It doesn’t matter if you are training for a 5K, an Ultra Marathon or any distance in between, your weekly training plan will have one workout in common, the Long Run. It is the bread and butter of running. The Long Run, if it is done right, will increase your aerobic base, will build up your endurance and will boost your confidence. Is the Keystone of any running training program.
Slow and easy is something we hear a lot from coaches when it comes to Long Runs. You see, the Long run has many benefits and here are some of them:
Improves Oxygen use and Glycogen stores.
Trains the cardio, respiratory and muscular systems to work more efficiently.
Maximizes our ability to burn fat and spare our limited muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) stores as well as improving our leg strength.
It helps with resistance to fatigue both physical and mental.
Teaches patience and discipline.
Adapts tendons, ligaments, joints and bones to the stress of running (reduces chance of injury).
Increases the quantity of mitochondria (responsible for the conversion of food to usable energy).
Improves our focus and determination (especially in longer races).
And the list could possible go on a little longer (pun intended).
How long is the Long Run?
When it comes to the Long Run distance and pace aren’t so important. Time spent on your feet is! Anything between 45-90 minutes our body learns to increase its ability to transfer and use oxygen more efficiently (aerobic). It also builds muscle strength without too much stress.
Anything over 90 minutes our body learns to depend more on fat usage for energy instead of Glycogen (running efficiency). We all have almost an unlimited energy supply from fat but only a couple of hours of Glycogen.
If you are training for long races it is recommended to run no more than 180 minutes during your Long Run. Running for this long helps us accomplish two things. First, your legs will get very tired but will become stronger and better able to handle running for such long periods. Second, you will experience fatigue and have to be mentally strong to simply keep going, knowing that you are going to continue to feel tired. However, it’s important to remember that feeling tired is what training is about.
Besides all of these different benefits, you are also avoiding one of the number-one risk factors for injury. Going too fast, too far too quickly can be a recipe that doesn’t taste too good. If you are new to running start with 45 minutes and add 10 minutes every other week to your Long Run. Every three to four weeks cut back the time of your Long Run to give your legs and body some rest. Consistency and variety will keep you running for a long time!
Have you ever started a run and felt sluggish, heavy and thinking “I don’t think I can do this today”? But you stick with the run and things progress, eventually you start feeling a little more confident. Your legs loosen up and you start to gain speed slowly without too much extra effort. Then you enter the specific stage (speed, tempo, stamina workout) of your training run and things are just not happening. If you have felt all this you are not alone. Most of us roll out of bed in the morning or get back home from work and head out the door to “get this run over with” without much preparation. We skip the Warm Up part of our workout.
Well, I’m here to tell you that if you skip the Warm Up you are cheating yourself of your best performance. Don’t fool yourself by saying “I’m not a fast runner or an elite”. It doesn’t matter if you are a 17 minute 5K athlete or a 30 minute one. You may have noticed the “fast kids” warming up before a race and you think “Well their coach tells them they have to”. Yes, and they also run sub 20 minute 5Ks.
A proper Warm Up gets your body and mind ready of what is about to take place. It can be broken down in three parts.
So what do you need to do for a proper Warm Up? Here are some things I do before every run. First I do some hip-openers, chest-openers, squats, leg swings and lunges about 2-4 sets. These exercises open up my chest so my lungs fill up with more air during my run. Loosen up my hips and joints so they don’t stiffen my run. Mobility workouts, here Matt Fitzgerald describes a few of the workouts you could do before your runs.
2. Energy Delivery system
Right after that I head out the door for an easy mile or two. That gets the heart pumping and Oxygen-rich blood flowing to the working muscles. Warming up the muscles and tendons gets them ready for the hard work to come and will prevent injury. Next, is time for a few running form drills. These will “wake up” the nervous system which is an important part of the Warm-Up. They are great co-ordination exercises. Jason Fitzgerald demonstrates the basic Running Drills in a short video. You’d want to do these on key-workout days and not before Easy or Long runs.
3. Practice race/training pace
After the energy delivery system is set up and the muscles warmed is time for a few Strides. I only do those before a race or a speed workout. I run the pace that I will race or train for 20-25 seconds to see what it “feels” like for that day. And I only do 3-4 repeats. You’d want to do this right before the race (2-3 min before the start) or the start of your workout and not every time you run.
Once you incorporate this Warm-Up routine into your training it will become part of it and it will feel natural. Not only your performance will improve but your running Form will too.
For any long distance runner, a Running Nutrition strategy is an absolute necessity. Do this wrong or don’t practice it before race day and you are risking failure. Is hard enough for our running bodies to cover the long distance add dehydration and/or lack of Carbohydrates and you have the “Bonk”. But not all fuel is created equally and not all runners can follow the same fueling techniques.
You should practice your hydration strategy during your long runs. After a few of those runs you should be able to dial in to exactly what works for you. Carry your hydration so you can sip along the course. This way you can avoid the slowing crowded runners at the water stops. Besides, the race may not be offering the same products you are used to hydrate with. If you don’t want to carry a bottle (or two) with you check with the race administrators to find out what they will be offering at the race. During your long runs practice with those same products. If you don’t want to carry your bottle, you may want to place water bottles along your route or park your car on a loop of 3-4 miles long so that you have access to your hydration . I personally carry my own bottle. On longer runs I double the concentration so I don’t have to carry more than one bottle. It works for me but may not for you. Practice it!
Fueling your Long Run
Glucose, sugar-the simplest of all Carbohydrates, is the main source of fuel in our body. Stored as Glycogen in our muscles and liver is the fasted burning fuel. A well-trained runner has about two hours of Glycogen supply to burn. It is very important to replenish the stores of it to avoid hitting the “Wall”. Again something you have to practice on your long runs along with hydration. Fuel is easy to carry with you. Raisins, dates, gummy bears, gels etc. all should fit in your short pockets. Find out what the race will be offering and practice with it if you don’t want to carry it. Always take 3-4 ounces of water (2-3 sips) with any fuel, it will be distributed to your muscles quicker.
Glycemic indexes for common sugars Scale: 0-100 where 100 raises blood glucose levels fastest
high fructose corn syrup ~78
agave nectar, raw honey ~30
brown rice syrup ~25
Choose your sugars wisely. Slow burning sugars (low glycemic) will burn slower and will sit in your stomach longer which can give you digestive problems while running.
Dialing in your Nutrition is never easy but with practice you will find what works the best for you. As with Everything else don’t try anything new on race day.
Imagine your running body having a gas tank like that of your car. You fill up and go till it runs out. How far did you get? Can you go further with the same tank? Yes you can by increasing your aerobic capacity. There have been many studies about the affect of aerobic capacity and our running bodies. Reference
Most of the running we do as runners is in the Aerobic state. Meaning that our muscles get all the energy they need through Oxygen absorption. But first let’s take a look at how our running body generates the energy to run. Described in the simplest way: When we breathe air, Oxygen gets into our lungs, from there it catches a ride on the red cells in our blood and travels to the heart. The heart will then send the oxygenated blood to our working muscles. Once there, Oxygen will burn Glucose into energy (called ATP) for the muscles. Then as we exhale we get rid of the by-products that are CO2 and water vapor. The faster we run the higher the demand for Oxygen from the muscles and the more blood the heart will have to send. Thus the faster breathing with faster running.
Improving Running Economy
The more Oxygen our body can absorb the higher energy return for the muscles. Therefore our ability to absorb higher amounts of Oxygen (VO2Max) out of the blood makes us faster. Very well trained runners will have the highest absorption of Oxygen. Although some people have the genetic gift of high VO2Max there’s hope for the rest of us too. We can improve our VO2Max by running at faster paces, also called Speed training workouts about once per week. That is not running at an all-out effort. Instead is a little faster than Cruise Intervals pace, or when you feel your breathing getting much faster while your pace is increasing, a little faster than our 5K pace. Fast but not uncomfortable.
Speed workouts are very beneficial when done right. This is the Fast Stuff in our training and should be done once a week for most of us. These workouts not only increase our VO2Max but help us learn to stay focused and become more familiar with some of the suffering while racing.
Here is a sample of Speed Workouts:
8-10 times (1:00 minute Fast with 1:00 minute easy jog).
4-6 times (3:00 minute Fast with 2:00 minute easy jog).
3-5 times (5:00 minute Fast with 3:00 minute easy jog).
As with every workout make sure you start with an easy run for 10-20 minutes to warm up. During warm up the body gets ready by activating our neuromuscular system and setting up the delivery system of Oxygen and nutrients to our muscles so we are ready by the time the workout or race begin. Always end your speed workout with a Cool Down of 10 – 20 min easy run. This will flush any Lactic Acid build up in your legs and get you ready for the next workout. Speed workouts can be taxing to our bodies. Plan a day off or an easy run before and a day of rest the day after.
Our main source of energy has a bad name! If Fats were discovered today I’m sure they would be named differently. More like “energy nutrients” or the “9 calories per gram fuel cells” or “slow burning fuel” anything but Fats. We have painted a bad picture for the most important nutrient not only for runners but every person. Without them our body would not be able to absorb certain Vitamins and as mentioned already they are our main source of energy. Having said that not all Fats are created equal!
There’s the Good the Bad and the Ugly when it comes to Fats.
These are the healthy Fats. Also known as the Unsaturated (both mono- and poly-). Found mainly in vegetable oils (olive oil, canola, soy, corn…etc) and in nuts, seeds and fish. They should be available and consumed in your daily diet.
These Fats will kill you! They are the Trans Fats. Found in all processed foods and all the Junk food of course. Even at very small quantities they will cause all kinds of problems like coronary disease and more. These are the ones to avoid completely.
… and The Ugly
Known as Saturated Fats they are not as bad as their cousins the Trans Fats, but they can cause problems too. Moderation is the key here! I’m sure you’ve heard a Doctor talking about cutting back on red meats, butter, cheese and ice cream right?
So there you have it. Consume most of your Fats from the Unsaturated list (mono- and poly-). Cut back on the Saturated and eliminate all Trans Fats from your daily diet.
Mostly a beginner’s offense to the basic rules of running. Also seasoned runners coming from a running break or a race commit the offense of increasing their mileage Too Soon. Ignoring the “build a base” rule of training can quickly lead to injuries. Adding Too Many miles to their weekly totals and not observing the 10-20% increase per cycle also spells trouble. Coming back to training feeling rested and eager to run and piling up excess miles could sideline the runner. Also following the three cycle increase in mileage and the fourth cycle running less is the proper way to longer happier miles. And just because a runner can run Too Fast, he/she shouldn’t. Most of our running during training should be easy. As the matter of fact about 80% of the time spent running should be slow! The other 20% is a mix of controlled faster running workouts. Save it for race day! So here you have it: “the terrible toos”. Add any of these Toos to your running and you’ll be experiencing the terrible Shin Splints, Runner’s Knee, ITB Syndrome etc.
Easy runs are supposed to be Easy. Right, I get it! But how slow or fast is easy? Recently I have been struggling with this. I think I have been running my easy-slow runs a bit too fast. My heart rate is higher than 65% of Max and the “talk-test” well, is almost there but not exactly. But I feel somewhat comfortable running at this, a little faster, pace (around 09:30-09:40m/mile). The McMillan Running Calculator and Daniel’s Running Formula have my easy runs at 10:20-10:30m/mile. I have made myself go that slow and not only feels “un-natural” but it almost hurts. It feels like I can run longer at a faster pace than a slow one! I know at a slower pace we tend to lose our running form but I have paid attention and I think I maintain my form. Not sure if this is a “mental” thing or what!
Running at different paces
One would think that going faster would be tough – not going slower. I run two or three days per week at “slow easy” pace and every other week I add ‘Strides” to one of those runs. During the week I have a Tempo/Intervals or Steady State run and of course the Long run (a little slower than easy pace). I feel that I run my body at different paces enough that it should adapt and not get stuck at a single gear.
I have been running for over eight years and have enjoyed some success. But I feel that my easy running may be sabotaging my overall training.
Protein, not just for runners but everyone striving for a balanced diet or planning to shed a few pounds should know a few things about it. According to the World Health Organization, humans need to get only 10 percent of their daily calories from Protein to maintain good health. But as runners we need more of it because running breaks down muscle and damages our muscle fibers.
Protein with every meal
According to researchers, by spreading your Protein intake throughout the day, your muscles receive a constant supply of the amino acids needed to build muscle and boost metabolism. However, if you consume too little at breakfast and too much at dinner, your body can’t build muscle throughout the day and is forced to store Protein as glucose or fat at night.
Protein intake timing for runners
After a hard run or workout timing your Protein intake is important. Within 30 minutes from your workout and up to 2 hours is the ideal window for recovery. For every pound of body weight you should consume 0.25gr of Protein for proper muscle Recovery. For example a 100lb runner should consume 25gr. and a 160lb runner 40gr. Of course you should include Carbohydrates with your recovery meal or shake and don’t forget to hydrate immediately after your workout. You should continue consuming more Protein with all your meals and snacks for the rest of the day. You want to aim for a total daily intake at 0.50gr per pound of body weight for light days. On heavier workout days or long mileage runs you should aim for 0.80gr. Although this is not a magic formula it works for me. I even add more Protein on days that I feel extra sore or sense an injury coming.
As a runner you may already know the importance of Carbohydrates in running performance. Some of us tend to think a lot about our fueling process (Carbs) during training and racing. Others very little and some not at all. For the large majority of runners we are probably consuming enough Carbs during the day to support our needs. But fine-tuning our Carb intake can make for greater results in our performance.
Personalizing your Carbohydrate intake
My general rule when it comes to my personal Nutrition is 60-20-20. That translates to 60% of total Calories come from Carbs, 20% from Protein and 20% from Fat. Although the percentages don’t change, the amounts do, depending on the day’s activities. For instance on a complete rest day I would try to consume enough Carbs to equal my minimum requirement of 2,100 Cals per day. That will be 2,100 x 60% (or 0.6) = 1,260 Cals from Carbs. On a different day, let’s say after a two-hour Long run I would burn approx. 1,100 Calories. So the day’s minimum total Caloric consumption would be 2,100+1,100=3,200 Cals. For that day the Carb requirement would be 3,200 x 60% (0.6) = 1,920 Cals from Carbs. It is really very simple to calculate. And if you use My Fitness Pal is very easy to keep up with your daily Nutrition. It is a free app by the good folks at Under Armor that tracks your Calories and adjusts the total daily requirements according to your activity. Even if you tracked your Caloric intake for a few days you will get a good idea of your Nutritional habits.
Best times to take Carbs
Carbohydrates = Energy.
Generally you should consume most of your Carbs earlier in the day. Especially if you run/work out in the mornings is important to refuel early.
Before a hard workout. Your body will respond better to the workout when its fuel reserves are topped.
During a Long run. Your body will thank you for re-stocking some of its fuel while is working so hard for you.
Always after your run. Post run, Carbs are important for recovery with a small amount of Protein (more about Protein on another Post) will feed your muscles.
Remember that Carbohydrates = Energy. When you feel you’re running (no pun intended) low is time to refuel.
After a Sunday’s group run we gather for coffee. Needless to say we flood the coffee bar with sweaty, smelly bodies and for some reason we feel welcomed. Even the other patrons don’t seem to mind us but we do get curiously examining looks all the time. Usually there are running discussions buzzing all around the coffee bar. Different subjects depending on the table you’re sitting at. But there was one that became more of a general discussion “Is running a competitive sport or individual”?
With Boston around the corner and with a few of our group going to the prestigious running event, this was a timely subject. Of course ideas are like assholes, everybody has one! And there was not a shortage of them.
So what is a competitive sport? Here’s what wikipedia has to say:
Sport (UK) or sports (US) are all usually forms of competitive physical activity or games which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants, and in some cases, entertainment for spectators.
That definitely describes any running event from the 100m Sprint to the Marathon and more. A group of athlete’s competing for 1st place and there’s never a lack of entertainment nor spectators who can reach over a million at some events. So there you have it running is a competitive sport. Or is it?
You vs You
Let’s take another look at this. You don’t hear someone ask you “Did you Win the Marathon?” But, you do hear “Did you set a PR ?”(or a PB depending on the Continent you are at that moment). I personally think is rude to so blatantly ask a runner the PR question unless you know them well. But you can always drug it out of by asking “how was the course?”,”how was the weather?” or “how did you feel during the race”. If that runner set a personal best you’d know by now! I think all of us strive for a PR. We may even place at the top in our age group from time to time but a personal record shines better than that reward.
So if you run for a Personal Record (or a Personal Best) seems that those are individual goals and don’t have much to do with competing with other runners. Right? Let’s face it, in any race but especially the Marathon you have the front-runners or the leading group or simply the Elites. It’s the pack of runners that are competing and they are about 30 to 50 of them and as the race goes on the pack thins down to about 6-8 runners. They are competing for 1st place and a very generous reward most races. The rest of us are trying to beat our own Best, we are running for a new PR. It is You against You on the course. Can’t care less about the runner in front or behind you.
I think it all comes down to each one of us. If we all run at six minutes pace then we would be competing at races. Personally I think running is an Individual sport for the majority of runners and a Competitive one for the Select few.