10 miles can be an exhausting long run. I know this woman who has a son who, when he trains for a half marathon, goes all-out on every long run. He's young and full of energy and feels no fatigue throughout the training plan. For the rest of us though, we're not so lucky, and we have to train smart on the long run. While it can be tempting to run the weekly long run at race pace, it's actually smarter (especially for beginners) to take the long run at a nice, easy pace.
The long run is not a race. The purpose of the long run is to just get miles on your legs and to prepare you mentally to be out there running for hours. The long run should be done at an easy pace: you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you can't, you're going too hard and too fast. Going too hard on your long run can be mentally devastating - or worse.
If you're new to long distance running and you're integrating sufficient speedwork on other days, there are several benefits to running your long run nice and easy:
1) Build aerobic fitness
Especially if it's your first distance race you may not have the physical endurance you need for race day. It's important to spend time training your body to run efficiently and effectively. There are several physiological benefits to this: burn fat, build up glycogen stores, build up capillaries, and build slow-twitch muscle fibers.
2) Build mental fitness
For many runners, the mental aspect of running a distance race can be the hardest part. It can be tough to run farther than you've ever run before and to push yourself more than you ever have. It can be tough to be out there for hours and still convince yourself to keep going. It can be tough to just get out there in the first place, so set a pace that you feel confident is manageable and maintainable.
3) Practice ways to avoid bonking
A major part of long runs is knowing how to fuel. Every body is different so different runners need to take in water and nutrients at different times. An easy pace on a long run can help you focus on which foods and drinks you need and when.
4) Don't run yourself ragged
This spring I ran way too many long runs at way too fast a pace. Between that and stress from other aspects of my life I noticed my workouts were negatively affected. I ran harder than I should have and I didn't give myself enough time to recover, so I kept showing up for all my runs fatigued and not ready for the run. I struggled from the start of each run and I didn't get the performance I expected with my training - all because I was running myself ragged. If you're going to run a race pace on your long runs, then you need a race-level recovery period. Take it easy on a long run and pace yourself throughout the entire training plan so you don't get to the race exhausted and burnt out.
Bonus Reason! Have fun!
If you're running long then you may be spending hours out there. Make sure you're enjoying it! Don't push yourself so hard that you miss the beauty in your long run - that rush of feeling strong and fresh and confident (okay, maybe not so fresh in terms of smell but fresh in terms of legs). Have fun catching up with your runner friends, and enjoy those little details you might miss otherwise and you can only see by being out running in your community. Long runs don't have to be torture; remember to have fun out there!
There's no magic pace or pace calculator for an ideal long run pace, because it really should be based on effort, so the next time you head out for high mileage think about your pace and your effort and make sure you're training smarter and not harder.
Are there any tips you've found helpful for your long run? Are there any tips you'll incorporate for your future long runs? Let me know in the comments!