The Scientific Benefits of a Long Run

Every runner should be doing a long run. Even if you’re just training for a 5k, you still need to do a long run. I’ll tell you why.

About a year after my son was born, I decided to get more competitive with my running. I sought the help of coach, Bobby Holcombe, founder of Knoxville Endurance, and told him my goal was to run a sub-18 minute 5k.

I had chosen this goal because I thought the training would be less time-consuming than for a marathon. Low mileage. No weekend long runs. I was wrong.

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How often should you do a long run?

The benefits of a long run.
Every runner, no matter the distance they are training for, should do a long run to run faster and longer.

Turns out every runner should be doing a weekly long run.Why? Because running long makes you a better, stronger, and faster runner. How amazing is that? Just by logging in some extra miles, you’re going to see results!

How long is a long run?

Most experts agree that 20 to 30 percent of your weekly mileage should be devoted to a long run. So, if you’re an elite marathoner running 100 miles a week, then your long run is 20 miles. If you’re running 40 miles a week, then your long run should be 8 miles, at least.

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How fast should I run my long run?

The pace of a long run should be comfortable and conversational.

For faster runners, that means it’s about a minute slower than your 10k race pace. For slower runners, that’s about 30 seconds to one minute slower than your 10k race pace.

Need more convincing?

Below are 8 physiological benefits of long runs.

Long runs:

  1. Build the number of mitochondria in your cells. These are the “energy factories” that power movement and cell respiration.
  2. Increase max VO2 and blood volume, maximum stroke volume (the amount of blood ejected from the heart with each beat) and build new capillaries and red blood cells.
  3. Build mental toughness. When you toe the start line, you know you can go the distance because you already have—and in some cases—and then some.
  4. Make your running more efficient. Muscles learn through practice, so your stride will improve through consistent long runs.
  5. Teach your body how to fuel itself. Your body will learn to tap into fat before glycogen, delaying glycogen depletion during a long race. This helps delay hitting that proverbial wall.
  6. Make your muscles and tendons stronger. Running for prolonged periods increases the strength of the leg muscles and connective tissues.
  7. Open-up the chest cavity because you’re breathing longer at a faster rate. This strengthens your respiratory system.
  8. Make you faster! By improving your endurance, you’ll be able to hold a certain pace for a longer period of time. And, then as your slow twitch muscles get tired, your fast twitch muscle fibers pitch in. If you hate long runs, or they scare you, recruit a friend. I promise the miles go by so much faster when you’re chatting with someone.

Go long, my friend.

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