Skip to main content

How to Train: The Long Run

Weekly long runs are one of the most important components of training for a half or full marathon. The key to the long runs is that they are progressive in nature to slowly build your endurance. They also need to be slower, which is relative to individual fitness so that you can continue training without adding the risk of injury.

Laura LaMarche, DPT, a physical therapist at the University Orthopaedic Center, provides advice with these basic long run principles:

  1. Stick with a schedule. Follow a program that works with your timeline and is appropriate for your level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).
  2. Increase your distance. Typical weekly increases follow the 10% rule by adding one to two miles per week. If you have extra time for your training plan, you can alternate a build week (adding 1 to 1.5 miles)
    with a week-long “recovery” long run (around 60% in length of the build week).

  3. Don’t run too fast. A common mistake with weekly long runs is to run them too fast. Calculate your long slow run to be one to two minutes slower per mile than anticipated race pace, or running in a zone 2 effort (heavier breathing, able to hold a conversation, with a heart rate that’s 65-70% HR max.)

    Although it may be comforting to know you can keep a hopeful race pace during the longer runs, it can put you at risk for an overuse injury.

  4. Recover. If you run too quickly during weekly long runs, you will not have enough recovery afterward to continue training through the week.
  5. Hydrate and fuel up. Weekly long slow runs are a great time to work on hydration and fueling for the race. Start trying different electrolyte mixes in your hydration vest or handheld water bottles.

    Plenty of fuel-based products such as caffeinated energy gels or energy blocks and bars can help, too. It’s good to see how it affects your body before race day, so experiment during the long runs.

Other tips that LaMarche has learned over the years:

  • Run in the clothing that you are planning to wear for the race.
  • Anti-chafing products can be great for high friction areas (inner thighs, armpits, bra straps, and nipples).
  • To fight boredom, run with a buddy or listen to a book on tape or a podcast.
  • Run in areas that you find enjoyable and that mimic the race course.
  • Long, slow runs are at the heart of half and full marathon training. They’re essential to ensuring your body will be adequately trained for finishing the race.
  • See your doctor if pain to one location continues for two weeks and/or affects your training.