Surges During Your Long Run
From elites to first time 5k runners, almost everyone knows it is important to get some sort of long run into their training plan every week or two. However, the long run has the potential to be more than just time on your feet with long, slow miles. While fast-finish long runs are quickly becoming a fundamental element in advanced training programs, an underutilized and rarely mentioned workout involves surges during the long run.
Implementing planned surges during a long run serves a multitude of purposes. First, you can inject speed into a training plan during what would otherwise be a “slow” running day. Second, you can learn to run fast while fatigued, which develops race specific strength and skills. Finally, surges help increase the overall quality and pace of your long run, thus enabling you to finish faster.
Long runs urges: Speed in disguise
Any runner I currently coach knows I love to “disguise” speed into my training programs. I believe that it is essential to insert some sort of speed development into the training plan at least four or five days per week. Speed training helps improve running mechanics, increases efficiency, and buffers the body for race pace or faster efforts.
However, speed development doesn’t have to occur all in one workout. You can spread speed training throughout the week in small doses, which enables you to maximize your time spent developing the more important physiological elements, such as threshold and aerobic strength, while also reducing the risk of injury associated with speed work. By adding surges to a long run, you can go from 0 minutes spent working on speed, mechanics, and efficiency to 10 or even 15 minutes of “disguised” speed training per week. This slight increase in speed development is all you need to start seeing dramatic results in your mechanics and overall speed.
Long runs surges: Specific Strength
One of the most difficult aspects of racing is realizing that as the race goes on, you have to keep working harder to maintain the same pace. Anyone who has ever raced at any distance knows that the first mile is significantly easier than the last mile. The increase in difficulty is caused by fatigue. Therefore, anything you can do in your training to improve your ability to run faster while tired is going to lead to better race results. By injecting surges into your long run, you develop the specific physiological adaptations and mental skills necessary to increase your effort and pace as the race gets more difficult.
In addition, if you’re training for a marathon or your goal is to run a half marathon in the 2-hour range, surges late into a long run, especially when you’re low on fuel, help teach your body to burn fat more efficiently at race pace. Why is this important? Typically, the faster you attempt to run, the greater percentage of carbohydrates you burn (since carbohydrates are converted to energy quickly). Therefore, if you can increase the percentage of fat burned for energy while at race pace, you’ll have more carbohydrates to burn late in the race.
Adding quality to the long run
When doing surges during the middle of the run, you will typically notice two things: (1) the first surge is always the hardest and (2) once you slow back down to your normal long run pace, you will find that your “easy” pace is now faster than before the surge.
The first surge is always the hardest because you have to wake your body up. As runners, we’ve been conditioned to think of long runs as slow and leisurely Sunday strolls. (Granted, running slow for your long runs is appropriate at times, especially after a hard week of workouts or following an increase in volume). Therefore, the body and mind aren’t ready for the hard interval you’re about to throw in. Luckily, as your body and mind get adjusted to the speed, you’ll start to feel invigorated by the change of pace. You will also notice the pace increase bleeds into the recovery portion of the workout and you will find yourself running a faster overall long run than you normally would without surges.
How to Incorporate Surges
Long run surges should begin about half way through the intended long run distance and end about ¾’s to 8/10’s of the way through the run. This means if you have a 10-mile long run that usually takes you 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete and you’re scheduled for 5 x 1 minute surges with 5 minutes rest, you should begin the surges at mile 5, which will result in the last surge occurring at around mile 8. If you have a schedule written by me, I will designate the starting point of the surges for you.
The length of the surge itself, the rest in-between the interval, and the starting point of the surge during the run are all variables that you can adjust to make the workout harder or easier. Typically, I start most runners out with 4 x 1 minute surges with 5 minutes normal pace (normal being your average long run pace) between each. For runners at a very high level, we may progress to 6 x 2min surges with 3-4 minutes rest.
The pace of the surge should be anywhere from 5k pace to 8k pace. The exact pace will depend on the length of the surge and how much rest is given between hard efforts. Again, a schedule from me will have a goal pace included; typically, the longer the surge, the slower the pace.
While this explanation of surges was a long article, it didn’t delve into detail regarding specific physiological adaptations such as myoglobin and mitochondria development because I wanted to keep the article simple and practical. If you would like to discuss surges in the context of advanced exercise physiology, I am always available via email or the comments section.
Enjoy the new training stimulus and if you try out the surges in your own training, post back here with your experiences. Happy running!