If you’re preparing for a long distance race, you’ll likely find a recurring theme in your training plans: long slow distance. Long slow distance runs, sometimes referred to as LSD, are a staple in many running training plans – and for good reason.
What is a long slow distance run (LSD)?
A long slow distance run is exactly what it sounds like: a long run, completed at a slow, easy pace.
While the concept itself might sound pretty straightforward, incorporating LSD runs in your training plan involves more than just running slow.
Runners need to take into account their goal pace, heart rate, fitness level, long run frequency, and much more when planning long slow distance runs.
Running coach Joe Henderson is thought to have officially invented the idea of “long slow distance” in 1969. Since then, the LSD concept has become increasingly common in most long distance training plans.
Why should long runs be slow?
Many runners, both beginners and seasoned athletes alike, understand why building mileage is important when training for long distance races. Whether you’re preparing for half marathon, full marathon or ultramarathon, increasing distance gradually over time is key for any training plan.
However, another key component of long distance training is slowing down the pace and taking the majority of your long run miles easy.
Many beginners mistakenly attempt to complete their long runs at or faster than their goal race pace, assuming that they need to practice ahead of time. It only takes a few weeks to discover that doing so can lead to burnout, overtraining or injury.
Instead, long runs should be completed at a slow, easy pace. The goal of a long run is to help your body adjust to increased mileage, build endurance, and create a solid running base leading up to the race.
Running long runs at a slow pace not only accomplishes these goals, but yields better results on race day as your body is not over-tired, and able to exert more energy to meet your race pace goals.
Does long slow distance make you faster?
Long slow distance training is an effective way to build endurance. As your mileage gradually increases over the course of your training, your body creates more slow-twitch muscle fibers, thus helping decrease fatigue and increase your ability to sustain activity.
While any type of long distance training is helpful for improving endurance, long slow distance running accomplishes this goal with the least amount of damage to your body.
LSD runs are designed to focus on one element: increasing mileage. Completing long runs at a faster pace requires your body to exert more effort on the run, thus resulting in longer recovery times, increased wear and tear, and a higher potential for injury.
As your mileage increases with each long slow distance run, your endurance and cardiovascular fitness improve. Long slow distance training helps runners create strong cardiovascular fitness that can improve speed workouts as well – such as tempo runs, intervals, and more.
How to Complete a Long Distance Run
Whether you’re creating your own training plan or simply trying to decipher one, understanding exactly how to execute LSD runs will help you make the most of your training.
In order to successfully utilize long slow distance training, you need to know what pace to run. The difference between long slow distance runs and regular long distance running is the fact that LSD is just that – slow.
When a run is categorized as an “LSD” run, it is meant to be completed at a pace that is significantly slower than your goal pace.
There are a few different ways to determine the pace you should run for long slow distance.
The simplest way is to maintain a “conversational pace” throughout your long slow distance run. This means that you are running at a moderate effort, where you are able to maintain a conversation without taking breaks or becoming breathless.
If you’re looking for more specific guidelines, an easy way is to calculate this is to run about 60-90 seconds slower per mile than your goal race pace.
- For example, if your goal is to run a 10:00 minute pace on race day, your long slow distance runs should be completed at about an 11:00 – 11:30 minute pace.
Another way to calculate the pace for LSD training is to use your heart rate. Long slow distance training should take place around 20-25 bpm slower than your threshold heart rate.
- To do this, you’ll obviously need to know your threshold heart rate. If you regularly use heart rate training, this method will be most accurate for you.
- Threshold heart rate is the maximum heart rate you can sustain during vigorous exercise. This heart rate is what occurs when you sustain intense training efforts for more than 30 minutes.
- Once you know your threshold HR, you will want to aim to be about 20-25 bpm less than this throughout your long slow distance run.
Once you know the pace at which you should complete your long slow distance runs, it’s important to understand the frequency at which they occur.
Long runs are a staple of any marathon or even half marathon training plan. These runs gradually increase in mileage as runners build endurance and stamina in preparation for race day.
In general, LSD runs occur once a week – usually on weekends. These runs increase in time and distance each week, with regular cut backs for recovery.
Plan to complete a long slow distance run once a week, but reduce the volume of mileage every 2-4 weeks. These lower mileage weeks serve as a cutback week during which the distance is ½ – ¾ the previous week. After a cutback week, return to your previous mileage.
The final component of long slow distance training is the length of the runs. Just how long should an LSD run be?
The answer ultimately depends on the length of your goal race. Long runs will vary greatly depending on whether you are training for a half marathon, full marathon or ultramarathon. Distance will also vary depending on your personal abilities and fitness level.
For marathon training, LSD runs usually last about 2-3 hours. Distance increases by a mile or two each week, adding about 15 minutes to the total time until they peak at 3 hours.
Moving forward, the biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to long slow distance training is consistency. When it comes to running, regular, repeated efforts are much more beneficial than drastic, occasional efforts.
The beauty of long slow distance runs is that they challenge your body without breaking it down. Runners can complete an LSD each week without suffering from injury, burnout or overtraining.
When it comes to long runs, slower sometimes is better.
Saturday 19th of September 2020
Excellent post. Running LSD is a challenge. We all want to run a great pace even while training. When I did long runs with my club, inevitably I'd be running with someone who just had to push it. I think keeping the pace down is the hardest part of LSD, even when you run
Runnin' for Sweets
Monday 21st of September 2020
I absolutely agree! Intentionally running slowly is truly a mind game. It feels wrong to run so much slower when we know we are training for a specific speed goal. However, it always seems to be worth it!