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Ever since I started running 12 years ago, coaches and other runners have been drilling the same mantra into my head: you have to do a long run! I know that it’s important, but after awhile it starts to get a little boring.
We all know why every runner should run long once every 7-10 days. It increases your endurance and promotes the kind of adaptations that help you hold a faster pace for longer. Your cells create more mitochondria and you develop extra capillary networks to deliver oxygen.
For a distance runner, it’s the best type of workout (yes, even better than intervals for the majority of people). Most runners want to get faster so they think they should get on the track and run all-out intervals until they puke. No pain, no gain right? Wrong. Speed is the ability to hold a certain pace for a long time.
Just look at an elite marathoner – they can run over 26 miles at about 4:50 per mile. But 4:50 mile pace isn’t that fast – I bet everyone reading this can run 4:50 pace for 10 seconds. Some people can do it for a full mile. I’ve done it for two miles. But the elites have so much endurance they can run that pace for over two hours!
Besides their genetic gifts, elite runners are constantly maxing out their endurance by running challenging long runs (in addition to total weekly volume, but let’s get into that another day). You don’t have to stick to the same Long Slow Distance that’s been prescribed to runners for the last 40 years. There are a lot of ways that you can spice up your long run, have more fun, and become a better runner with the same mileage.
Three of my favorite long run variations
Progression long runs include a period of progressively faster running at the end. For example, let’s say you’re running for two hours this weekend for your long run. To do a progression, you could run the last 5-15 minutes at a faster pace that slowly gets faster. A good strategy is to increase your pace every 1-2 minutes until the last 1-3 minutes are hard. Paces don’t need to be exact for this type of workout. All you are doing is getting a stronger aerobic stimulus.
Fartlek long runs include shorter periods of faster running near the end of your long run. These intervals can be as short or long as you like, but I like anything from 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Unlike the progression above, these are faster, shorter, and you get to rest in between. There’s no need for a strict structure for this workout. My favorite is 5×30 seconds at about mile race pace with a 1 minute recovery jog. The fartlek long run helps your body change paces when it’s fatigued and it recruits a lot of fast twitch muscle fibers (in other words, this is a great long run that really works on your speed development!). Here is some more information about fartleks.
Interval miles long run – this isn’t for the weak of heart. This type of long run includes 1-3 miles at the end done at a very fast pace with brief rest in between each repetition. It’s very challenging and you should attempt this only after you’ve mastered the other two types of long runs. When I was training for a 10 mile race distance, a typical long run included 15 miles of running at a comfortable pace, then 1-2 miles on the track at my 5k race pace. I ran very slow for 400 meters in between. Then I ran 1-2 miles as a warm-down. This type of long run helps you peak for a race, so don’t do it every week. I recommend doing 2-3 of these 3-5 weeks out from your goal race.
Long runs don’t have to be so boring. You can implement a variety of strategies to include different paces in your long runs that will help you gain extra endurance, get faster, and avoid the Monday morning stale feeling after so many LSD long runs.
Have you done any other types of long runs to break the monotony of your Sunday routine? Let us know in the comments!