for your weekly exercise or upcoming marathon. There are good reasons
for this and I’d like to share with you the benefits you will get from fitting
a long run into your training regime.
1. Regenerate tired muscles
Going for a long slow run the day after a hard workout can be beneficial for your fatigued leg muscles.
Quite often soreness is bought on by DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Slow running will rebuild and adapt leg muscles to a normal function quickly because they recruit cells during the workout, giving you the strength needed to run.
Science Direct performed a study of on the effects of muscle damage and running economy in runners training for a marathon. Here’s what they found!
“Running economy remained unchanged after a 26-km long training run in the group of runners training for a marathon. Despite a statistically significant rise in CK levels for 3 days post-LTR, RE, and muscle soreness data remained unaltered.”
To speed up the recovery of DOMS, you can checkout this post on LiveStrong – Cures for tired legs after running.
2. Strengthen leg muscles and ligaments
There are 6 groups leg muscles that get strengthened when you perform a long run. Here they are:
- Hamstrings – muscles at the back of the thigh which extend when you push-off the ground with your feet.
- Calfs – also known as the soleus (inner muscle behind shin bone) and the gastrocnemius
- Quads – These muscles are above the knee and work by contracting, working as like a handbrake for when the foot strikes down on the ground. Typically down-hill running will strengthen the quads the most.
- Gluteal – These muscles are below the hips and form the buttocks. They are responsible for extending the hip and keep you upright. Strong glutes will have you running your long runs in good alignment and form.
- Hip Flexors – Located above the quads, they are responsible for moving the legs back and forward.
- Hip Rotator – The hip rotator muscles stabilize the hip-joint and contribute to good running form when running long distances.
3. Helps burn fat as fuel
When your body has finished using glycogen as an energy source, it will start using fat to derive energy from.
Long running will burn fat like a powerhouse, but you’ll need to be consistent at it! This means you will lose that excess fat on the front end of your stomach, so you’ll be lighter.
Studies have shown that high-intensity intermittent exercise is more beneficial to get the results you’re looking for. You can also integrate this into your long runs by using a strides workout when running the excess miles.
4. Slow & fast twitch muscles will develop
Slow Twitch Fibers – These fibers are responsible for less explosive, sustained movements. They do not contract forcefully and thus require less energy to fire, which makes them well suited to long distance running. The best long distance runners who train for marathons are most likely to have the best developed slow twitch fibers.
Fast Twitch Fibers – Responsible for fast, explosive movements like sprinting. However, they lack the endurance-boosting ability of slow-twitch fibers. Fast twitch can only be used for short periods of time and are recruited if your running hills on your long run.
5. Help Increase Speed
Although long runs are just endurance based runs, they play a vital role in increasing your speed for 5 – 10km races. Because you’re adding extra distance to your weekly training by doing a long run, your increase in cardiovascular ability and muscle strength can only help with speed increase. This may not apply to short distance races like 100m – 200m but will certainly improve your speed endurance.
6. Build a stronger heart
Long distance running will make your heart stronger over your lifetime. Most doctors would agree that with no physical exercise there are higher chances of death than those who exercise.
Long distance runners can have their hearts grow much stronger and improve their ability to function. Heart attack risk factors improve with drops in total-cholesterol, bad LDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
7. Energize your working muscles
A slow long run produces more red blood cells which will supply oxygen to muscles, meaning you can run faster, with greater efficiency and less effort. This will help re-energize stiff/sore muscles that you’ve had in a previous hard run.
8. Open necessary capillaries
Long runs increase the number of capillaries per muscle fiber, which improves the efficiency of delivery and removal.
9. Boost your Personal Confidence
People who exercise and make running a daily part of their life have a higher chance of being confident and happy.
When you are more confident, you will:
- have less anxiety
- be able to set realistic goals
- have a better mood for longer periods of time
- improve your memory
- get a better night’s sleep
- improve your self-esteem
10. Extra Mitochondria
Long runs increase the number and size of the mitochondria in your muscle fibers.
With extra mitochondria being produced, you maintain a faster pace aerobically.
11. Increase aerobic enzyme activity
Enzymes in the mitochondria speed up aerobic energy production.
Long runs increase the activity of these enzymes, which improves the efficiency of the mitochondria.
So you not only have more and bigger energy factories, but they are also more efficient.
12. Hold more Glycogen
Long runs will train your muscles to store more glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate, and when you have less, you slow down.
The faster you run the more glycogen you burn! Running your long runs at a comfortable pace is a more effective way to deplete your glycogen stores and stimulate the muscles to store more over a longer period of time.
13. Build Stronger Will Power
By running long, you simulate what your legs and body will go through in the marathon. Not only will this train the physiological side of your body, but also the physiological side. (Mind, Will & Emotions)
When your hamstrings tighten up 23 miles into the race, it helps to have experienced a similar feeling in training,
Your cadence will naturally shorten over the longer distance, so you’ll need to draw from your mental strength to get you through.
During your long runs you experience a connection between the mind and body. This should help you to learn to relax and concentrate on what’s ahead of you.
Conclusion: How long should your Long Run Be?
There is no evidence to say exactly how long (for minutes or kilometers) your run should be. A clear tradeoff exists between running far enough to stimulate physiological adaptations
and remaining uninjured.
Experience from some of the top marathoners will say, that building up your long runs to 21 or 22 miles slowly will maximize your chances of reaching
the marathon in top shape and healthy.
Try adding 2 mile (3km) to your long run per week, skipping every 2nd or third week.
For example, if your current long run is 14 miles, your long run schedule would be: week 1 (15 miles), week 2 (16 miles), week 3 (either no long run or shorter time running), week 4 (17 miles), week 5 (18 miles), week 6 (no long run), week 7 (19 miles), week 8 (20 miles), week 9 (no long run), then a 21 or 22 miles at week 10. Ideally, the longest run should occur 3-4 weeks before the marathon, followed by a taper (Shorter distance, with higher intensity).
If you have any feedback as to what you get out of doing your long runs, then I would love to hear.
Send me a comment below or you can contact me here to continue the conversation.