With your fall race goal in sight, you will need to start your steady build of weekly miles. The long run is the cornerstone of an endurance training program and serves as the key to a good late season half marathon or fall marathon. The long run has been emphasized as the building block of training for over 30 years. Famous New Zealand Coach, Arthur Lydiard, and many others have made it the base component of training programs for distance runners. All of today's programs, including Hal Higdon's and Jeff Galloway's, highlight the importance of the long run. However, even if you are including a long run into your training plan, you don’t need to stop doing shorter runs or races. In fact, short distance training (especially running), allows an athlete to improve a muscle’s ability to use oxygen and in turn can improve mitochondrial density. On the technical side, “Mitochondria are muscle cells that help produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s fuel that supports muscle contractions. If you improve a muscle’s ability to use oxygen for shorter distances – you can see big benefits for a long race.”
One of the biggest positives about training for a triathlon is the opportunity to mix from a choice of swim, bike or run sessions so after a fast or long run you can stay off your feet the next day with a swim or bike ride. The stronger you are physically, the better your running economy will be toward the end of a race. This comes from both long endurance runs but also from running at fast paces. Track work is a staple for runners just like shorter swim sets are for swimmers. As a triathlete you can use 5K or 10k running races to help increase your leg speed, efficiency and aerobic running pace.
Once you have the shorter distance runs integrated into your plan either as a training session or race, your long distance aerobic running will seem much easier because the pace will seem slow. Consider doing your long runs at about 70% of your Max Heart Rate or 1:00-1:30 slower than marathon race pace. In marathon training, it has been found that as few as four runs of 18-22 miles over the 8 weeks prior to the marathon will enable a runner to run the entire race distance. If a runner is able to string more than four and up to six with a few weeks of tapering prior to race day, they will be that much better prepared come race day.
Prepare for your long training run as if it is marathon day. Try to take an easy or rest day the prior to your long run and ensure that you eat well, hydrate and get an adequate amount of sleep leading up to your run. On runs over 90 minutes, pre-position water or use a Fuel Belt to carry your own. Think about using a gel every 45-60 minutes to help condition your body to adjust to a higher caloric intake. Success is found in a series of long runs that build upon each other from the start of your training through race day.
Just like the short run, there are many physical positives that the long run accomplishes besides just increasing your total miles including:
- Strengthens the heart - larger stroke volume.
- Strengthens the leg muscles - endurance is developed.
- Mind Work - mental toughness and coping skills are developed.
- Develops fat burning capacity.
- Increases capillary growth into muscle fibers.
- Increases muscle fibers.
- Increases aerobic efficiency.
- Increase in Maximum VO2.
You build a base for endurance training by doing lots of miles at a mid-range heart rate effort. However, it takes some tempo and intensity to develop speed. Always keep in mind that success is not immediate but developed by a well-planned training program that includes Base, Tempo, Intensity, Rest then a Taper before racing. Skipping or not completing any of these phases will most likely result in a less then desired performance. So, when it comes to doing your long run, don’t forget about doing the short one as well. Sometimes it will hurt even more then slogging away for a few hours.
Contributor: Doug Marocco has been participating in endurance events since 1986 and has competed in over 400 races around the world ranging from Ultra runs and Ironman Triathlons to the Mile.