Colin and Anne offer some guidelines on how long your longest run of the week should be. Whether you are a beginner or aiming for a marathon your longest run of the week is the most important.
The four golden rules
Your body responds to variation and varying the length of your runs is very important to stimulate the adaptions needed to make you a fitter faster runner. Building up the distance or time of your long run is key. It is the most important run of the week.
There are some golden rules to follow when doing your longest run of the week.
1. You should finish your long run, like all other runs, knowing you could carry on and do more
2. The longest run should be the gentlest run of the week. Run Superchatty and don’t be afraid to walk now and again if needed.
3. Always make sure you have good running form on the long run. If you are reduced to a ‘dead man’s shuffle’ you have gone too far or run too fast. Stop and get a lift back!
4. Consider recovery time. The long run should only take a couple of days to recover from. If you are tired for a week afterwards then you have done too much. The longest run is the most important run of the week but it should not stop you completing your other runs.
How long should your longest run be?
Here are some simple guidelines to help you.
Find the average of your weekly runs. If you do two 40 minute runs and one 30 minute run, your average run is around 33 minutes. Double the 33 minutes and you get a long run of between 60 and 70 minutes.
Build up the long run gradually
Don’t forget you can’t just add a 60-70 minute run to your week. You will break all the golden rules. Increase your 40 minute run until you can comfortably run for 60-70 minutes. You can learn about how to build up your long run here. It’s all about balancing your running with recovery.
How long will I need to run to be able to complete a 10k or half marathon?
Many runners think that they must be able to cover a race distance in training before competing in a race. We have found that you don’t need to. As long as you can do half the distance in training you will finish the race. Its’ the volume of running you do over the weeks of training that will get you round not one long race distance run.
For 10k racers aiming for a time anywhere up to two hours, a long run of 60 minutes will see you through, together with several weeks of building up the volume of running overall.
For half marathon runners a long run of around 90 mins will get you round, even if your estimated finishing time is two and a half hours.
What about finishing a marathon?
The 26.2 miles of the marathon is no different. We have a golden rule that regular two and a half hour training runs are all you need to get you round as long as you build up enough volume in the rest of the week. It’s the perfect length to allow enough recovery in the days that follow.
So why do so many training plans give you a twenty mile long run?
The answer is easy. The 20-22 miles on training plans is aimed at elite runners. They will cover this distance in two and a half hours and it won’t touch them. What is suitable for the elite is not appropriate for the rest of us however.
Think about it. It’s actually a long way from 20 miles to the end of a marathon. Why would knowing you can run that distance help you complete the whole race? If you are a ‘four hours plus’ marathon runner and you do the 20 mile run you will end up breaking three of the golden rules. You won’t finish feeling you could carry on, you will be reduced to the ‘deadman’s shuffle’ and it will take you a lot more than two days to recover. The whole experience sets up a negative feedback loop. We haven’t heard of anyone who has enjoyed this 20 mile run. Most people approach it with dread, are tired for days and days afterwards and certainly don’t feel good about the approaching marathon race!
Stick to the maximum of two and a half hours. Set up a positive feedback loop knowing that all the running you are doing will prepare you to finish the marathon.
If you still don’t believe us, consider this. Would an ultra runner aiming to compete in a one hundred mile event do eighty five miles in a training run. No, they wouldn’t.
Be confident, It’s the volume of running you do across the weeks of training that will get you round the marathon not one over long training run!
Train your body to use fat for energy by not eating on the long run.
There is a reason that you need to run very gently on your long run. When you run at this super gentle pace your body uses fat as its main fuel.
Imagine your internal energy factory as a fire. Fat is like coal. It is slow burning and will last a very long time. This is all you need when you are running gently but your body needs to get used to using it. As soon as you run a little faster your body asks for more energy quickly and you have to put wood on the fire. The wood is like the glycogen in your body. It is used up quickly and will run out after about an hour and forty five minutes. Running out of energy like this is called hitting the wall.
It is vital to train your body to use its fat metabolism for a marathon and especially important if you are going to be out there for four or more hours. Using this energy source will mean you can run for longer without getting tired. As soon as you eat jelly babies, raisins or any snack on your long run you are giving your body sugar so it won’t bother to call on its fat stores.
And finally, what about the long walk for beginners?
Beginners needn’t feel left out. A long walk of around an hour and a half is great training if you are only running a couple of times a week on a couch to 5k programme. Again, build it up gradually, add a few hills when you are ready and you will stimulate the same adaptions in your body as on a long run. You will also be training your body to use its fat metabolism. It’s a great way to lose weight!