Long runs give you endurance and the ability, plain and simple, to go farther. They do this by:
- Strengthening the heart
- Opening capillaries
- Speeding energy to working muscles
- Flush waste from tired muscles
- Strengthening leg muscles and ligaments
- Recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers to help out in slow-twitch tasks
- Helps burn fat as fuel
- Boosts confidence
- Makes you faster
Frequency of Long-Run Training
Once a week is the most often you'd want to do a long run. It is, after all, a hard workout, requiring rest or easy days before and after.
The other end of the scale depends on a number of factors. Some runners have no problem with going two to three weeks between long runs. Others, like 1995 national marathon champ Debbi Kilpatrick, will come back with a midweek long run if a race precludes the weekend 20-miler.
Jeff Galloway, 1972 Olympian and present-day marathon coach, recommends a simple formula, roughly one day per mile of your long run. For example, if your long run is 12 to 17 miles, you can go two weeks between long runs without losing endurance. (If it's 18 to 23 miles, three weeks.)
"That is, if you're running at least 30 minutes every other day in between," says Galloway.
Galloway's rule can also be used to taper before a marathon. For instance, if your last long run is 22 miles, you would run it three weeks before race day. If your last long run is 16 miles, you get a two-week rest.
What day is best for the long run? Saturday is a popular choice, and for good reason.
It's when you and your running partners have the most free time. It allows for a little R&R afterward (you don't have to go to work the next day). And, besides, most marathons fall on the weekends, so why not set your body clock ahead of time?
"I'll do my long runs on Saturday or Sunday depending on what day the marathon I'm training for falls on," says Anne Marie Lauck, who finished 10th in the 1996 Olympic marathon. "If possible, I'll even run at the same time of day as the marathon."Sign up for your next race.