By Bob Cooper
From the October 2010 issue of Runner’s World
Whether you religiously run two marathons a year or jump in the occasional 10-K, you go long. You may be able to skip a tempo run or a speed session and still get (near) your race goals, but you can’t cheat your distance run—that is, once a week, you must go at least 50 percent farther than your usual maintenance run, especially if you’re training for a half or full marathon. The good reasons bear repeating. For one, going long makes you a more efficient runner. “Long runs will help increase your ability to burn fat and conserve glycogen, so you can run farther before fatigue sets in,” says Shelby Schenck, head coach of the Washington/Alaska Team In Training chapter and owner of Run26, a shop in Lynnwood, Washington. “Long runs also improve your ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your working muscles.”
Going long can mean simply logging more miles—especially at the beginning of your racing career. But as your goals evolve, so too should your long runs. Depending on your level of fitness and experience, the following three variations all provide specific benefits appropriate to different goals. Here’s how—and when—to make them work for you.
SLOW AND STEADY
Popularized during the first running boom in the 1970s, the long, slow distance (LSD) run is still the best choice for beginners, returning or injury-prone veterans, or those not into chasing time goals. LSDs deliver the biggest endurance bang with the least injury risk. “Logging ‘time on your feet’ and not doing long runs too fast are the most important aspects of LSD runs,” says Schenck.
Run It: To avoid the domino effect of fatigue leading to poor form and injury, Schenck recommends running LSDs by time, not distance, increasing the time by 10 to 15 minutes every other week. Warm up at about two minutes per mile slower than your goal race pace. After 20 minutes, stay at that pace (or slow down), or if you’re feeling fresh, gradually speed up to about one minute per mile off goal pace. On the alternate weeks, cut your long run time by 25 to 50 percent.
Progression runs, which start slow and gradually get faster, help you push yourself precisely when it’s hardest in a race: near the end. “They teach you to rev up slowly, they break up the monotony by forcing you to think about pace, and running negative splits prepares you to push through discomfort when you’re tired,” says David Allison, a Phoenix-based coach with Marathon Coaching Consultants (marathoncoachaz.com). “The marathon is all about patience and knowing your body, and progression runs develop these abilities.” Marathon and half-marathon veterans who have tested their limits in races can safely handle progression runs, but Allison advises against them for newcomers. “Adding the stress of running faster and faster can overload what a beginner is ready for,” he says.
Run It: Start out about one minute per mile slower than goal race pace. Every two to three miles, increase your speed about 10 seconds per mile, ending at goal pace or slightly faster. Alternate with LSD runs.
Inserting a few miles at goal race pace near the end of long runs can benefit all runners, but it’s especially valuable for those focused on hitting a specific time. “The best way to learn pace is to practice it,” says Jenny Hadfield, cofounder of Chicago Endurance Sports and coach for runners ranging from newbies to age-group winners. “Dress-rehearsal runs discipline you to go harder at the end of the run, when your legs are most fatigued.”
Run It: Start your long run at LSD pace. Three to five miles from the finish, pick up your pace until you reach goal race pace. Hold it to the finish, allowing for one mile of cooldown at LSD pace. The total distance of dress-rehearsal runs should be eight to 12 miles for beginner marathoners and 15 to 20 miles for seasoned racers. They should be six to eight miles long for novice half-marathoners, and 12 to 14 for more seasoned racers. Do several of these runs in the final third of your training.
STRETCH IT OUT: Regular distance runs will help you achieve your racing goals.
RUN BETTER: Beginners should stick to slow and steady long runs because they don’t have the mileage in their legs to run efficiently when they get tired.
The Go-Far Plan
How to incorporate different types of long runs into your training
You can run LSD or progression runs every other week before racing 26.2 or 13.1. On alternate weeks, reduce the volume or intensity. Perform several dress-rehearsal runs six to eight weeks before a marathon, and four to six weeks before a half-marathon.
Long-Run Type: LSD
Marathon Plan: Add 15 minutes to your run time every other week, from 2:15 to 3:00.
Half-Marathon Plan: Add 10 minutes to your run time every other week, from 1:30 to two hours.
Long-Run Type: Progression
Marathon Plan: Pick up the pace every other week, in runs of 14-16; 16-18; 12-14; 20 miles.
Half-Marathon Plan: Pick up the pace every other week, in runs of 6-8; 8-10; 9-11; 10-12 miles.
Long-Run Type: Dress Rehearsal
Marathon Plan: Run three to five miles at goal race pace at the end of long runs.
Half-Marathon Plan: Run three to four miles at goal race pace at the end of long runs.
Think of dress-rehearsal runs as a spice to use sparingly: add too many to your training load and you risk fatigue.