If you want to train for longer distances, marathons, ultra-marathons or just increase your aerobic capacity, adding a long training run to your training plan is a must. Long-distance runs have many other health and physical benefits.
If you are training for a half-marathon, full marathon or ultra-race, adding one or two weekly long runs is the most important training method to improve your muscle endurance and increase your aerobic capacity.
How to Run a Long-Distance Run
- Intensity: The best training method for long-distance runs is low intensity (70%-75%of your max heart rate). To get the most benefits of your long run, it is important not to run too intense. When you first start training long-distance, try to monitor your heart rate to make sure you keep it at a lower level.
- Distance: You have to adjust your distance according to your current level of fitness and your planned goal. Start with the longest distance you ran previously and increase it step by step. The maximum distance recommendation for a half-marathon training is about 20-23km, for a full-marathon 35-37km, for an ultra-marathon 40-60km. That’s why when you are training for a 100km or 100-mile race, using 50-70km races is great training tools, having access to checkpoints will help support your nutrition and hydration.
- Duration: The duration is more important than the distance. When focusing on the time and intensity, the distance is more adjusted to your current level of endurance. For full benefits, you should run 1.5 hours if you are adding a long-distance run and if the longest run you have done is 1-1:15 hours. Remember to increase the distance gradually to avoid any injuries. For a half-marathon, a long run can be 2 hours, for a full-marathon 3-3.5 hours and for an ultra-marathon depending on the distance 4-7 hours.
- Nutrition: How much should you eat or drink during long runs depends on your distance, intensity, and diet. If you do your long run on the flat and under 3 hours, you will need less fueling if you did consume some carbohydrates pre-run. One of the current trends is to use the long-distance, low-intensity runs to use stored fat energy instead of only carbohydrates. Our body can only store 90-120 mins of carbohydrates energy, but once our body gets depleted it can go into our stored fat energy and train your fat metabolism. You have to make sure that it is a low intensity run, otherwise your body will get completely depleted of energy. For runs over 3 hours, or higher intensity or trail runs, you should fuel, by drinking water, electrolytes, sports drinks, gels, energy bars or bananas. For beginners, or runners training in hot and humid weather, for runs over 1.5 hour you should include electrolytes, sports drinks, water and maybe a gel. Fueling is a crucial part of training as well, and listening to your body and metabolism is very important to support your energy, endurance, and help with recovery.
Other Benefits of Long Runs
- Burning Fat: Endurance training with lower intensity and heart rate is the best way to burn fat as energy. Our body uses carbohydrates and fat together with oxygen to deliver the energy required by our muscles to work. The amount of carbohydrates in the energy metabolism is much higher when we train at an intense level- faster pace, speedwork, uphill. When running at a slower pace, fat is the biggest energy resource.
- Optimise your Metabolism: When running long-distance at a slower pace and don’t refuel your body with carbohydrates, your body gets depleted of carbs, this forces your body to adapt and use fat burning to deliver the energy needed. This type of training increases the percentage of fat used in the energy metabolism and lowers the amount of carbs, needed to perform longer runs. But this type of training doesn’t work for all runners’ body type. Some runners can handle running on low-carbs, while others will not sustain. So, listen to your body type (more carb energy storage or fat energy).
- Increase Glycogen Storage: Adding low-intensity long runs in your training, your storage space for carbohydrates in your muscles gets bigger. To be able to store more carbs in your muscles will be an efficient way to include carb-loading in your body for a race, rather than eating high levels of carbs a few days before a race when your body can only store a certain amount and cannot store enough energy.
- Train your Musculoskeletal System: Long-distance running has a lot of impact on your joints, ligaments and bones. Your musculoskeletal system needs long runs to adapt to higher training than your heart. To stay injury-free and prepare your body for the hard impact of a long-distance race, you need to add long runs into your regular training plan.
- Mental Training: Running for hours without stopping can be a challenge for our mental abilities. We need to be mentally strong to be able to keep going once our body and muscles get tired and our energy levels are low. Long runs are a great way to train our brain to get used to the fatigue and muscle soreness, so we can keep going feeling strong if we keep our brain happy and motivated.
- Higher Pace Close to the End: A great way to train to increase your speed during a long run, is once you’ve been doing long runs for a while, you can start adding a bit of speed training for the last 3-5km at first and once you get closer to your highest level in your training program you can add a couple more kilometres of faster pace. This will also train your brain to get used to pushing once your body gets tired.
- Add Some Uphill: When you are getting used to your long runs, you can run a few uphill up and down towards the end of your long run, but by making sure you don’t push too hard or increase your heart rate too much. Pushing on the uphill or sprinting should be part of short intense training sessions.
- Listen to your body: On days when you feel weak and very tired, make sure you keep a slow pace and maybe shorten the distance to avoid over-training and injuries.