Most seasoned runners understand the long run. We know we should do it on a weekly basis and many of us even know the philosophy behind it. But if you're a beginner runner, you may not understand the long run, or even know that it's an important component to every training cycle. So let's discuss!
A long run typically takes place once/week in a training cycle. Most people do theirs on a Saturday or Sunday because it allows them to spend as much time as they need on their feet.
In a marathon training cycle, your long run may be up to 20 or 22 miles, while in a 5K training cycle, you may only be doing 10 or 12 mile long runs (or shorter if you're a very recreational or beginner runner).
Why do a long run? Well, they're beneficial for quite a few reasons:
1. Physiologically, long runs increase the distribution of capillary networks and mitochondrial production in your muscles. Aka, the more capillary beds within your leg muscles and the greater the number of mitochondria within your cells, the better (and more efficient) your blood flow. This means more oxygen getting delivered to your leg muscles!
2. Running at an aerobic pace for a significant amount of time teaches your body to spare glycogen and rely more on fat as its fuel source. Thus, the better your body gets at storing glycogen and delaying glycogen depletion, the less chance you have of "bonking" on race day.
3. The mental aspect of long runs is just as important as the physiological aspects. No one wants to, or should, jump into a marathon after only running as far as 8 miles.
You must train as you plan to race. Long runs allow you to practice fueling, hydrating, and mental toughness.
Not every long run is going to go perfectly, and practicing in less-than-perfect conditions will allow you to dig deep on the big day.
4. Long runs strengthen your bones, your muscles and connective tissues, and your respiratory system.
5. Long runs may even make you faster! Even though you're running at an aerobic pace, when your slow-twitch muscle fibers tire, your body actually recruits your fast-twitch fibers to pick up the slack. Cool, huh?
Moral of the story: start incorporating a long run into your weekly training if you aren't already!
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