The long run. It can be a little intimidating for some, and exciting for others. Maybe you look forward to it because it's a chance to be alone and clear your head. Maybe it's your time to hang with your pals. Maybe you dread it because it gives you time to think too much. However you view the long run, it is essential to your training - so make sure you make the most of it.
The main goal of the long run is to help your body build oxygen carrying capillaries. What exactly does this mean? When you run long, you increase enzymes in your muscle cells and grow capillaries, which are the small vessels that surround the cells. These imperative changes allow more oxygen to be delivered to your working muscles. You also strengthen your ligaments, tendons, and muscles. These adaptations are also beneficial to you in shorter races such as the 5k because it's still mainly an aerobic activity. Essentially, the more oxygen that you can deliver to the working muscles, the better your performance will be. Additionally, the stronger your muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments become, the more are capable you are to conduct race-specific training like intervals. It takes approximately one hour of continuous running for your body to begin building capillaries.
The long run also helps you become more economical at your marathon/half marathon race pace (learning to burn less fuel for a given pace) along with testing out your race equipment and nutritional plan (if you have one). It also allows you to give the mind a taste of the focus and determination that will be required in the latter stages of the race.
The secondary goal of a long run is to act like a reset button for your body. After a week of training and hard workouts, lactic acid builds up in your muscles. While the lactic acid does begin to breakdown prior to a long run, the long run is a way for your muscles flush the system, removing the lactic acid that has already broken down and speeding the process to breakdown the remaining.
So, you know the long run is beneficial for you, even if you're not training for 13.1 or 26.2. So the next question becomes, "How fast should I do my long run?"
Exercise physiology Ph.D. candidate Jason Karp offered an intriguing questionnaire a few years ago with American runners who qualified for the 2004 U.S. Men's and Women's Olympic Marathon Trials. He didn't ask them about their long-run pace, but he did determine that the qualifiers ran approximately 28 percent of their weekly miles at marathon pace or faster. 28 percent is quite a bit, and essentially, this shows that elite athletes are pushing themselves both physically and mentally.
But, if the point of the long run is simply to build capillaries, does it really matter how fast you go? Yes and no. Let's explore this.
Not every day is going to be perfect. Sometimes, it's all you can do just to log the miles. That's okay. Get them in. If your goal long run pace for the day is 8:15 and it's all you can do to hold 8:45, it's okay. Take it easy and log your miles so you can help your body build those capillaries.
On the other hand, how do you expect to run 9:00 pace on race day for 13.1 miles if you're completing your long runs at 10:30-11:00 pace? You have taught your body how to run long, but you haven't taught it how to run the distance at goal pace. You haven't taught it to push through the type of pain you will experience on race day, and you haven't trained your mind to focus on pushing at goal pace. That isn't saying that every long run needs to be done at race pace or faster, but try to keep it in race pace range. If goal race pace is 8:00, try not to run your long runs slower than 8:30-8:40 pace.
Additionally, look at the mental aspect of the long run. Let's say 14 miles was your longest training run for your half. That's great! Now, let's say your goal pace is 9:00. But, the fastest you have gone on a long run is 10:30. You start to question whether you can crank out 9:00 for 13.1 miles. You know you can cover the distance, but you really question if you can handle the pace. The more you worry, the less likely you are to hit your pace. It's simple - train your body and your mind to believe you can do it.
More or less, the approach that you should take toward your long run is to not worry too much about pace and go the speed your body dictates. That being said, you certainly cannot expect to be able to run 1:00 or more faster per mile on race day than you typically go on your long runs. Have a goal? You're not going to nail it with a miracle. If you really want it, you're going to have to train for it. Train for it, work for it, then crush it.
See you Wednesday.
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