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Long Runs: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Tips on How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Run
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Long Runs: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Tips on How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Run

Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Published on 2022 July 14
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13 min

You have been running for a while and at last, you are interested to increase your endurance for longer runs? In this article, we will look through what does long-run means, what are the benefits, and how to properly prepare for it.

long runs

Long runs are one of the most efficient workouts in any runner’s training program. The 1960s brought about a colossal popularity increase in the number of people going on long-distance runs. In fact, many fitness coaches now include long runs into their clients’ training plans because of how vital it is.

That applies to those doing weekly 4-mile runs and those who log marathon race pace. Even if you are unwilling to enter any race with the suffix “-thon,” going on long-distance runs on a timely basis should be a top priority for all runners, irrespective of your fitness rank and running goals.

Going on a long run helps build endurance, stamina, speed, mental fortitude, and physical prowess. It increases the capacity of our cardiovascular, respiratory, and aerobic systems, which allows you to run longer distances while holding a faster pace.

A long run elevates the body and mind in their most accurate form, which eventually stands as the absolute goal in the runner’s world.

Today, we will be looking at providing suitable answers to some of the recurring questions associated with long runs. What are the benefits of long runs? What are the major drawbacks linked with going on a long run? Finally, how do you prepare for a long distance?

As today’s topic will be much of a rollercoaster ride, stick on. Let’s get right into jazzing up your training plans!

What Is Considered a Long Run?

A long run is a workout designed to increase stamina and endurance in the simplest of terms. This covers the 5k, 10k, half-marathon, and marathon races, with each having its own training criteria.

In terms of the biological representation, going on long runs leads to increased production of capillaries and mitochondria in your muscle cells. This increases your body’s aerobic capacity, alongside your cardiovascular system’s effectiveness.

Similarly, the resulting net positive effect of going on long runs includes improved glycogen storing capability of the muscle and liver, strengthened musculoskeletal system, increased fat-burning ability, and a greater affinity to work through muscle fatigue. These pooled physiological benefits make it that you are able to run at a greater pace over longer distances.

Types of Runs

There are different types of runs.

Alternating between different long/medium run variations is a good way to spice up your training schedule and enhance your performance in a half or full marathon. As such, if you are feeling confident and wish to scale up your performance, then consider these run variations to help you achieve your running goals.

Base run

A base run is a short to medium-distance run where runners run at their natural pace. These runs are vital because they help develop larger stamina and endurance.

For experienced runners, base runs typically account for the bulk of their weekly mileage. This is because they are not challenging. As such, frequency is the theme of these runs.

Progression run

In the progression run, runners gradually scale up their pace, teaching their bodies to hold form despite fatigue. They start at a natural pace for the first half of the race and then switch gears for the second half, running at a faster pace.

A progression run is challenging – more demanding than base runs but more forgiving than interval runs. A typical example of a progression run would be a 5-mile run at a comfortable pace, followed by a 1-mile run at a marathon pace, and then a 1-mile run at a half-marathon pace.

Long-distance run

A long-distance run is typically anything from 5 miles upwards, helping increase raw endurance, typically ending with most runners having substantial fatigue.

Long-distance runs typically last anywhere from one hour and above, depending on the type of run. This makes them part of the high aerobic class. However, they are mostly conversational pace runs, as their primary goals are to improve running efficiency, fat loss, stamina, and endurance.

Recovery run

A recovery run is somewhat of a short run executed in the hope of adding extra mileage without deducting from a runner’s performance during harder, challenging runs, which usually come before and after them.

A typical example of a recovery run would be a 4-mile run. These runs are best carried out at a slow, even pace to maintain progress despite drawn-out fatigue from previous high-intensity workouts that have left you with tired legs.

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Other runs

Aside from the aforementioned long run variations, other variations of long runs include:

Tempo run – A tempo run is a type of run that helps conditioning your body to maintain threshold intensity. It helps increase your running speed and how long you can sustain a fast pace. Tempo runs involve alternating between a tempo (hard) and a conversational pace at 3–4-mile stretches.

Interval run – An interval run is a run characterized by sections of speedy, hard bursts with short jogs or standing recoveries in between each section. Interval runs allow runners to practice their goal race pace, running faster for longer distances.

What Are the Benefits of Long Runs?

Running, in general, is a great way of improving physical wellness and mental toughness. Simply put, running on a timely basis will make you look like you have access to the fountain of youth!

There are many benefits associated with going in the long run. Sure, most of these benefits apply to other types of runs. Nonetheless, they become glaringly obvious as you spend more time trudging along. Let us take a quick look at some of these benefits.

Strengthening muscles

Consistent and frequent running period increases the strength and tenacity of the glutes, quads, and calves, which are the primary running muscles. It also helps strengthen the core muscles in charge of respiratory functions and connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments.

Working your muscles over prolonged periods increases their ability to handle the stress of running while also resulting in significant muscle gains.

Likewise, with the intensity for long runs being relatively low, you give your muscles more time to recover properly and adapt. This means you will be able to complete long runs efficiently without feeling the burns you felt like a new runner.

In addition to strengthening your muscles, long runs help develop your slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers. The majority of our muscle fibers are slow-twitch muscles, which are great for running the entire race distance. On the other hand, the fast-twitch fibers are great for speed.

With long runs, you increase the endurance level of the fast-twitch muscle fibers while catering to the speed level of the slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Burns calories

According to the American Council on Exercise, a person running at an easy pace burns about 160 pounds (15.1 calories) per minute. This is because of the energy expended while the person runs.

When you run, regardless of whether it is at an easy pace or fast pace, your body expends a certain energy level. During long runs, you experience an increase in your metabolism to sustain your energy levels, making you burn more calories than you normally would at rest.

A sustained effort in running over consecutive days leads to a prevalent reduction in your body’s fat percentage, bringing about weight loss.

Promotes metabolism

While there is no foolproof method for controlling your metabolic rate, participating in long runs and other aerobic activities helps in boosting your metabolism, as it trains your body to tap into your fat reserves.

Metabolism, calorie burning, and energy consumption all go hand in hand, and understanding this makes up a huge chunk of training success.

Most energy expended during long-distance races comes from two oxygen-dependent energy systems. The first of these aerobic systems breaks down fat into energy (the most efficient form of energy production), while the second breaks down carbohydrates.

You get the most out of the system by burning fat as energy without many negative effects. This is why it is a key adaptation for all experienced runners. However, the process is typically longer for carbohydrates as it first involves breaking down the carbohydrate to glycogen before releasing energy.

In order to achieve this adaptation, runners must run for over two hours since, at this point, carbohydrates stored (glycogen) are at their low, forcing the body to switch to burning fat for energy.

Conversely, by depleting the body’s glycogen stores, your body’s fuel tank increases. This means you have more energy to engage in different long-run variations.

Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases

From a physiological standpoint, going on long runs under controlled conditions helps strengthen your heart by improving your aerobic capacity, oxygen utilization, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and oxygen intake capacity.

Running strengthens your heart’s muscles as much as it strengthens leg muscles, reducing the risk of heart attacks, blood clots in blood vessels, and sudden heart failure, which ultimately adds years to your life expectancy.

Drawbacks of Long Runs

For the most part, most athletic trainers, coaches, and fitness experts do not properly draw attention to the drawbacks associated with going on long runs. Instead, they mainly draw attention to the major benefits of routine long runs, and that is about it.

Although their prescribed guidelines scale their clients’ training plans to match their abilities and potential, these exercises do have their fair share of disadvantages. Some of these drawbacks include:

Achilles tendinitis

This usually happens due to an overworking of the Achilles tendon (a band of connective tissues that links the calf muscles to the heel bone).

Achilles tendinitis mainly occurs when you run for extended periods without spaces in between to offset your training load. This leads to a weakened tendon, increasing the risk of an Achilles tear. A torn Achilles tendon is excruciating, and the only solution is to undergo surgery.

The structural integrity of the Achilles tendon is a factor of age, health, training regimen, medication, and sex.

Joint pain

This is one of the biggest drawbacks of going on long runs; the mileage is too much and slowly begins to take a toll on the body. The legs, knees, back, and hips can only handle a particular stress level, and consecutive power movement leads to severe wear and tear.

This greatly affects running efficiency, form, and performance. As a result, even the greatest track athletes take time off to recover properly, limiting themselves to fewer injuries.

Black toenail

This con mainly affects those who are keen on maintaining their physical aesthetics. When you go on long runs, there is the likelihood of your shoes cutting off blood flow to your toenails due to the constriction on your feet. Over prolonged periods, it leads to the toenails donning a black color.

5 Tips That Will Make Your Long Runs Easier

Since we have looked at the pros and cons associated with long runs, we must discuss how to ease going on a long run.

Start with a clean eating week before a long run

To keep things simple, clean eating is the key to maintaining your calorie level. Avoid eating past 10 PM, over-snacking, and eating tons of junk food. Instead, stick to nutrient-dense foods all week before your next long run, and you will see yourself sprinting past the finish line.

Take magnesium before and throughout the run

For long runs, runners suffering from magnesium deficiency could experience an excitability boost in their nerve endings, leading to cramps, involuntary muscle twitch, and muscle spasms.

Taking magnesium before and throughout your long run improves muscle and nerve function by reducing the production of cortisol.

Stay hydrated

The general rule behind every exercise is to stay hydrated at all times. Water should be your go-to beverage before, during, and after your long run since you lose a lot of fluids exercising.

Another great option would be isotonic drinks and drinks rich in electrolytes. These drinks contain needed minerals that will keep your body functioning right.

Prepare a comfortable outfit

The best running clothes are lightweight and crafted out of stretchy, breathable materials that allow runners to move without restrictions.

Get some high-intensity workout clothes so that your runs will be pain-free. It also helps when your running clothes are reflective, as it will be easier to spot you while you go about your long run.

Do a good warm-up before long runs

A good warm-up will help loosen stiff muscles, improve blood supply, and reduce your injury risk. For this, you need a top-tier training plan – the Joggo app.

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The app comes with different plans that cater to all runners’ needs (beginners to pros), all on a personalized level, making it a valuable asset in reaching your dream fitness level.

It has the best warm-up, stretching, and cool-down exercises, allowing runners to tone down on their injury risk and information about quick recoveries.

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FAQs

What is the optimal long run pace?

There is no optimal long run pace because the different variations demand different race paces, coupled with our inherent abilities. However, if you are running competitively, then you will need to maintain a goal race pace.

For example, those into marathons would like to maintain their goal marathon pace (marathon or half-marathon pace) on race day. Interval runners switch between an easy pace and a faster one as they transverse the entire distance of the race.

However, beginners need to maintain an easy pace since the goal at this stage is to cross the finish line. It does not matter if you are a minute slower or a mile slower. As you grow into a more experienced runner, your race pace will increase.

Your race pace should be a direct representation of your body’s ability. You should not try to overexert yourself, as this will be detrimental to your growth as a runner.

How do I prepare for a long run?

To prepare for a long run, you must do everything that puts your body in the best position for you to avoid unnecessary injuries.

The first preparatory step happens way before you hit the track, which centers on a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. Whatever you put into your body will yield its effects in the long run. Hence, your diet should revolve around consuming fewer carbs, healthy fats, moderate protein, and lots of fluids.

Next, you need to get a proper training plan to help maximize your running efficiency. You cannot just hit the street and go on a 10k mile run or decide that a marathon pace is a way to go. Instead, plan your route, training program, running distance, weekly mileage, and everything in between.

How can beginners run longer distances?

The keyword here is consistency. Consider training and dieting very important. By pushing yourself constantly and taking good care of your body, you should be able to expand your running distance and compete with the very best at their level.

You can only run long distances when you train and condition yourself, taking your progress a step at a time.

A Word From Our Coach

Truthfully speaking, successfully completing long runs is no easy feat, regardless of whether you have hit peak fitness level. This is because there are so many things going on, and it can be difficult keeping track of them.

This is why you need expert help in guiding you throughout your journey. Enlist the help of a nutritionist and an expert coach, and you will be soaring higher than you ever imagined.

A classed nutritionist will assist you with your dietary needs, while your fitness coach will help in whipping your body in shape. You really cannot compromise on either of these.

Conclusion

Running is one of the best free exercises that help boost mental and physical well-being. It does not matter what variation you engage in, whether long slow distance run, fast finish long run, mile repeats, or any of the long run variations listed above; they all possess similar health benefits.

The principal thing with going on a long run is to keep your body and mind in the best shape possible. Stay away from junk food and harmful drinks! Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by combining a healthy diet and strict training.

Be an active participant in the runner’s world and log in your weekly mileage to start seeing positive results!

Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified Yoga Instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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