If you are reading this blog – thank you, chances are you love running anything and everything above 10k. So when we talk speed we are really talking about a 3:30ish kilometre (for a 36min something) 10k and say 4min/k (for a 2:48hr) marathon.
These times are considered very fast for the majority of us age-group punters. They are, of course, nowhere near a national or even state level runner. But for our purposes we will call this fast running today.
Now let’s turn our attention to the definition of ‘long’, for this discussion. Everyone’s idea of long is different. A long run is simply your longest run of the week or fortnight. Preferably you get this run over the hour mark to really be able to call it your long run. My personal marker is 90min before I call it my run long. But you get the idea that it is there or there about.
The long run is almost always the most important run of the week. Of course the long bike can occasionally override the long run if you are a triathlete and very occasionally the hills or tempo runs can be more important, but only for a small training phase and only if you are running the top end of the speeds discussed above. Otherwise it is safe to say that the long run is numero-uno on the training plan for the week. If you miss every other session but one, make sure you complete your long run.
The long run in conjunction with your total weekly mileage will determine your race pace speed more than any other type of run training. Please read that last sentence again. Yes, that includes the fancy track sessions. The reason why the long run is so important is lost on many who look at running as using the cardiovascular and muscular systems of the body. That is just two systems of the twelve body systems.
Jason, what are you talking about now? I’m glad you asked. As we know the body is crazy complex. In broad terms there are twelve systems of the body – cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, excretory, immune, hematopoietic, lymphatic, muscular & skeletal, nervous, respiratory, sensory and reproductive. Phew.
We all know a normal run will use the cardio, muscular & skeletal, nervous, respiratory and of course the sensory systems so you don’t bump into stuff.
When you do your speed intervals your nervous system is really pushed and both the hematopoietic and lymphatic systems go to work.
However, when we run long just about all the systems in the body with the possible exception of the reproductive system go to work.
The very small veins that deliver oxygenated blood to your muscles are given the stimulus to grow and reach further into your muscles.
Your bones, tendons and ligaments are strengthened through prolonged repetition, helping build an injury proof body
Long running also forms more myoglobin in the skeletal muscle fibres. This facilitates oxygen transfer into the muscles, which helps improve your running.
Running develops your fat-burning capacity – your body learns how to tap into your fat supply optimally. However, this will shut down if your heart rate is too high.
Running long is a great way to train your mind to concentrate and stay strong.
Running long releases a stack of hormones. Some make you feel happier and keep those nasty depression feelings away.
Enzymes are released in the digestive system that help break food down and extract nutrition from food. Again, if you run too fast this will shut down.
And here is the big one. At the very source of energy production and the ability of a muscle to contract is a gazzilion little tiny cells (excuse the tech talk). Inside every little tiny cell are even smaller power stations designed to break down nutrients in the cell and turn them into energy. These little power stations are called mitochondria. The more power stations you have the better you will run. And the best way to grow and build your mitochondria is big volume slow running. Read more here.
So, next time you think of running faster and getting the run done quicker or chasing after your running partner, consider what is going on in your body when you cruise around for your long run.
Please do not get me wrong here, not all long runs should be slow and not all of the actual long run should be slow. There is plenty of room for speed in your long run but just not lots of it and not week after week.
Plenty of my Strava buddies log these long runs of 20+km at fabulous speeds of 4:15min/k or 4:40min/k but then when they race the half marathon or marathon, they don’t actually go much faster. Meaning they are pretty much running their training runs at or just a little slower than race pace. This has been shown to never work by that many studies, yet it’s still the seemingly ‘logical’ approach age-group punters love to take.
The key to pace is that you actually have varying pace levels. The way to do that is to run at varying pace levels often. To understand your pace zones check out Jack Daniels VDOT calculator. My simple approach to pace is to always know my current 10k race pace, which I call threshold. Yes, I know everyone is screaming that’s not accurate but keep in mind two things – (1) there are as many different thresholds as there are systems in the body; and (2) I said my ‘simple’ approach.
So if my threshold is 4min/k, I add about 20-25 seconds to find my tempo pace. Tempo pace is more of a feeling than a specific speed. It is that beautiful spot where you are running comfortably-hard, hard but in control, as fast as you can and not loose amazing form. Tempo pace may be more or less than 25sec above your threshold pace depending on your fitness and indeed the type of fitness and of course how you are feeling today.
This tempo pace is now my centre pin. I want to run slow at about 45-90sec slower than tempo. More importantly I want to be able to run at speeds of up to 90sec faster than my tempo pace (I can’t but I try). Obviously this faster pace running is for intervals of 400m or 1k only. The idea is to have a range of speeds or paces and use them regularly.
Just a quick note on speed intervals. There really is not much point running speed intervals until your weekly mileage is over about 30k and preferably over 40k. To get your weekly mileage to that level you will need to, you guessed it, run long and a little slower than you possibly do now.
Here are a couple of long runs that are proven (by me) to work.
Long run number 1 – The Mitochondria Builder
Most weeks the long run is not the time to test yourself. Once a month I like to do my long run entirely in zone 2, which can mean walking or really slow running up hills. The idea of this run is to facilitate as many of those super cool human systems we discussed earlier.
Long run number 2 – Speed Stimulus
This run is a Jason Shortis specialty. Simply go for a long slow run as above. After about 30mins simply run some short efforts of say 30sec up to 3min at a pace around your 10k race pace or half marathon race pace, then run easy for at least the same amount of time or up to 4x the effort time and repeat this a few times. Then back to slow running for the remainder of the run. The purpose here is to get all the benefits of slow running but to simply spark the speed in your body.
Long run number 3 – The Build
Start this run very slow (tempo plus 90 seconds). After 20 to 40mins increase the pace by 15-20 seconds and hold for 20-40mins. Then do the same again. Aim to run the last 20min or so at a pace faster than half marathon pace.
Long run number 4 – Race Pace+
This long run starts as always very slowly. After a good warm up build slowly into a pace slightly faster than race pace (of your next event) and hold for 10mins or so. Aim to repeat this so you are getting about ½ to ¾ of the race time at this pace. So if you were training for an 84min half marathon you would do a 10min effort 4-6 times or a longer 20min effort 2-3 times. Keep in mind that for a marathon there is not much gained by training longer than your time estimate.
Long run finish – Strides
On the back of any of these runs it is great to finish the run and do a few run-throughs or strides. These are short fast efforts of say 80-100m. Start slow and build into really good form, fast running, then as fast as you can for 10-20m and then slow down. Walk back to the start and repeat. This is a great way to finish any long run.
I hope these help prepare your body for faster running in coming years (yes, years).
Oh, and just when I thought that long slow running did not involve the reproductive system – think again. Apparently, men that run long have a higher sex drive, a higher sperm count and women are more attracted to them – here is the paper from the University of Cambridge :)