For endurance runners and triathletes alike, the weekly long run tends to form the bedrock of most training plans. However, they are often taken for granted with the benefits overlooked which is surprising because there is a high correlation between the run segment of a triathlon and overall race position. Your body is truly amazing and over time, with training, will initiate a number of physiological changes designed to improve your aerobic energy system and help your body cope with the increasing distance of your long run your race season approaches.
Some of these adaptations include:
A big heart!
An increase your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) – this increases the amount of oxygen available for the aerobic production of energy which is key for endurance performance
Become a lean, mean efficient running machine
Increased ability of the muscles to extract oxygen from the blood
Fuelled by fat – develop an improved ability to utilise fat as an energy source which helps spare your stores of muscle glycogen
Possible improvements in biomechanics – long runs result in continued repetitions of complex neuromuscular movement patterns. These utilise most of major muscles and joints within the body and could make you a more efficient runner off the bike, meaning you use less oxygen at a given running speed
Stronger connective tissues and increased muscle stiffness - increases the energy stored by the tendons resulting in more energy returned on each step and making you a more efficient runner
Keep cool when the going gets tough!
Long duration training can also help improve thermoregulation - this is the way in which your body copes with the increasing internal body temperature which occurs during long duration exercise.
Mental toughness – training for prolonged periods of time can help you develop psychologically as well as physiologically. Learning how to train your mind into coping with the increasing distances is very important as well as learning how to control your pace so you don’t utilise your stores of muscle glycogen too quickly.
So, you can see from the above that these long endurance runs are important. However, they do come with a few caveats!
They should be run at a pace that doesn’t stop you from performing well in your other training sessions.
The ideal pace would be approximately 70-85% of your age-related maximum heart rate.
Don’t be tempted to push on too hard and run too fast, it’s likely that you’ll begin to suffer from accumulating fatigue which is an early indication of over-training. Remember to make your hard sessions hard and your easy sessions easy!
Having said that, you might want to occasionally incorporate some race pace efforts into your long run, especially during the latter stages. These need to be introduced gradually and alternated so you don’t end up doing them every week. They will be tough but effective in driving the physiological adaptations you need to prepare your body to race.
Some example sessions include:
Long, easy run of say 60-90 minutes, during the last 30 minutes try alternating between 5 minutes at just above race pace (say 15-30 seconds faster than race pace) and 5 minutes easy running.
During the last part of your long run, try running 30 seconds/mile faster than race pace for 1 mile then 30 seconds/mile slower than race pace for 1 mile.
These sessions can be adapted for any distance and gradually increased over time.
As the duration of your run increases then the likelihood of potential injury increases as well. Strength and conditioning, including stretching and core work should be included as part of your training to help mitigate injury risk.
Recover well after each long run and treat them with respect.
Your level of fitness and experience will dictate the starting level and so ‘long run’ is a relative term.
Although there are so many different opinions on what your longest long run should be, the following is generally a good guide:
Aim to do at least one of these long runs a week and ensure you gradually increase your training duration by no more than approximately 10%. This will ensure that your body is able to adapt and cope with the additional challenge in a progressive manner rather than suddenly increasing the workload all at once.
To provide the optimal stimulus for endurance adaptation, low intensity training should make up approximately 80% of your overall training. The remaining 20% should be higher intensity and threshold training.
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