Don’t just slog out the miles. Pick one of these pro-proven workouts to dial in your long distance.
by Laura Siddall
How many long runs should you do each week? What intensity should they be? These are just a few questions athletes and coaches in our sport ponder.
When training for a running race, completing the race distance during training provides a major psychological boost before tackling the distance in the event. It can be a huge confidence boost to have covered as much of the distance as possible before the race. While it’s quite likely that you will complete a 13.1-mile run before a half marathon, full marathoners often do not run the full 26.2 before their event. We need to be much more aware of the effects of a long run due to the higher impact of running relative to swimming and biking. Long runs also require more recovery than a long swim set or long bike session.
How far and how often one should run will depend on the athlete and where they are in their training. How much volume can that individual handle? How much time is available to train and recover? What are the external factors affecting their lives, be it family or work commitments, as well as how well they sleep and manage stress? These are all things that must be considered when planning out training and volume. A coach can help you balance all those elements and prescribe the appropriate plan for you
We consulted with two-time Olympian and coach Chris Hauth for his ideas on long run training. He also shared some sample run workouts to help you prepare for a half-marathon or marathon.
The Aerobic Long Run
Hauth typically recommends an aerobic or “conversational” long run once a week—depending on the athlete, their race plans, and experience. “The goal is to build time on the feet,” he states. “The goal of an aerobic long run is as much physiological—to increase the density of mitochondria and increase in capillary beds to improve muscle and tendon strength,” he adds. This means heading out the door at a low intensity pace. From time to time, he recommends that his athletes mix in a little intensity, as long as they are careful to keep it “all good form and low stress.”
Adding short intervals to an aerobic long run:
→ Workout 1: Try 60-90 minutes easy running, with the last 30 minutes alternating between 5 minutes tempo (15-30 seconds faster than race pace), 5 minutes easy. Nothing too fast here, just a little variation.
→ Workout 2: Consider adding some shorter bursts of speed throughout a 90-minute to 2-hour run. For example, you could do some 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 second faster bursts with 1-2 minutes easy between each burst during your run, and repeat this sequence twice through. Again these aren’t ‘best efforts,’ but just strong, faster efforts with great form.
→ Workout 3: Fartlek-style long run where you run ~30 sec/mile faster than race pace for 2-3 miles and then 30 sec/mile slower than race pace for 2-3 miles, repeated 2-3x through.
Higher Intensity Long Run Workout
Interval training is a great way to add intensity into your training and Hauth prescribes some longer, higher intensity runs for his more experienced athletes. During a run, intervals are typically short at paces faster than your planned race pace, with recovery at race pace or easier. They have a variety of benefits, as they build neuromuscular development and efficiency as well as improving your VO2 max. Hauth points out that a time-crunched athlete can use interval sessions to build fitness as well as endurance, though he still sees value in the aerobic long runs throughout the season and interval work cannot completely replace the long run.
One of Hauth’s favorite run workouts for practicing and testing race pace is to mix speed work with race-pace effort. “The body is switching back and forth between the fat-burning, aerobic system and the glycogen-depleting anaerobic system,” he says. “The goal over several weeks is for the athlete to run at the lower intensity race-pace effort following an initial harder effort.”
→ Workout 1: After a 20-minute easy warm-up, run 10-20 x 400m (preferably on the track or other flat surface), at a pace slightly higher than your goal race pace. Take 30 seconds recovery between each repeat. After completing the interval work, run 3 to 8 miles at race pace. An athlete might start with 10 x 400 and a 3-mile run after the track intervals and build to 20 x 400 and an 8-mile run after the track intervals during an IRONMAN training build over a couple of months.
Laura Siddall is a British professional athlete based out of San Francisco. Visit her online at laurasiddall.com.