Updated: August 17, 2020
While the distance may vary depending on your end goal, there is one key element found in just about every running training plan: long runs.
What is a long run?
Long runs are typically farther in distance than every other weekly training run. They are usually scheduled in a plan to occur on weekends, and often completed at a slow, easy pace.
If your weekday runs average about 1-2 miles in length, your long run might be about 3-4 miles in distance. When training for a marathon, long runs can reach up to 18-20 miles in length, while weekday runs still remain about 4-8 miles long.
How long should a long run be?
The length of a long run is determined by two factors: your training goals and your current fitness ability.
If you are just getting started and wanting to train for a 5k, long runs will likely max out around 3-4 miles in length. If you are training for a marathon, your long run distance will gradually increase until it peaks somewhere are 20 miles.
While the specific distance may vary, long runs usually peak at a distance that is challenging for the runner, both mentally and physically. These long distances can feel incredibly intimidating before and even during the run.
If your “long runs” do not push you both physically and mentally, then you are missing a great deal of the potential growth that comes from long distance running.
How often should you do long runs?
Determining how often to include long run training is relatively straightforward. Just about every runner, no matter their training goals, will benefit from including long runs once a week.
Incorporating long runs less often will still provide you with some mental and physical benefits, but will likely not be enough for you to reach your full potential as a long distance runner.
One Key Long Run Tip
Right from the start, you should begin to include long runs once a week in your training.
Many beginner runners assume that because their goals are not yet to the point where they require “long distance training”, they do not need to include long runs.
However, long runs don’t have to be a single run of twenty miles. The distance of your long run will change depending on your end goals. As you begin training for longer distance running events, your weekly long runs will increase in length.
When you first begin running, a long run might involve only a few miles. The key to successful long run training is following the concept of including one run each week that pushes your limits, both mentally and physically, in terms of distance.
Whether your weekly long run involves finishing 5 miles for the first time or completing the final 20 miler of marathon training, all runners relate to the amount of physical and mental energy involved with completing the “long run”.
Long runs are a staple in any training plan
Just about every distance runner knows the feeling of completing a run and feeling mentally and physically spent. These runs challenge us to complete distances that felt may feel impossible even as we begin.
While long runs are meant to challenge your body, they don’t have to feel miserable. It is possible to finish a long run feeling strong and capable, rather than tired and exhausted.
These 10 long run tips will help you finish your long distance training feeling accomplished, energized and eager to do it again. Although the long run may feel intimidating, it is possible to feel confident that the distance is within your reach before you even begin running.
Check out these 10 long run tips!
10 Long Run Tips: How to Master the Long Run
These 10 tips will help you conquer your long run each week with confidence and energy. Long distance running doesn’t have to feel miserable! Try these long run tips during your next training season.
Don’t dwell on it.
Putting too much focus on an upcoming long run can really stress your mind out. Obsessing about the upcoming distance won’t make it any more meaningful or easier. In fact, it may take away some of the benefits from your current runs.
If you’re nervous about an upcoming long run, acknowledge the fact that it is a long distance and then take your training one week at a time.
Plan to prepare for your long run the night before, and try to avoid thinking about it until then. Focus on completing your weekly runs, speed workouts and cross training.
Incorporate yoga and stretching before your long run.
Making a point to go easy on the cross training and add a few recovery stretches will help your body prepare for the upcoming long run. There is nothing worse that starting a long run feeling tired and sore from the beginning.
Planning to go easy on your body the day before will give your mind and body a chance to recover from any training done so far, helping you start your long run feeling fresh and energized.
Focus on hydration leading up to your long run.
Even if you try to drink tons of water the morning of your long run, your body still won’t feel as good as if you’d been drinking water consistently the few days before.
Dehydration plays a significant role in your running performance. If you find yourself feeling sluggish on a majority of your easy runs, chronic dehydration may be to blame.
Make a point to focus on your water intake during the week of a big long run. Swap the sodas and alcohol for a water to help set yourself up for your best long run ever.
Try a shakeout run the day or two before.
It may sound counter-intuitive to run the day before a long run, but oftentimes completing a few easy miles can prevent any soreness and serve as both a mental and physical warm up for the following long run.
The key to a successful shakeout run is completing it slowly. You’ll want to run these miles at a nice, easy pace – your long run pace or even a little slower.
Remind yourself that these miles serve the purpose to help your body relax, and are not a time to push yourself. If you’re nervous about an upcoming long run, completing a short shakeout run the day before may help ease the nerves and provide a healthy distraction.
Don’t be afraid to snack the night before.
Regardless of strict you are about sticking to a healthy routine, the night before a long run is never the best time to avoid the extra calories. Whether it’s popcorn, fruit or even ice cream, those extra calories add a little more fuel to the tank for your long run.
Any unused calories that are consumed will be stored to provide fuel for your body the next morning on the run. This extra fuel will help you avoid crashing mid-run and keep your muscles energized without having to worry about digestive issues.
Fuel up with the right breakfast.
Finding a pre-run meal or snack that doesn’t cause any digestive issues is key for long run success. Every body is different, so finding a breakfast or snack to which your body responds well to may take a bit of experimentation.
However, the guidelines remain the same for everyone: aim for simple, easily digestible carbs.
Try a bagel, sandwich, toast, waffle, pancakes, or any other carb-heavy meal. This simple carbs provide a quick source of energy for your body that is easily digestible on the run.
Take in fuel before you feel hungry on the run!
Don’t wait until you feel hungry to fuel during your run. Make a plan to take in fuel after a certain amount of time or distance, rather than waiting for your body to send hunger signals. By the time you feel hungry, it’s likely too late.
Staying ahead with your fueling will ensure you are never depleted and have plenty of energy to continue. Take in small bits of fuel consistently throughout your long run to feel your best the entire time.
–>My absolute favorite long run fuel is the Honey Stinger Waffle. It goes down easily on the move and tastes amazing!
Break up the distance of your long run.
This mental trick is my favorite long run tip. Rather than heading out and back for an 18 miler, try breaking up the distance into smaller portions, like running three 6 mile paths instead. This works especially well if you have the option of running multiple directions.
Use this strategy to break up the monotony of the long distance running, make the distance feel much more achievable, and keep your mind fresh and focused during the run.
Run with someone or talk on the phone during your run.
Having someone else to run with is a great way to make the time fly by. If you can’t get together in person with your running buddy, trying calling them and chatting during your long run.
My mom has always been my long run buddy, even before she started training for marathons herself. We try to meet up for long runs whenever we can, but getting together in person is not always possible. When we can’t get together, we talk on the phone through headphones and run at the same time.
Simply talking to someone while you are running is a great distraction and source of motivation.
Run by feel and not by pace.
If you’re feeling really nervous, remember that 18 miles is 18 miles – whether you walk or run.
Reminding yourself that you will be able to complete the distance no matter what pace you run is helpful when the distance feels especially daunting. Don’t be afraid to walk.
The purpose of a long run is to complete the distance, not run at a certain pace. Your long runs should always be completed at an easy pace.
Take breaks when you need them, and remember that pushing yourself too much may actually harm your training rather than help. Be proud of yourself for finishing regardless of your pace!
Our bodies are incredible, and distance running is about so much more than race day. The process of getting there is the true accomplishment, and the journey teaches us so much about ourselves.
Check out more long run tips:
- How to Recover Quickly from a Long Run
- How to Run Farther: 10 Tips for Long Distance Running
- How to Train for a Marathon and Still Have a Life