Long Runs And Making Them Interesting

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The long run is a rite of passage for most runners. Everyone from your weekend warrior to the world champions includes this staple workout as part of their weekly training schedule. If everybody is doing it and it has stuck around this long, it obviously has a lot of merits. But are you getting the most out of your long run; or are you just trudging through the miles and in need of a new stimulus?

The long run is no different than any other session. In order to continually adapt, the stimulus has to be slightly altered. In a set of repeats on the track, we might decrease the rest. Or we may increase the pace or the length of the repetitions. For a long run, we can obviously increase the length or pace, but those options are limited to an extent. The good news is that there are a few different ways we can squeeze out a little more adaptation. How do we accomplish that? Simply, by adding “stuff” to your long run.

What do we mean by “stuff”?

“Stuff” refers to adding strides, surges, pickups, or progressions to the typical easy or steady long run. The goal in adding these components is to change the stimulus for adaptation ever so slightly. By adding in some faster running toward the end of the long run, you force recruitment of muscle fibres that generally are never trained at an easy or steady pace. By slightly changing which muscle fibres are recruited, you now train those harder-to-recruit fast twitch-type fibres under aerobic conditions, therefore increasing their endurance.

Strides and surges are two easy ways to get more bang for buck during long runs without adding much fatigue. They both work by changing the muscle fibre recruitment slightly and can prevent the post-long run flatness that often occurs. This happens because faster segments change the tension in the muscles and leave you with some “pop” in your legs instead of staleness. Strides should be done immediately after the completion of the long run. They should include four to ten by 100-meter runs in length at about your 10K race pace. This should be seen as an introductory session, which then progresses to surges over the following weeks. Surges should be done during the last 3-4 miles of the long run and should include segments where you pick it up to around 10K race pace and then back off to your easy pace for a short segment. This should not be a taxing workout, but instead a comfortable surge that lets the legs loosen up a little bit.

Long runs

Don’t “just run”

Pickups and progressions are two slightly more challenging options for adding some spice to your long run. The goal of these runs is to press the pace down so that the body gets used to increasing speed, increasing the aerobic demand, and recruiting muscle fibres when glycogen levels are getting progressively lower at the end of the long run. Once again, we are looking at training muscle fibres that aren’t normally trained aerobically; triggering the body to become more efficient with using its glycogen stores. Pickups should be introduced in small doses. Start by accelerating your pace to marathon race effort or slightly faster during the last 5 minutes of your run. Every few weeks, increase the length of the pickup by 5 minutes until you get to the point where the last 20 minutes of your long run is done at a quicker pace. A progression long run, on the other hand, should take a gradual approach. Rather than making just one sudden change in speed, spread that speed increase out over a longer distance. Start with a gradual progression over the last quarter of your long run (the last 4 miles of a 16-mile run, for example) and increase that until the last half of your long run is spent gradually ratcheting up the speed. The goal is the same: get down to just faster than marathon race pace by the end of the long run.

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Anytime you add new workouts to your regime, it’s important to do so gradually. Keep your easy long run in the rotation, but start adding some bits to it every other week. By adding “stuff” such as strides, surges, pickups and progressions to the long run, you’re increasing the number of stimuli your body has to deal with, and more importantly, adapt to. So stop slogging through the same old long run–add some stuff to it!

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about long run training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For a more in-depth understanding of how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!


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