What Are Long Runs?
There’s nothing too mysterious about long runs. As the name suggests, a long run is simply a run that’s longer than a runner’s typical distance. That means the length of a long run depends entirely on the runner.
If you typically run a mile at a time, your long run might be three miles. If you typically run six miles each day, your long run is likely in the double digits.
For most serious runners, long runs are an essential part of race training. Nearly every training plan — whether it’s for a 5k or a marathon — incorporates some type of weekly long run.
Among casual runners like myself though, long runs often end up getting skipped. Many of us tend to go about the same distance every run, never really pushing our endurance to its limit.
It’s a shame, because when we skip the long run, we miss out on huge benefits.
Long runs improve nearly every aspect of our running-related health — our muscle system, heart, fuel economy, and more. The result is improved endurance that will improve our running at every distance. This is a lot to miss out on!
I run most days of the week, and my comfort zone is a distance of 3 to 6 miles (about 5 to 10 kilometers). I run these distances so often that I know as long as I stick to an easy pace, they’ll never give me any real trouble.
Sometimes though, I find myself sticking to this comfort zone a little too much.
Last year, I got sloppy with my long runs, often skipping them for a month or more at a time. As spring begins this year, I’m recommitting to weekly long runs — a chance to leave my comfort zone and grow as both a runner and a person.
I’ve already experienced a host of health benefits, but even more surprising to me is how much the long runs have taught me about running and life in general. If you’re on the fence about whether to do long runs, I hope hearing these benefits will convince you to start incorporating them into your week.
Learning How to Pace Myself
The first big impact that I noticed from long runs was that they forced me to become better at pacing myself.
Even at relatively short distances, keeping a consistent pace is one of the biggest weaknesses in my running. I often start my 5k runs just a little too fast, and end up paying for it in the final mile. I can still finish the run, but at a slower speed overall than if I had just started slower and stayed consistent.
During a long run, starting a little too fast has even bigger consequences. I’ve sometimes found myself having to walk miles home because I overestimated how long I could maintain a pace.
There’s also something very humbling about pacing a long run. My normal “easy” pace can actually start to feel quite difficult after ten miles, and my “fast” pace becomes downright impossible.
Doing a weekly long run is helping me to better understand the paces that I’m capable of, and to do a better job actually sticking to those paces consistently.
Long runs have also improved my patience, which goes hand-in-hand with the pacing changes that I’ve seen.
I’m a runner who just loves to go as fast as I can, and I’m constantly having to remind myself that most of my runs should be slow.
Relearning How to Run Slowly
Why the hardest part about coming back from a running break is learning my new limitations.
My weekly long runs are teaching me (yet again) to enjoy going at a slow and steady pace, and not to constantly try to push myself to my limit. When I do slip up and run faster than I should, the long runs are very punishing. As I mentioned above, going out a little too fast in a long run can mean that I end up having to stop miles before I had planned.
I’ve also noticed my patience improving in life in general. Getting used to running for a couple of hours at a time (with nothing at all to distract me) has helped me learn to wait patiently in other situations.
Increased Mental Endurance
Perhaps the biggest change that long runs have had on me is to improve my mental endurance. Long runs don’t just help your body run for longer periods, they also help your mind cope with it.
No matter how slow I go, my long runs start getting difficult once I pass the hour and a half mark. Continuing past that requires building the mental stamina to ignore my body telling me to quit.
Each week I’m learning more about what I’m capable of, and it’s much more than I expected.
Learning to push myself past the point of comfort ends up helping me at shorter distances too. Since starting to do long runs, I’ve noticed myself pushing harder at the 5k and 10k distances as well. My PRs have dropped at both distances this year.
It provides a nice lesson for life as well: when we’re really motivated, we’re all capable of pushing past our comfort zone and enduring much more than we might expect.