Every Sunday morning, thousands of runners around the globe, wake up, brew some coffee, slip into their sweat-wicking “Sunday’s Best”, and embark on their longest run of the week. Why Sunday? Isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest? One curious non-runner might ask. To them I reply, “Run two hours, and you will rest!” Perhaps runners experience an added sense of accomplishment by improving their aerobic fitness and mental endurance while the rest of the world recuperates from Saturday night’s festivities and restocks their fridge for the coming week.
For some distance runners this is their favorite day of the week; not only do they get to start a fresh page in their weekly training log, they often have the opportunity to conquer the challenge of running longer than ever before. Now, how ‘rad’ is that? Yes, I said ‘rad’ and yes, I fall into the category of runners who gets antsy just thinking about my upcoming long run for reasons best described by Terrence Mahon, coach of the Mammoth Track club:
“Long runs for the marathoner become mini vision quests as they ride the physical and psychological roller coaster of life over the course of a few hours of running.”
All that being said, not all runners look forward to their long run. Ask any middle-distance runner what their least favorite training day of the week is, and they will not tell you Wednesday’s “200’s ‘til failure” workout, but rather Sunday’s long run. For this reason, in addition to several physiological benefits achieved through varied long runs, it is imperative that runners learn how to mix it up when it comes to planning the long run.
Long Run Variations:
Keep in mind that the variations below are designed for a recreational runner looking to run a marathon. Their current long run is approximately 90 minutes long. That being said, you can certainly tailor these ideas to your long run to keep it from getting stale.
1) Tempo in the Middle: Run easy for 30 minutes, gradually pick it up for the next 30 minutes—with the last 5-10 minutes of the 30 minute tempo being at marathon pace, cruise for the last 30 minutes and enjoy the physiological changes that are occurring in your body as a result of running ‘long’.
2) Pick Ups at the End: Run at your easy to moderate pace for 60 minutes, then do “One-and-Ones” for a total of 20 minutes, and end with a 10 minute cool down jog. “One and Ones” require running hard for 1 minute and then easy for the next minute, in succession.
3) Tempo at the End: Run easy for 50-60 minutes, then run the last 30 minutes at marathon pace. Note that you will be running on tired legs. Try to get on a softer surface for this workout.
4) 1 for Every Mile: Run at your easy pace for 20-30 minutes, and for the next 60 minutes run the last minute or so of every mile at your 10K pace.
5) Snail to Cheetah Progression Run: Run for a total of 90 minutes slowly increasing your pace with the goal of running at or slightly faster than marathon pace for the last 15-20 minutes of your run.
6) Mile ON, Mile OFF: Run at your regular warm-up pace for 25 minutes, then throw in 4-6 x 1 mile (or 1km )at slightly faster than your marathon pace. Continue running at your easy pace for the next mile. This strength-based workout is the most challenging of the series of variations and should be tackled when you are at or near peak fitness.
Everyone wants to have a “kick“, and contrary to popular belief, much of your kick comes from the type of strength gained through the aforementioned workouts, as opposed to pure speedwork. Furthermore, you will be engaging different muscle groups as you run at different paces, which should help maintain that bounce in your stride. Keep in mind that these variations will need to be modified based on your current fitness level and goal race distance.
Learn about how to prepare for your long run.