All runners—whether high school track and cross country or seasoned marathoners—know the value of long runs. From a purely physiological standpoint, running long:

  • Increases the number of mitochondria in your cells
  • Creates denser capillary beds; especially in the calf muscles
  • Improves mechanics and efficiency
  • Helps the body learn to burn fat as a fuel
  • Builds stamina

Big selling points, but how long should you run and at what pace?

As a rule of thumb, the following distances apply: 10-15 miles for the 5,000; 12-18 for the 10,000, 15-20 for the half-marathon; and 18-25 for the marathon.

Once you’ve settled on the distance, make it a weekly routine. But, and this is an important point—not all long runs serve the same purpose, so you’ll approach them differently.

The easy long run is your “go-to” long run. Easy long runs have all of the benefits, but allow for recovery from speed work, are enjoyable, and don’t break down your muscles. Do them at a conversational pace.

Challenging long runs should be done on a rolling course and include a significant number of uphills and downhills. You should run these at a steady, but not taxing pace: the very nature of the terrain adds a degree of challenge.

The fast-finish long run is great for half marathoners and marathoners who are getting close to race date. Forcing yourself to run fast while fatigued is a great way to build race-ready endurance. You’ll run the final two-to-three miles of your fast-finish run at close to 10K race pace.

Speed-play long runs are a great way to simulate racing conditions. The idea is simple: throw in a number of sustained surges during your long run. For longer surges—say up to a mile—pick it up to your 10K race pace. For shorter bursts—from 400-800 meters—you’ll want to accelerate to your 5K pace.

Marathon pace runs are great strength builders, and as the name implies, are ideal for marathon build-ups. While there are many variations on this workout, here’ a simple version. Warm up three miles, then: run 10 miles at your marathon goal pace. A cool-down run of two miles will make this a 15-mile effort.

Upcoming races: Tuesday, January 1 at 9:00 a.m., the Kickin’ It 5K at Wallace Middle School, 1500 Center Street in Kyle. Saturday, January 5 at 8:00 a.m., the River Road 5K, 10K and Half Marathon at Anytime Fitness, 1175 FM 2673 #8 Canyon Lake. Saturday, January 12 at 8:00 a.m., the Hays Highstepper Hot Chocolate 5K at Whispering Hollow Pavilion and Pool, 1580 Coldwater Hollow in Buda.