Sarah Russell

Written by Sarah Russell

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Everything You Need to Know About Progressing Your Long Run

When you’re just starting out with running – when a 5km is an awesome achievement – it can be hard to comprehend how it’s possible to run a half marathon, marathon or even further.

Believe me, everyone feels the same and it’s one of the most common topics of conversation at my beginner group.

Each time you run further than you’ve ever gone before, it’s a step into the unknown, and that can be unnerving and scary. For that reason, many runners shy away from going longer, staying within their comfort zone.

It might be safe, but you’re also holding yourself back, and missing out on a whole heap of fun and fitness benefits. As they say, life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

Building up your distance, and in particular your long run, really isn’t complicated; or at least it shouldn’t be. Going long should be embraced and enjoyed, not feared. But it’s easy to fall into some common beginner traps when trying to increase distance, especially when enthusiasm and motivation are high; which can lead to burn out, injury, or poor performance.

Last week, we covered how you can determine the correct pace for your running, and today we are going to put this into practice with your long runs.

The long run can be a daunting challenge for many runners. Runners Connect makes it easy for you to progress your long run to be race ready, and explains what else you need to consider to get the most out of your long runs.

How to progress?

Now you know what the right pace is for your long runs, the next step is to know how to build up the miles. If you used our calculations in our correct pace post last week, you should be able to increase your long run without too much trouble using one of the following methods:

Method 1

  1. Chose ONE of your runs as your designated long run day. Leave your other runs (and any other cross training) at the same time/distance you have been running.
  2. Find your longest run from the past six weeks. Plot a route so you run one extra mile (or 10 minutes) further.
  3. Keep your pace comfortable, just like we talked about last week, walk up hills if you need to (yes you’ll still get a great training benefit!)
  4. The rest of your runs for the week should at an easy pace. To progress safely, and to prevent injury, you only want to change one variable at a time. When you are building up your long run, you need to avoid increasing the intensity of other training runs.
  5. On your next designated long run day, increase the distance by another mile or 10 minutes. Do the same the following week.
  6. On the fourth week, drop your long run distance down to shorter than your starting point. This will allow recovery and adaptation to the training. This may seem unnecessary, but it is extremely important.
  7. The following week, pick up where you left off before the “down week” and continue with the pattern of increasing by one mile each week.

Here is an example of your long run training log:

Week

Long Run

1

6 miles

2

7 miles

3

8 miles

4

5 miles

5

8 miles

6

9 miles

7

10 miles

8

5 miles

Before you know it, you’ll be at 10 miles and a half marathon or marathon will suddenly become a temptation.

Method 2

  1. Chose ONE of your runs as your designated long run day. Leave your other runs (and any other cross training) at the same time/distance you have been running.
  2. Find your longest run from the past six weeks. Plot a route so you run one extra mile (or 10 minutes) further.
  3. Keep your pace comfortable, just like we talked about last week, walk up hills if you need to (yes you’ll still get a great training benefit!)
  4. The rest of your runs for the week should at an easy pace. To progress safely, and to prevent injury, you only want to change one variable at a time. When you are building up your long run, you need to avoid increasing the intensity of other training runs.
  5. On your next designated long run day, return to the distance you initially started with.
  6. The following week, add one mile to your long run two weeks prior to increase your distance.
  7. Repeat for the remainder of the segment, alternating regular runs with your increasing longest run.

Here is an example of method 2

Week

Long Run

1

7 miles

2

5 miles

3

8 miles

4

5 miles

5

9 miles

6

5 miles

7

10 miles

8

5 miles

You can see that at the end of the 10 week block you’ve achieved the same long run distance as in method 1.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong method. It is best to find out with the distance and recovery which method best suits your lifestyle and fitness background. Method 2 might work better for more ‘injury prone’ runners, older runners, or those recovery from illness or who haven’t exercised much before.

Of course how far you get, will depend on your goal and training aspirations. For a 10k, it’s ideal to run up to 8-10 miles in training for your long runs. Half marathons will require up to 14-15 miles. To ensure you recover correctly, reduce your long run for two weeks following one of those 14-15 mile runs.

If you are following a marathon training schedule, you will need to continue increasing your long runs over time. However, it is best advised to train for a half marathon before you begin marathon training.

Building up your long run is not as complicated as we initially think. Just make sure your pace stays easy and you build up slowly. It is okay to throw in a walk every now if you need to. Running easy will help you enjoy running more, and pay attention to your body for pains and tiredness so you can adapt accordingly. If you feel a niggle coming on, get some treatment or advice from a physical therapist immediately to prevent it from ruining your chances of racing.

Other Long Run Considerations

Measure your Improvement

If you’re monitoring heart rate, you should find that over time your average pace will quicken at the same heart rate or intensity. This shows your body has become more efficient. Your hard work will pay off when you get to a race or run a time trial over the same course.

Choose your route with care

When going long, choose a route which is relatively flat and not too technical underfoot. There is enough stress on your body with the increase in distance, without adding additional stressors through hills and tough terrain. In time, you can add in sections of trail or some hillier routes when you’re stronger and less at risk of injury.

Fuel up

Good nutrition becomes more important when you start going longer. You’ll find your appetite increases and it is important to match that with additional fuel; timing your meals and snacks will need a little more thought. Good post-exercise nutrition is vital especially after long runs and will help you replenish your muscle stores and aid recovery, protecting your immune function.

Try to include all food groups in your diet focusing on protein for satiety and recovery, and consume a good balance of fats and carbs. Correct fueling before, during, and after your long runs can make or break your ability to ‘go long’. Not eating enough or at the right time is one of the more common newbie mistakes. You will know never to make that mistake again if you get it wrong.

Before your run:

Fuel up for a long morning run, but don’t overeat. Many runners overload with carbs and end up gaining weight. Simply eat a decent meal the night before your long run, with a focus on carbs (but just a normal size portion), and top up with a good breakfast containing slow release low GI carbs about an hour or two before you set off.

Oatmeal or a smoothie made with banana, protein powder and milk are great pre run fuel to be consumed 3-4 hours before your long run. Making sure you are properly hydrated is also extremely important.

During your run:

By training at the right intensity (at that comfortable pace covered last week), your body will become more efficient, and better able to use fat for fuel and preserve glycogen stores. However, once you get over 70-80 minutes of running, you’ll need to start taking in some carbohydrates – either in the form of a drink or gels/blocks or chews.

But don’t overdo it, you do not need huge amounts and many runners overfuel in the hope it will make them run faster. Check out the nutrition info on the packet and aim for 30-60g of carbs per hour during the long run. Start at around 45 minutes in and keep topping up as and when you feel the need.

Post run:

And finally, the golden hour after your run is the optimum time to refuel your muscles and help your body recover. Current thinking is to have a snack or drink containing a ratio of 3:1 carbs:protein is optimum. A humble glass of chocolate milk is considered to be one of the best choices.

In a nutshell

So there you have it, a step by step guide on how to build up your long run, get your pacing right for that long run, and avoid some of the common pitfalls that new runners often make.

It’s not rocket science and it really doesn’t need to be complicated.

Too many runners – and coaches for that matter – make training too scientific, too hard and overwhelming. I’m a huge advocate of learning to listen to your body, get in tune with what it’s telling you and just get out there to enjoy your running.

Keep it simple and avoid overcomplicating things.

What goal race are you currently chasing? What is the longest you have ever run?

RunnersConnect Master Extra

Download your FREE Long Run Pacing Calculator now in your members-only download section.

Need help converting your race times to your optimal easy and long run pace? Download our FREE calculator and we’ll do the math for you.

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References

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