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The different types of long runs

the-long-run

Ah, the long run. The pivotal run of each week. The one we plan meals and weekends around. The run that, when it’s done, makes us feel like a million bucks.

Years ago, when I was training for my first half marathon, I had one goal for my long runs: to finish them. I didn’t care about my pace or how long it took. As long as I completed the distance, I was a happy girl.

Then, like most runners, I started training for more races and started thinking about my training runs, including long runs, differently. I always ran my long runs at a slow, steady pace and was ready to try some different tactics.

Here are the basics behind popular types of long runs:

LSD or long slow distance
LSD is the most common type of long run, and it’s the best choice for beginners, runners who are returning from injury, and those without time goals. The point of LSD runs is clocking time on your feet. In this workout, you run each mile a full 1-2 minutes slower than goal race pace. Experts say it’s best to run LSD runs by time and not distance to prevent fatigue and poor form. Increase your LSD run by 10-15 minutes each week.

Long run with middle miles at goal race pace
Retired pro runner and running guru Pete Pfitzinger recommends that advanced marathoners run several long runs with the middle miles at goal marathon pace. “Come race day, you’ll find it easier to dial into your goal pace,” Pfitzinger says. If you’re running a 20-miler, warm up slowly for 3 miles, run 12 miles at goal marathon pace, and cool down for the final 3 miles.

My favorite way to do this type of long run is to literally race those race pace miles. Find a 10 mile race or half marathon that you can safely work into your training plan. Warm up for a few miles before the start, run the race, and wrap up with some cool down miles. It’s a good dress rehearsal for the main event – and you never know, you may come away with a new PR.

Fast finish long runs
There’s nothing worse than hitting the wall in a marathon. This can happen for many reasons, but one of the most common mistakes runners make is starting a race out too fast. If you go out too quickly in the beginning, there’s a good chance you’ll pay for it in later miles.

The fast finish long run teaches you how to prevent this. Say you’re running a 14- to 18-miler. You’d run the first 8-11 miles at an easy pace then gradually pick up the pace for the final 3-10 miles. Each mile should be faster than the last. Doing this type of long run prepares you to push the pace at the end of the race when it really hurts.

Note that it’s not a good idea for all of your long runs to include fast miles. That’s essentially the same as racing every weekend, and you could wind up injured and burnt out. Running coach and exercise physiologist Greg McMillan suggests only doing long runs with middle miles at goal pace or fast finish long runs every other week. The week in between should be LSD runs so your legs have adequate time to recover.

What’s your favorite long run workout?

Written by Jen Matz.