Saturdays here at Austin Athletics are dedicated to the Long Run: a workout that is considered essential for the developing runner and the cornerstone of our program. But can a long run be a waste of time?
To some ….yes.
Too many times, runners get hung up on just running the prescribed distance, be it 10, 15, 20+ miles, nice and easy. Maybe with a friend or teammate just to pass the time. If our goal is to get faster, going “nice and easy” all the time might not be the answer. During my collegiate years, we had a saying, “Slow running makes a slow runner.” Now, this doesn’t mean you need to hammer away miles everyday, but on certain workouts, during certain periods of your training, fast running is needed to elicit the necessary changes for improvement.
Don’t get me wrong, nice and easy long runs are necessary, especially when building mileage or when you venture to tackle your first marathon. However, there does come a point where adding more slow miles to your long run is just not practical. So, the million-dollar question is, “Where is that line between practicality and absurdity?” Well, for each runner it is different. We have all heard the standards: “Your long run is = to yada, yada percent of your weekly mileage.” That might work and that might not, but each runner is different and each brings his or her unique strengths and weaknesses to the table.
Because of the uniqueness and/or goals of each runner, I have become a firm believer in “Progression and Purpose.” Now, if you have “progressively” built up a good base of consistent long runs and are standing at the crossroads of what to do next, begin with adding “purpose” to your long runs.
For example, on the tail end of a 90-minute run, try running the last 30 min at a ½-Marathon Pace or, for the 5k athlete, perform 1 minute on, 1minute off surges at 3k/5k pace during the middle or last 10-20 minutes of your long run. These are just a few examples, but the idea is to adapt your body to the rigors it will face during race day while fatigued, as well as achieve a higher quality workout to boot. Keep it simple and take the next logical step and progress your long runs to become more purpose-driven.
The “Purpose-Driven” Long Run:
- Incorporate this approach once every 2 to 3 weeks
- Use goal pace or one event faster than your race. (Eg., Marathoners = ½ Marathon Pace, 10k runners = 5k Pace)
- Add Intensity, subtract duration. (Eg., Instead of running a 17-mile long run, nice and easy, reduce to 13-15 miles with added intensity)
- Recovery is important. Allow for ~ 48 hours of recovery before your next hard workout.
- Keep it interesting! Use surges or hard continuous efforts and place them in the middle or end of a long run.
- Document everything. Record how you feel both during the run and days afterward. It could be the key to finding exactly what works for you.