Tackling Your Long Run: Always easy or is there a time to put the hammer down?

Oh, the long run. I’ve always loved long run days and the feelings of entitlement we get for the rest of the day: slothful laziness and inhaling as much food as we want. With distance training the staples of the week usually shape up to be one or two key workouts and the long run.
run happy
Lots of current running sources will say that long runs should all be done at an easy pace, similar to recovery days. I can see that, hammering out double digit miles each and every week could be a quick way to dig yourself into a hole or wind up hurt. If you keep going into the next hard workout still not recovered and then your speed and interval work starts to suffer…there goes the snowball effect.

However, and this is just my opinion and past experience, getting out there and making those legs work on that long run every so often can do some really great things for you too. The key is being smart with your overall training. If you’re going to use the long run as a quality run, don’t do it the day after or before another hard session. Common sense people. ;)

Kick-up That Long Run Effort

* Progressive Long Run: Just like the name implies, think of this as just a longer progressive run where you keep cutting down the pace as you go. Take the first two miles at your easy pace and from there pick it up. Depending on how hard you want to make it, you could be moving darn near all out towards the end. But if you do that, reserve at least one mile at the end to cool-down to at least start flushing out the lactic acid.

* Middle Interval Play: It’s easy to turn your long run into just an extended workout; using the early and late stages as warm-up and cool-down do mile repeats, 2-mile repeats or slow/fast 800′s. Examples: warm-up and cool-down then 6xmile with 3 minute recovery; warm-up and cool-down then alternate the middle miles with fast/easy half miles. As you get more advanced and fit start putting more pressure on those ‘easy’ portions.

* Middle Tempo Run: The name is pretty much a dead giveaway here, for newer and younger runners you may stick to 2 or 3 tempo miles within your total long run but for more advanced runners, and those planning to race longer, you should aim for more. The benefit of turning your long run into a tempo style run rather than doing a straight tempo workout, is that you go into the hard tempo with more miles already in your legs and the fatigue is more in line with what you’ll be experiencing come race day. Examples: 14 miles total with first 6 easy/moderate, 7 tempo, 1 mile easy; 14 or more miles total doing a 10 mile tempo, to make the tempo harder add more miles to the front and extend the first easy phase.

The Mental Component:
Another reason I like making long runs hard is that they test you mentally, and, especially if you’re planning on racing longer (10k, half, marathon, etc.) they simulate what you’ll be going through on race day much better than doing all of your long runs easy.
peacock runner
You still don’t want to make each, weekly long run hard and you want to be smart with your overall training. Don’t do a hard long run workout the day after or before another hard workout…you obviously won’t be recovering. Rather, think of your training in three week cycles and maybe do a long run workout every third week.

It’s base season for lots of runners before cross-country, so here is a point in your training where some long, hard runs would fit right in. Though, the last little disclaimer I’d like to add is that for new runners (those still only in their first, second or third year running regularly) and younger runners (through high school, an exception could be juniors or seniors who have been running for years), it’s very easy to get incredibly motivated and want to do EVERYTHING hard, or go the more-more-more route; but running is a sport where patience wins out in the big picture. For you guys, stick to them easy long runs…enjoy them while they last. ;)

***Tip For Beginners: If you’re still not yet ready for long run workouts, you can start out experimenting by adding in some short surges or strides within your long run. Sprinkle in some 30 second strides within those middle miles.

Be smart. Be patient. Then go attack some long runs. :)

1) How do you approach your long runs?

2) If you like making some long runs also workouts, what are some of your favorite ways to do that?

3) What point in your training cycle/season are you in? Cross-country coming up, late track, road racing?

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13 thoughts on “Tackling Your Long Run: Always easy or is there a time to put the hammer down?

  1. I really really love this post! Being a new runner, I just want to run all of the time, but I know that would just hurt me. Even with the running that I do, I still have a tendancy to want to over do it. Plan a run, run longer. I don’t really stick to my scheduled run. Grr.
    I can’t express how much a long run is such a mental game! Even being a baby runner, this knowledge came very fast to me. I believe the legs can take more then we realize, but our minds are our worst enemy!
    Great post Cait!

    • oh yes, u girl don’t even think about those double digit runs yet…mkk!!! u keep being smart, BUT i love the motivation because that’s going to be wat keeps u going and IMPROVING as you get ‘older’ in runner years…hehe.

  2. I did my first 10-miler in a long time on Saturday. I got through it, but digestive troubles were… eh, yucky. Portapotties suck!

    I like the half marathon training I’m doing right now because it’s a lot like what you described- there isn’t a long run every single week. There are long runs but then “cutback weeks”, and I think that’s helping my recovery. Long runs definitely build confidence though, they do something mentally that races and shorter workouts don’t do…

  3. i love to approach my LRs with a progressive thought process. I generally try to start as easy as possible and keep it easy till at least halfway and then reassess. if im still feeling great then i gradually pick up the pace and try to finish strong! i love that feeling because it leaves me feeling awesome, positive and confident! i kinda heart LRs for sure:) esp the laziness and refueling after parts:)

  4. I really like mixing up the speed in my long runs, because whilst some days I drift off when running and the time goes quickly, other days I don’t and the long run can feel like a long time!! Changing the pace adds a bit of variety. I like your list of examples of how to mix it up – thanks :)

    • helping the time pass by faster is one AWESOME point i didn’t add so i’m glad u brought this up!! it helps pass those miles…but funny how the recovery intervals seem to whiz by so much faster than the hard ones. ;)

  5. Excellent post! Great tips too. I just bookmarked it :-).

    Changing pace is great – and you feel amazing after finishing a surge. I’m now 1 1/2 months away from my first marathon, so the sessions are getting longer, but I’m feeling fitter, and getting better and better at endurance and mental preparedness.

    What are you training for atm?

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