The Purpose of the Long Run

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written by runnergirl training 

The long run serves a key purpose in every runner’s training program. It serves to build the endurance base level of conditioning.
A long run can be defined as different distances based on the running program being discussed. For example, a 5k runner would might have a 3 mile long run and a half marathon runner may have a 12 mile long run. Both serve the purpose of increasing the body’s tolerance to repeated stress for an increasing duration.  The energy demands of a 5k are different than that of a half marathon so their respective distances will also differ.

Another key aspect of the long run is to conquer mental challenges. Let’s face it, a huge part of running is the ability to distract your mind, get into the zone or even possibly find enjoyment. The longer or more intense a run the more mental willpower is required to keep moving. Lactic acid builds up in working muscles. Energy stores deplete over time. There has to be something that kicks in to keep your feet moving toward that finish line. Mental fortitude will carry you a long way past burning muscles. Mental tenacity is forged during those long runs on your training program. What seems like an insignificant weekend run may be the very thing that gets you through those last tough miles.

Long runs are excellent territory for exploring what shoes, snacks and hydration techniques work best. You may think a particular energy bar is perfect but 3 miles later you are bloating and cramping. Next run, you’ll ditch that bar and avoid the unfortunate outcome. At least it won’t be your big race that suffers! Sometimes a running shoe that works well for 6 miles will leave your feet feeling achy at mile 17. A long run is a great time to work out all of the kinks for race day.

A lot of runners who go into a race unprepared have not had adequate long runs. Quite a few training programs have the longest run a shorter distance than the actual race. I personally have found it helpful to run at least the race distance, if not more. I feel assured that my brain and body can handle the distance when I have performed it many times over.

Here is a list of a few benefits of the long run:

Increases cardiovascular fitness

Strengthens the heart (think of it like weight lifting for the heart)

Trains fast-twitch muscles to switch over and function like slow-twitch muscles

Increases efficiency of clearing out lactic acid from muscles 

You can see there are many positive reasons for including a long run in a training program. Depending on the goal it will vary the distance and frequency of the run. Most training programs include a long run every 1-2 weeks. You’ll be happy you included the long run!

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