Why can running longer lead to a faster speed on race day?

The long run is a critical session that should not be left out of any runner’s weekly training program because it is effective in improving your run speed. I believe that if you’re only going to run once in a week, then the long run is essential because of the cardiovascular benefits it provides. Long runs develop the following:

  • A larger and stronger heart muscle, resulting in increased oxygen transportation efficiency
  • Capillary and myoglobin development resulting in increased oxygen and carbohydrate transportation to the muscles
  • Strengthens tissue (muscles, joints and bone)
  • Minimises fast-twitch muscles fibre overload, which means that you recover faster and can run your speed intervals earlier
  • Encourages the body to burn fat rather than glycogen. The body can then become more efficient with its stored fuel sources for race day.
  • Mental benefits including – a confidence boost that you can run the race distance; a more enjoyable running experience whereby you can slow down and soak up the surroundings; and who could forget the best part – the natural endorphin rush neatly termed the “runner’s high”.

Whenever I see an injured runner, one of my first training load questions is, ‘’How fast do you run your long run?”.

Too often I find that they are running their long run close to, or at, race pace. Training specificity is important, and part of your run can entail at (or above) race pace, however rarely should the long run be anywhere near race pace. For all the benefits above, running fast (near or at race pace) will not produce any greater benefit. So why not slow down a little and potentially run further, avoid the 2-3 days of soreness and thus loss of quality training due to overload, and enjoy the cardiovascular benefits of the long slow run!

Long Run Tips:

  1. Run slow and comfortable: Run approximately 45-60 seconds slower than max/race pace for the intended distance. For example, if you are hoping to run a half marathon in under 2 hours (5:40/km), then I would recommend that your long runs should be at approximately 6:30-6:40/km. The general rule is that you should be able to hold a conversation and maintain good running technique throughout the run.
  2. Only add 10% per week: Start low (approximately 50% the goal distance or of what you currently could run) and each week add 10% or 1-2kms per long run to avoid overload and possible injury.
  3. One long run per week: You only need to run one long run per week to build your endurance. The rest of the week can be focussed on speed, threshold development and recovery.
  4. Recovery week: Every 3-4 weeks be sure to include a recovery week in your program. For the recovery week, your long run should be 50% less than the long run of the previous week.