Frank Shorter, the only American man to ever win a gold medal in the Olympic marathon (Munich, 1972), once said that the more weekly mileage you run, the faster you’ll get. While Shorter’s comment has truth to it, what he probably meant to say is that as you increase the distance of your long run, running faster at other distances will naturally follow. As runners, we’ve been told we need to build up our stamina. We’ve also been told to increase our endurance for optimal race results. Stamina? Endurance? Aren’t they the same thing?
No, not really. Perhaps the best description of the difference is one mentioned on The .fit Way website. “Stamina refers to how long one has the ability to perform an activity at maximum capacity, while endurance is focused on how long one can continue to perform an activity, no matter the capacity.”
So while increasing your long run will not give you more overall speed or faster leg turnover, it will indirectly increase your ability to maintain a faster pace for longer periods, thus improving race times, (Provided you are hitting the other key areas of training!)
Let’s dig a little deeper on how that works.
Any serious runner knows that there are several different key components to training: Generally speaking, aerobic base, speed-work, long runs, tempo runs and recovery runs are the main ones. You’ve probably already figured out that some workouts support others. That’s certainly the case with long runs.
When not marathon training, by increasing your long run up to 12 -15 miles, you’ll reap a number of physiological benefits.
Long runs will:
Boost the quantity of mitochondria in your muscle cells. Mitochondria are the workhorses that help deliver oxygen to power your muscles.
Help develop running efficiency and economy. Over time and miles, you’ll naturally find the gait that expends the least amount of energy.
Increase your aerobic capacity as well as your blood volume. They will also improve your heart’s ability to pump more blood with each beat. Studies have shown that long runs help build new capillaries beds in your calf muscles.
Build stronger tendons and connective tissue. Let’s face it, the most injured areas in running are not muscle, but tendons or connective tissue. So by strengthening these and thereby promoting consistent training, you’ll have better race results.
Teach your body to be a better fat burner. While you have a limited amount of glycogen (carbs) stored in the muscles (around 2,000 calories worth), your fat supplies are almost limitless. Becoming more efficient at burning fat as fuel is a huge plus for distances like the marathon.
So yeah, Shorter was right, because increasing your long run miles will translate to faster race times.
Upcoming races: Saturday, April 15 Run With The Pack 5K, 7:30 a.m. at Lehman High School in Kyle. Sunday, April 15, the Statesman Capitol 10,000, 8:00 a.m. at the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin.