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.
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.
We all know how important cross training is for runners. Any type of cardio workout that does not involve much use of our feet is a great way to “rest while maintaining”.
As runners we have to run a lot to improve our performance. The problem is that risk of injury increases the more we run. By adding a day or two of cross training in a week gives our over-worked muscles time to repair themselves. But doing so does not increase our running performance. Cross training can only improve our total fitness.
One Study of two groups of runners followed a specific running program for six-week. One group only ran while the second group cross train as well. At the end of the study both groups showed the same improvements. Another study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise proved the same results as the first one.
Let’s not forget that the exact meaning of cross training (source: wikipedia ) is to take part in two different sports. So naturally we would not become better runners by swimming or the other way around. To become a better runners, we have to run regularly, consistently, and with a good training plan that gradually increases in distance and speed.
So, will cross training increase your performance as runner? I don’t think so. Will it make you less prone to injuries and more complete as an athlete? Definitely
If you want to build a stronger running foundation you should rotate your shoes.
I’d like to begin with a Disclaimer: I’m not a Podiatrist, nor a Physical Therapist not even a Foot Magician. Everything I’m describing in this post is from my own personal experience as well as knowledge I have gained from running experts.
Running increases the muscular endurance of our feet, legs and even the hips. Using the same shoes on every run will work on the same group of muscles all the time. If you used one or even two pairs in rotation on different days you could benefit.
A Shoe for each run.
Personally, I rotate between three sometimes even four pairs in a week. I run my Long Runs with a cushioned 10mm drop (heel to toe offset). A flatter 4mm drop and less cushioned for faster runs. A zero drop less cushioned for medium long runs and easy runs. And from time to time a barefoot shoe for easy short runs and recovery.
By mixing up the shoes gives my legs and feet a more complete workout. It truly builds your lower legs much stronger. Something that I can definitely notice. Although the cushioned shoes are comfy, the more minimal zero drop do more good to your muscles. They stretch the fascia muscles and makes them more flexible. Also the Achilles and Soleus and many more muscles will benefit.
Rotate what you already have
Don’t go out and buy three different pair of shoes all at the once. Rotate what you have in your closet first. Take out maybe an older shoe that has some life still left on its sole. If you already have a shoe that has more than 100 miles on it now is the time to shop for a new pair. Talk to your local running store experts. Ask them for a different drop shoe than the one you already own. Make sure the shoe is the right one for your feet (Pronation). Once this pair reaches the 100 mile mark is time to shop for a new one. Throw that in the rotation, Soon you will have choices to make on your runs. Remember since you are rotating your shoes they will last you for a longer time till they reach their end.
Choose the right shoe carefully
Although I own a few pair of shoes from many different brands they are all the same in one way. When it comes to Pronation Control they all fall in the Neutral category. They may vary in drop, cushion and style, but they are all Neutral. You should know your Pronation Control category and always stick with it. If you decide to buy a pair with a different drop than you are used to make the change slowly. Allow for transition time. The bigger the difference in drop the longer the transition. Remember you will be stressing tissue that has not been stressed and you will be risking injury.
I believe shoe rotation is a great way to build an injury free running body!
A couple of months ago Nike made an announcement. It has put together a team of diverse leaders in all aspects of training in order to achieve the so-far humanly impossible Sub 2 hour Marathon the so-called Breaking2 .
They have targeted three runners that are capable (according to Nike) of achieving the impossible. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea.
On January 26th. 2017, Ed Caesar from Wired magazine traveled to Kenya and had the opportunity to train and observe Kipchoge.
One of the days he spent there went on a run with Kipchoge and his training group:
It was during this period that I reflected upon the happy fact that I was not dead. Kipchoge has run whole marathons almost twice as fast as we were moving at that moment. Why had he chosen not to crank up the pace? Why hadn’t he killed us? Kipchoge is polite to a fault. Was he simply humoring his guests? When we returned to his training camp, another possibility emerged. This was a recovery run, and Kipchoge really does take his recovery runs that slowly. The data the Nike science team analyzed from his GPS watch shows that the kind of run he had done with us was exactly the kind of run he would have done anyway.
Caesar goes on:
I knew Kipchoge was fast. I didn’t understand how slow he could be. This, I thought, might be a moment to learn something.
Most of us follow some kind of a training program. It can be a couch to 5K, a Half training program or even a Marathon. As you already know, if you are following a program, most of your workouts are “Easy Run” days. The purpose of those days are to either help your body recover from a previous hard workout or to prepare you for an upcoming one. They are great workouts that help rebuild our muscles from tiny tears that occurred during hard training and make those muscles stronger. So to reap the full benefits of an Easy day you must slow down.
How slow do you go on Easy days? The answer is simple: You can not go “too slow” but you can go too fast and that will add to the stress and muscle fatigue and your next workout will suffer from it. Continue doing this and not only your training will become counteractive but you also risk injury.
Greg McMillan shares a great post on Easy running and other workouts by doing The Talk Test while running.
The Talk Test Zones
Endurance Zone – carry on a full conversation
Stamina Zone – speak in 1-2 sentences
Speed Zone – speak 1-2 words but definitely not a lot of talking
Sprint Zone – grunts, moans, aack.
As you see here the EZ zone is pretty much a relaxing run that you could actually carry on a conversation without having to gasp for air. Now if you are not running with a partner talking to yourself may seem as a sign of insanity to innocent by passers. But then again when they see you running they already think you’re half crazy.