In this piece, we will look at long runs or LSD (Long Slow Distance), what is its significance in the world of distance running, what are the benefits, how to structure long runs and the variety that can be brought in the training cycle.
What is a long run?
Any run that lasts for more than 60 minutes to 120 minutes or even more will make for a long run. These runs are usually run at an easy pace, conversational pace that allows one to comfortably chat with your running buddy. It’s nice, easy and relaxed. The definition of a long run differs from runner to runner. A 60 minute run for an experienced runner may be just a short run but for a beginner, it is a long run. You are supposed to be on your feet for long and run long and run slow. As a thumb rule, it’s good to keep your heart rate at 65%-70%.
Why include long runs in training?
Long runs are incorporated in the training cycle to gradually enhance endurance and stamina.
Experts say 20% to 30% of your weekly mileage should comprise long run mileage. This would depend on your current mileage. For example, a runner with a low weekly mileage, his/her long run percentage of the weekly mileage would definitely be higher than 30%, could even go up to 50% as against a runner who is running say 50 miles or 80km weekly. The runner could be running 24km long run but the other runs and the frequency of runs on a weekly basis would also be much higher, may be 5 to 6 times a week.
How much distance should you aim to go? The answer to this depends on the following factors:
What is my training goal?
What race have I signed up for? Date of the event
What type of course I would be running on?
What is my current fitness level?
It is usually done once in a week to 10 days depending on the training cycle, but some intermediate and advanced runners may do more than one in a week or in 10 days.
What are the benefits?
The main objective of practising long runs is to work on enhancing your endurance and building up your aerobic as well as your cardiovascular capacity.
Over time, while fitting them in the weekly schedule, runners can learn to use fat as fuel.
The other important benefits of a long run are:
Muscle Strength: The runner can build on muscle strength, particularly the key muscle groups such as quads, calves and glutes, including core muscles, by consistently running long.
Running long strengthens bones, with gradually increasing mileage, the body makes more tissue, hence becomes stronger.
It helps in building capillaries. Capillaries are blood vessels and they help in transporting oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues and this over a period of time helps one to run more efficiently.
Boosts Mitochondria: The main function of the mitochondria is to convert carbs and fats into energy resulting in the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). This helps muscles to use oxygen efficiently, helping runners go long without getting tired.
Improves aerobic capacity and builds good endurance which is the cornerstone for any distance runner.
Long runs are a great opportunity to work on the form. By running long and slow, one has an opportunity to keep working and improving on the running form and technique which helps runners reduce injury risks.
Finally, it makes you mentally strong by preparing your body to take on the challenges of distance running.
What are the types of long run?
As runners graduate and progress in their running journey and based on the specific goal and the running event they target, various types of long runs can be planned into the training schedule.
Traditional Long Run: These are done slow at a conversational pace. Ideally good when you have started to embrace running long, coming back from an injury or a hiatus.
Progression Runs: As one gets familiar with traditional long runs and has built up a good running base, one can move on to these progression runs. Here the format is, you start slow at your lowest running pace and increase the pace in each block and by the time you are in the last leg of completion of your long run, you end up running that block the fastest. For eg, let’s say you are doing a 20km long run. This type of run helps to run faster on tired legs where you work on building two skills – speed and endurance.
Example of a progression run:
0- 5km – 7:00/km
5 – 10km – 6:30/km
10-15km – 6:00/km
15-20km – 5:30/km
Tempo long runs: You start easy in the first segment of your run and then try to maintain a pace higher than the first segment and then in the last segment go easy again. For eg, the first 30 mins easy pace, next 30 mins hard and then another 30 mins easy. As runners approach the race day, they do these type of runs to develop confidence to run long with speed simulating certain segments of the race. Race or no race, these type of long run workouts also help to introduce speed and crunch time, which is what every distance runner is aiming to work on.
Fartlek long run: This type of run would involve incorporating strides for some part of your long run. Typical example could be 5km easy and then in the next phase, 2 mins fast and 3 mins slow and this could be repeated 6 times and start again with a 5km easy. They are not only fun, they go by so fast and you are able to complete your long run so quickly.
Back-to-back runs: These type of runs can be structured in any way. Running for 45 mins one day and running for 90 mins the next day or more. Again a robust method to build endurance to run long on tired legs.
An important point to keep in mind is that long runs should be accompanied with the right nutrition and a recovery plan.