How fast should I run on long runs?
I get asked this question quite a bit.
I won't say it is an easy question to answer because we all are different.
There is no one in the world like you, like me, so trying to answer correctly is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
I can only give my personal, heartfelt opinion on what I think it takes for runners, regardless of ability level, to make massive improvements in the middle to long distance events.
I come from the school of thought that believes to race fast, you have to train fast.
That being said, if the athlete has no balance in their life it doesn't matter how great of a workout you or I do.
There has to be absolute commitment to how you prepare for your races.
End of story.
It all comes down to how badly you want your goal.
You had a great workout. Awesome.
What did you do the remaining hours of your day to get the most out of adapting to that effort
Far too many runners jump to conclusions that athletes that are faster than them were created with more genetic gifts.
This may be somewhat true but that doesn't mean you hang up your shoes and not fight to make up for what you may lack.
Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day – Seth Godin
Is it talent?
I've made it known numerous times here at RDA that I never had much talent.
I relate to my readers more who are, like me, work horses who have to rely on their drive and heart than the limited talent that they may have been given.
What I have and have always relied on is heart and focus.
Is it unfair that sometimes we, with less talent, have to work harder than those that have more?
Yes, sometimes it can be.
I've know runners over the years who would run half of what I run per week and still beat me in races.
How you, as the athlete, handle being beaten will make the difference in the long-term how successful you are going to be.
I mean that with all sincerity because many of those same runners that I mentioned that have beaten me in my past have long since retired
I have not run as fast as I have in the half marathon and marathon distances, even while they were competing.
A focused, committed athlete will stand the test and don't expect your goals to fall in your lap.
If you have a time goal in mind, practicing that goal pace your visualizing is key.
I am a big advocate of race pace training and am certain that changing my mindset and constructing my training to mimic the pace I wanted to hold for the marathon distance has been the biggest factor in my improvement as a marathoner.
Trial and error
It took me from 2002 to 2007 to figure it out.
Some of us get results quicker but for me it took sometime to realize that doing long runs at relaxed paces wasn't getting me any closer to the tough marathon goals I had in mind.
If you have a goal to hold 7.00 mile pace for the half-marathon distance which effort do you think, physiologically, is going to bring you closer to your goal?
A 14-mile run with 8 miles of it at 6.55-7.00 mile pace or a 22 miler at 8.30 mile pace?
One is going to assist the athlete to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in the blood stream and teach that athlete to utilize fat.
To conserve carbohydrates at race speeds and the other will simply burn fat at relatively slow speeds and not produce much of an anaerobic boost.
I was doing 20-22 mile runs at 6.45-7.30 mile pace for years, yet I wanted to run a marathon at 5.25 per mile pace (2.22.00) all through college and my post-college years.
Why did I keep falling apart in the race at mile 14 or 15? Duh!
I mean I was doing 22 mile runs at what I thought was a steady pace..So many runner second guess their abilities because they fall into this training trap.
Running too many miles too slow and far too few miles at paces that will produce the end result, faster race times and personal bests.
My methods proved wrong and it took reevaluating what I was doing wrong, working with a Boston Marathon champion and researching some of the world's best coaches and exercise physiologists to figure it out.
What changed and how can you do to drop massive times in your own racing?
First, understand this, the Kenyans and other top runners around the world do one thing consistently.
Focus on recovery
They don't stress over the little things.
Bad workout. So what. There is tomorrow.
They run a poor race, guess what they are saying a couple hours later?
I will run a 2.10 marathon in 3-months time even if they went out and ran a 2.51 (true story told to me by a Kenyan at the airport on our way home).
Their mindset is different.
How often have you and I been bent out of shape over a bad workout or race?
I am sure it has been more times than we can count but I see the total opposite, especially in the Kenyan runners I have lived and trained with.
They don't over think and neither do you or I have to.
We have to let go of expectations and have the faith that what we have done in training is going to get us to our goal.
Faster long runs will yield increased relaxation at race pace and will bring you to the start line totally confident that whatever your competition throws at you in a race will not be something you have not already experienced in training.
This is key!
I advocate gradually extending the distance you spend near goal race pace in the early stages of your training.
What do I mean?
The long run is now the hardest workout I do in my own training.
It takes a lot out of me to maintain 90 minutes to 2 hours at a heart rate above 160 beats per minute but I wouldn't even think about running at this exertion rate early in a training block.
Build into your fitness
Don't rush it.
Now water can flow or it can crash, be like water my friends – Bruce Lee
I say that because many times we get caught up in our mileage expectations.
Running at speeds that are 85% or higher of our maximal heart rate is extremely demanding.
You have to build into it and the process cannot be rushed.
Sometimes breaking the run up into minutes, rather than miles, especially early on in your training can take the stress off of you and make the training process less stressful.
For example, early on perhaps you may go 12 miles for your long run.
Warmup with 3 miles, than run 10-15 minutes at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute, than run easy the remainder of your run.
You may need to start off running just 5 minutes at that effort.
So be it but put in the work. It will pay off in the long run…if you are patient.
The following week do the same distance but go 25 minutes at the same heart rate you held the previous week and so on.
Don't just jump into trying to do an 18-miler at a pace that you clearly have not built up to.
Does that make sense?
Increased fitness and heart rate
As your fitness grows you will find that your paces at the same heart rate have dropped considerably and you can run longer at the same heart rate.
This is the beautiful part of long-term, consistent, uninterrupted training.
So many runners give up too early because they don't see the results they are looking for soon enough.
This sport takes a lot of dedication and many times athletes that succeed are the ones that simply endure a week, month or a few years longer.
It isn't easy but neither is going for difficult, paced goals.
Hurt, Adapt and Repeat!
You have to be willing to step up the plate, be willing to strike out a few times before you ever hit a home run.
A technique I learned from a Boston Marathon Champion
There are two things I will close with that I want to share with you.
One has already been briefly discussed.
One of my mentors and world-renowned coach and exercise physiologist, Dr. Joe Vigil, states that to prepare well for marathoning you have to train at a heart rate that coincides with the heart rate range you will be racing at.
He says between 168-72 beats per minute is damn near close to where your heart rate will sit at in a race.
160 beats per minute is a happy medium and you will find as you get fitter than a heart rate of 160BPM is running at paces that exceed your goal race pace.
This may be totally new territory.
You may have come from the train of thought that long slow distance is the way to go in order to run a faster marathon.
I have always believed that long slow distance produces long, slow distance runners – Sebastion Coe – former world record holder at 800m/1500m
Running at higher heart rates for long periods of time and most importantly, gradually extending the amount of time you spend at that effort, will yield magnificent results provided you allow proper recovery.
There are runners who may need 2 days of easy jogging after harder long runs whereas, other athletes may need 3.
Have the patience and fortitude to slow down, relax and allow your body to re-charge from these tough efforts.
Throw in hard miles
This was a totally new concept for me when I started working with Lisa Rainsberger (last American female to win the Boston Marathon and former 2.28 marathoner).
I worked with her for three years while training in colorado springs.
It was hard enough to work my way up to doing 20-24 mile runs at 160 beats per minute.
Running at this effort, when I am fit, can be anywhere from 5.15 to 5.40 per mile pace and than to run a mile at 175-80 beats per minute every 4th mile was asking a lot.
So, what do I mean.
Let's say you have built your base and have spent a few weeks working on your long run effort and are now able to hold 14 miles at a 160 heart rate.
Your pace at 160 beats per minute is now 6.50 pace, down from the 7.20 pace it was 8 weeks prior.
This training concept now means I would have you run the first 4 miles at 160 heart rate, 5th mile at 175HR (which could mean you have to thrown down around a 6.15 mile or so), than back to 4 miles at 160 HR, than another mile at 6.15, with a two-mile cool-down.
I had long runs in colorado where I would be running at 5.20-50 per mile pace than drop a 4.50-5.00 mile for my harder mile surges.
Think of how much stronger you are going to be when you arrive to your next middle to long distance race when you have done these types of runs.
I know it may be a different concept than what you are used to but I am telling you, this is what makes the Kenyans and other top runners or those in your local area look so intimidating.
There is no need to be intimidated by anyone, just change your training philosophy and see what it can produce in your results.
Never be afraid of competition. It will bring out the best in you – Dr. Joe Vigil
To train hard, understand that recovery is equally important and that to maintain pace means you have to train the energy systems of the body that will assist you to slow down less.
That is what it ultimately is in our long distance races.
It all comes down to who has trained in such a way that they slow down less than you.
If this post resonates with you please leave a comment or drop me a line.