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. When training for distance races, the staples of the week usually include one or two key workouts and the long run.
Lots of running sources suggest that long runs should all be done at an easy pace, similar to recovery days because 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 without adequate recovery, your speed and interval work starts to suffer? and therein starts the snowball effect.
More: 5 Signs of Overtraining
However, getting out there and making those legs work harder every so often on your long runs can do some really great things for you. 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 before or after another hard session.
How to 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 pick it up from there. Depending on how hard you want to make it, you could be moving near all-out towards the end of the run. If you do that, reserve at least one mile at the end for a cooldown to start flushing out the lactic acid build-up.
Middle Interval Play: It's easy to turn your long run into an extended workout. Use the early and late stages as warm-up and cooldown, and complete mile repeats. Do 2-mile repeats or slow/fast 800s.
- Warm up, then complete 6 x 1 mile with 3 minutes recovery
- Warm up, then alternate the middle miles with fast/easy half-miles.
As you get more fit, start putting more pressure on those "easy" recovery 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 for a longer period of time—you should aim for more. The benefit of turning your long run into a tempo-style run rather than doing a straight tempo workout: You'll go into the hard tempo with more miles already in your legs. The fatigue will be more in line with what you'll experience on race day.