The long run is a fundamental ingredient in any training program, whether you're running a 5K or a full marathon.
While it's common for marathon runners to do a significant long run in preparation for race day, what may not be as obvious is how the long run fits into shorter distance (5K or 10K) training programs.
How to Run Long
In order to reap the most benefits on race day, focus on the long run in the first half or first two-thirds of a training cycle. While challenging aerobic workouts—threshold, fartleks or progression runs—should be a major part of your weekly training plan, a long run should be the other large focus each week.
Many training programs schedule long runs for the weekend, so time constraints and distractions are limited. This also allows for a flexible, two-day window to ensure you don't skip the crucial part of your workout.
How Long Should a Long Run Be?
Once you've made the long run a major priority during the week, the question becomes, "How long should the run be, and how fast do I need to do it?"
If you really want to run a great 5K, you need to be running at least five miles. The more serious recreational runner should consider progressing up to 10 miles if the goal is a 5K PR.
The minimum mileage to run a successful 10K should be 7 to 8 miles and, like the 5K distance, a serious 10K runner should aim for a max of 10 miles, giving yourself a comfortable buffer to increase your pace as you're able.
There is some debate about what is needed for the half marathon. If you are going into a 13.1-mile race with a "just finish" goal, you can get away with running 10 miles during training. However, more serious runners should run around 16 miles, which prepares them well for the race.
You simply need to be honest about where you fit on the racing continuum; are you looking to simply complete the race, or do you want to compete and run a new half marathon PR?
If you're going to tackle a marathon, find a coach or training program that has you running at least 18 miles—perhaps even as much as 22 miles—in your preparation. Unlike the shorter distances, the marathon requires you to utilize fat as a fuel source, and the best way to teach your body to do that is a significant long run.
Finally, when it comes to pace, consider this simple progression. Your beginning runs are easy enough to simply log the designated number of miles. The goal then becomes running the last one to three miles of the long run a tad faster.
You'll be well served to ignore your GPS at this point and just run by feel. If you feel good with two miles to go, you can speed up a bit and run those last few miles faster than the rest of the run.
The long run takes concentration and planning, but you'll reap the rewards when the gun goes off on race day.
- Should You Run the Full Distance Before a Race?
- Should You Train With Miles or Minutes?
- The Importance of Building a Running Base
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