The long run is a staple in almost every runner’s weekly training schedule. It doesn’t matter if you’re training for the 5K or the marathon, more than likely, you have at least one day designated as your long run day each week.
However, despite the near universal application of the long run, many runners don’t know how fast they should be running for optimal benefit. If you run too slow, you won’t produce significant stimulus and adaptation. Run too fast and you run the risk of not being recovered for your next run. Making things more difficult, long runs can serve multiple training purposes, each with its own set of intensity and pace recommendations.
So, what is the optimal for your easy long runs? In the next couple pages, I’ll outline the different types of long runs and then examine the scientific literature behind easier long runs to help you determine your ideal pace for those sessions.
What is the purpose of your long run?
The first step to determining the pace of your long run is assessing the purpose and intensity of the run itself.
Not all long runs are created equal. Some long runs are designed to simulate marathon conditions or teach you how to finish fast. These types of long runs are considered a hard workout and you should have extra recovery days scheduled after your session to recover accordingly.
On the other hand, some long runs are done at an easier pace and lesser intensity to build aerobic endurance and put “time on your feet”. These types of long runs aren’t exactly recovery runs, but they aren’t designed to be hard, either.
A well-written training schedule will make the intensity or goal of a long run clear. Understanding the purpose of your long run is important because long runs are just one piece to the training puzzle.
For example, race-specific long runs are an integral part of a training plan and can help take your running to the next level. However, if your long run is designed to be a relatively easy day and you run too hard, you’ll start your next workout too fatigued and risk poor performance and injury.
Race-specific long runs in half marathon and marathon training have predefined paces aimed at helping you get more comfortable at running race pace. But what about those “easy” long runs on your schedule? How fast should they be? And why?