For endurance runners, the ‘weekend long run’ tends to be taken for granted and its benefits are often overlooked. Although it may not be as sexy as a fast-paced interval session on the track or as physically demanding as hill reps, there are a number of good reasons why these long, slow sessions should form the bedrock of your training.
Your body is truly amazing and will initiate a number of physiological changes designed to improve your aerobic energy system and help your body cope with the increasing distance of your long run as marathon season approaches.
Some of these adaptations include:
A big heart!
- An increase your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) – this increases the amount of oxygen available for the aerobic production of energy which is key for endurance performance
- Increase in total blood volume – this results in a greater amount of blood pumped out by the heart in each beat
- Increased haemoglobin content – this improves the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood
Become a lean, mean efficient running machine
- Increased ability of the muscles to extract oxygen from the blood
- Fuelled by fat – develop an improved ability to utilise fat as an energy source which helps spare your stores of muscle glycogen
- Possible improvements in biomechanics – long runs result in continued repetitions of complex neuromuscular movement patterns. These utilise the majority of major muscles and joints within the body and could make you a more efficient runner, meaning you use less oxygen at a given running speed
- Stronger connective tissues and increased muscle stiffness - increases the energy stored by the tendons resulting in more energy returned on each step and making you a more efficient runner
Keep cool when the going gets tough!
- Long duration training can also help improve thermoregulation - this is the way in which your body copes with the increasing internal body temperature which occurs during long duration exercise.
- Mental toughness – running for prolonged periods of time can help you develop psychologically as well as physiologically. Learning how to train your mind into coping with the increasing distances is very important as well as learning how to control your pace so you don’t utilise your stores of muscle glycogen too quickly.
So, you can see from the above that these long runs are really important. They should be run at a pace that doesn’t stop you from performing well in your other training sessions. If they are run too fast, it’s likely that you’ll begin to suffer from accumulating fatigue which is an early indication of over-training.
Your level of fitness and experience will dictate the starting level and so ‘long run’ is a relative term. In order to provide the optimal stimulus for endurance adaptation, low intensity training should make up approximately 80% of your overall training. The remaining 20% should be higher intensity and threshold training. Aim to do at least one of these long runs a week and ensure you gradually increase your training time/mileage by no more than 1-2 miles or approximately 10%. This will ensure that your body is able to adapt and cope with the additional challenge in a progressive manner rather than suddenly increasing the workload all at once.
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