Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 3 Apr 2003 16:17:09 -0500

What's Long?

RUNNING COMMENTARY 460

I haven't taken many long runs lately, but they're uppermost now in my running mind. I'm heavily into revision of the book Marathon Training, and long runs are the centerpiece of that training. This also was the subject of a Runner's World column written this week (but not due for publication until August).

Now comes a different look at long runs. It came up in a recent RW as a reader's question: "How long should a long run be if I'm NOT planning to run a marathon, but just sticking to 5Ks and 10Ks?"

My published answer began: "Long runs confer benefits apart from training you to race long. They burn off weight and melt away tension better than shorter runs, and are worthwhile even if you never race.

" 'Long' is for you to define. For me, any run of double my daily average -- or no more than 30 percent of the weekly total -- seems long enough."

A reader challenged this advice. Don Rosen wrote to me, "I think, if you do the math, you'll find that this is barely possible if you run seven days a week, but impossible otherwise."

I redid the math for him. It may not have worked out precisely enough to satisfy a scientist, but it was close enough for me. We won't dive deeply into the numbers here, because the calculations seem to complicate something that is quite simple.

First, I'd ignore the "30 percent of the weekly total" figure. That was an RW editor's addition. Though I have no serious quibble with this standard, it's not one I've ever used.

What is long? Like fast, it's a relative term, both personal to you and variable from season to season depending on how it compares to the length of your other runs.

The better question is: What's long enough for you now -- but not too long?

Ask yourself, How far do I run on a typical day? Nothing precise needed here, just a ballpark figure.

Now double that amount. That's long for you, and probably can stand as your upper limit if you're not training for a marathon or another race well beyond twice the length of most of your runs.

These long runs are long enough to build endurance. But they're not so long that they monopolize the program -- as must happen during marathon training.

Endurance is both a physical and a psychological trait. Long runs are, of course, stamina-builders, and even track runners can benefit from steady runs lasting an hour or more.

Before you can go long, fast, you need to know that you can run beyond that distance, period. Long runs psychologically "shorten" the racing distance and those of your typical runs.

Having said that, I'll confess to taking not one long run during all of 2002 and well into this year. I'd spent that year-plus gradually increasing the length of all runs, and didn't want to spend extra efforts in other ways (including races or fast runs).

I never intended to retire from longer running. Now that the normal runs are back up where I want them, I'm looking long again. Only as those weekend distances creep up do I realize how much I've missed running them -- for the sense of purpose they bring and the sense of accomplishment they give.

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