One of the things I love about distance training is the tipping point when all of a sudden what were once long runs become short runs. I tend to spend 2-3 months each winter rebuilding my base and my benchmark is always 6 miles. I always want to get to the point where I can comfortably run 6 miles and then I like to get to the point where I can run 6 miles slightly faster than my easy pace. It takes a long time for 6 miles to become easy, let alone fast. But, every season when I hit the tipping point I will find myself running with a goofy grin on my face. Because once 6 miles becomes the short run, soon 8 and then 10 miles also become short.
What Counts as a Long Run?
There is a Runner’s World article somewhere in the archives that simply states your long run is any run longer than what you’ve done before. This could mean if you’re starting out and mastering a comfort level with a one mile run, the day you run more than one mile you can consider your long run. The day when you hit three miles is a new long run. And it just builds from there. That may be one of the best parts about long runs–adding distance to go a little farther than you’ve gone before can count as a long run. For my training, I tend to consider anything more than 10 miles a long run. However, if you want the specifics I’ll quote from a Sept. 2010 RW article, “The Long View,” which states, “The appropriate distance of your long run is one and a half to twice as long as your normal-length run.”
How & When to Add Mileage
Of the two main questions when it comes to long runs, I think it is easier to answer ‘how?’ than it is to answer ‘when?’ Though I am addicted to following training plans which in fact tell you exactly what, and when, to do any given run, I tend to “customize” training plans to fit what I believe to be my current level of fitness. That being said, I do trust training plans to safely guide mileage increases. Determining when to go long comes first with simply spending time running. I don’t think I went any longer than six miles for a good 5 years of running. I wasn’t intentionally base building that entire time but I was subconsciously getting used to the feeling–mentally and physically–of running longer. And I think by default my body built up some muscle memory of what it was like to pound the pavement for six miles. So when I decided to do a 10-mile race, then a half marathon and then marathons, it was all part of a progression of building a comfort level running longer. I think it is just as important, perhaps more so, to have the mental preparation to run longer than to have the physical preparation. If you head out for a long run and just can’t run anymore you can always walk, but mentally, you have to be prepared to get yourself back to where you started.
There are plenty of formulas out there for determining how to add mileage. To refer to the same Sept. RW article I quoted earlier, there is a nice chart that gives options of how to create a long run–in time or in distance. I like this approach. It is very easy to get your mind set on going a certain distance. But you also have to be able to run for the amount of time it takes to cover a longer distance. Knowing that adding either time or miles is beneficial to long runs makes it much easier to absorb a ‘bad’ run. If I run 13 miles significantly slower than my half marathon race pace I can admit I will be disappointed but I will settle with the knowledge that I can run for a longer period of time even if it is not at my desired pace.
So what are some formulas for adding mileage? My personal formula is again based on my own comfort level and completely unprofessional assessment of my fitness level. I am comfortable adding 2 miles to my long run every week. Maybe 2-1/4 or 2-1/2 miles more depending on all conditions. However, one theory is based solely on increasing long runs based on time with the idea of increasing by 10-15 minutes every other week. Adding time however does not necessarily mean that you simply add 10 minutes to the end of your run. Long runs are often referred to as LSD runs–Long Slow Distance–so adding 10-15 minutes can be done over the course of an entire run by reducing your overall pace thereby running for a longer period of time. One recommendation is to do your long runs at a pace two minutes slower per mile than your normal pace. When I slow my pace down during LSDs my goal is to run at a pace 10% slower than my goal marathon pace. Currently that goal is an 8:40 pace so I try to do the bulk of a long run closer to 9:30/mile and will usually pick my pace back up during the last 3-5 miles. I feel like I read this 10% ‘rule’ somewhere but I very well could have made it up.
Why Run Longer?
There are just as many answers to this question as there are ways to run longer. My answer? To know that you can. So that when you set out for your short or normal run and it feels challenging (and it will happen) you will have the grit to get through it because you know you can and have done more. Adding mileage and running longer, in my opinion, is all about adding confidence. And for me, that is reason enough.