering of your crops and a better return come harvest. This, however, does not mean that you should walk your long runs. The best pace to run a long run is similar to that of an easy run. This is a comfortable pace, sometimes referred to as “conversational” pace, because you should be able to hold a short conversation while running at this speed. The distance of your long run should be roughly 25% to 35% of your total weekly mileage. This percentage applies to any runner, racing any distance. Normally, the higher your weekly mileage total, the lower of a percentage of your weekly workload your long run will become. If you are running 20 miles per week your long run should be between 5 and 7 miles, and if you are running 50 miles per week your long run should be 12 to 17 miles. For most seasoned, runners I would settle in around 30% of your weekly mileage during marathon training. If you have never done a long run before, build up to it. Add a few minutes per week, until you reach a distance that you can comfortably complete and that is in the 25 to 35% of your weekly mileage range. Go out and take your time. Remember, you burn more fat running at a sustainable pace than if you try to race a long run. For more information on “conversational” pace, see my first blog post: “Train, Don’t Strain.”

David Jankowski
Current John’s Run/Walk Shop employee and Lexington Catholic Track & Field Coach, David was the USATF Club XC Champion in 2009, was a 2 time Olympic Trials Qualifier and has a PB of 2:16 in the marathon and 28:14 in the 10K

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