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Running Long & Slow Gets You Good At Running Long And Slow

By Thomas Levy, Sportspark Fitness Advisor & Personal Trainer and Triathlete

If training for an Ironman or a marathon there always seems to be this idea that mileage is key.

Don’t get me wrong, mileage is useful. I wouldn’t advise going out and tackling an Ironman on no training and only your local park run time for pacing. However, high mileage it isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Going out and plodding 20 miles will get you very good at plodding 20 miles. If you want to achieve something other than ‘just finishing’ then these miles could be used more effectively. Putting a long run in each week can be difficult if your time is limited. Instead, try fitting a long run in every 2-3 weeks. In the other weeks, use your sessions to do interval training to help improve oxygen efficiency, technique and speed.

This doesn’t mean going down to your local track and smashing out 30m bursts or 1 minute efforts. You can still have most of your distance, just at faster paces.

For example, I am training for half Ironman distance racing so the last challenge I have to tackle is a half marathon (13.1 miles) run. I could go out and do longer runs of 9-11 miles at a steady pace, taking around 70 minutes. I would probably feel like I have worked out at the end of it, but would certainly not be exhausted and it is unlikely to have helped me gain the faster time that I am striving for.

In contrast my actual session was:

  • 1 mile warm up followed by 3 minutes rest
  • 3 x 1 miles. 1st mile at 10km pace, 2nd at 5km pace, 3rd at 15seconds sub 5km pace with 2mins 30 rest between each
  • 600m at 5km pace, 30seconds rest, 400m faster than 5km pace 30 seconds rest x 4
  • 2 minutes rest
  • 4 x 400m harder than 5km pace with 45seconds between each
  • 1 mile warm down

This session took me 71 minutes completing a total distance of 8.3 miles. Not as far as I would have done if I had done a ‘long run’ but still not a short jog. The major difference between the 2 types of sessions is the intensity I work at. During my long run, I would have been working at about 60-70% of my max, while this session I was working at 80% of my max or higher. Training at these higher intensities for shorter distance efforts helps in multiple ways. Advantages of this type of training include:

  • forcing your body to become more efficient with  oxygen
  • helping to increase foot speed/leg turn over
  • better pacing, improving running style/efficiency as well as helping you develop the sensation of running on your limit.

Running on the limit is something endurance athletes very rarely do. It allows you to learn what lactate build up feels like so you can understand when you are reaching your limit and work on staying there. If you look at my session, I ran the main part (6.3 miles) at either 10km pace or higher.

These types of speed endurance sets are invaluable to someone who is wanting to hit faster times in their long distance events. This attitude and these ideas aren’t just for runners alone but can be applied to cyclists and swimmers alike depending on what your targets are. 

Please feel free to speak to me if you need any help with training for such events the next time you are in the gym.

Thomas Levy