The long run tends to be a crucial part of a running programme whether you are running 5k up to the marathon and can even be essential for runners specialising over shorter distances like 1500m and 800m.

Benefits of the Long Run

Whilst it can be a bit tricky to figure out at first, once you know how far and roughly how fast to go at, you can feel more at ease knowing that you are getting the full benefits from your long run by:

  • Strengthening the heart

Since your heart has to work for a longer duration, it must adapt to become capable of pumping blood around your body more efficiently and for longer – remember your heart is a muscle!

  • Strengthening leg muscles and surrounding ligaments

During a long run, your legs have to constantly contract for a long period of time to keep your body moving at speed. This will help stimulate your body to recruit more muscle fibres as your muscles fatigue and will increase the strength of surrounding ligaments as they will become stronger in order to support the bones in your legs and your leg muscles as you run, keeping them in place.

  • Encouraging fat burning

Long runs tend to be done at a lower intensity, in the aerobic zone. Since the intensity is lower, your body often starts to utilise fat as a source of energy rather than just carbohydrates which act as a fast source of energy that can be relied upon during high intensity exercise and when short bursts of energy are required.

  • Increasing mental toughness

It can be hard going out for long runs – especially if it is raining or you have no one to run with, but whilst these runs will make you stronger physically, they can also make you stronger mentally by teaching you to endure pain which will allow you to push your body further than you thought possible when it comes to racing.

  • Stimulating the creation of a dense capillary network

Since your muscles require more oxygen to work for longer periods of time, a dense capillary network will start to build up around your muscles. Blood in your capillaries will transport oxygen to your muscles, allowing you to release more energy via respiration and run faster.

  • Increasing the strength of the respiratory system

When you run for a long time, it’s not just your heart and legs working – your lungs and diaphragm are working as well! Long runs will help to strengthen the connective tissue and muscles within your respiratory system, including muscles within your core. Since I hadn’t done many long runs when I did the Holstebro Half Marathon, I actually felt a stitch in the last 4km or so which was most likely a muscle I had pulled in my core.

How Long Should My Long Run Be?

The distance of your long run depends on what distance you’re specialising in or focusing on. For most people, you should aim to build up to a long run which exceeds your race distance, with the exception being the marathon. If you start running longer than 22 miles and you aren’t an elite runner, it is far more likely that running 22 miles and longer will mean that the fatigue, muscle damage and extended recovery required will outweigh the benefits of the long run. If you’re an ultrarunner, by all means, run longer than 22 miles – you will need to after all if you’re targeting 50 mile or even 100 mile races!

And don’t forget to bring some fuel (food) with you on your long run if you need it!

So how far should your long run be based on what distance you are focusing on?

Long Run Distances Based On Race Goals

800m7 km - 13 km
4.5 - 8 miles
1500m8 km - 16 km
5 - 10 miles
3,000m12 km - 18 km
7 - 12 miles
5,000m16 km - 24 km
10 - 15 miles
10,000m18 km - 29 km
12 - 18 miles
Half Marathon24 km - 32 km
15 - 20 miles
Marathon27 km - 35 km
18 - 22 miles
The rough distance your long runs should be based on the distance race you are targeting or focusing on.

Whatever distance your long run, ensure there is consistency within your training because consistency is key to success.

If you’re starting out you should keep your long run on the short side, to avoid an overuse injury early on. Build up your long run by increasing the distance of your long run by no more than 10% each week to avoid injury. This isn’t a rule you have to follow, but more of a suggested guideline to help reduce the risk of injury. Whilst increasing your weekly mileage, try not to increase intensity at the same time as your body is already trying to adapt to one stressor.

How Fast Should My Long Run Be?

The pace of your long run can vary, but generally, it should always be aerobic. Lactic acid should not be building up within your muscles unless that is the focus of your training run.

If you have a heart rate monitor, I would suggest keeping your heart rate between 60% – 80% of your max heart rate (max HR). This should keep you in the aerobic zone where your body learns to utilise fat more efficiently.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, try to ensure the run feels somewhere between fairly relaxed or comfortably steady, but in order to mix up your training stimulus do throw in a fast-hard long run in there once in a while at around 90% max heart rate or somewhere between 8 and 9 RPE (rate of perceived exertion) where 10 is all out race pace and max intensity.

For reference, when Mo Farah does his long runs he runs no slower than 1 minute/mile than marathon pace, but other runners run up to 2 or even 3 minutes per mile slower than race pace so the range of speed really does vary, but go at what feels comfortable and try and vary the pace from long run to long run.

How Often Should I Do A Long Run?

Most people do their long run weekly on weekends for good reason. They have a lot more time during the day to get the run out of the way and can relax for a while after having completed the run. If you run 3 – 4 times a week, try and get a long run in every week.

Jeff Galloway, 1972 Olympian and present-day marathon coach, recommends an approach where you can go one day for every mile of your long run without losing endurance.

“That is, if you’re running at least 30 minutes every other day in between,” Jeff says.

This means if you’re a more serious athlete, you can get away with doing a long run every 2 weeks if your long run distance is 12 – 17 miles and 3 weeks if your long run distance is around 18 – 22 miles, provided you are running every other day for 30 minutes.

How long are your long runs? What pace do you do them at? Let me know down below!