Whether you're training for the NYC Marathon or want to increase your endurance for a 10K race, long runs are the key to the kingdom. A weekly long run can help you build your stamina and running efficiency, improving your fitness level while burning lots of calories. After an hour of slow running, your body will tap into fat burning mode instead of burning carbs. Long runs can therefore be an asset in your weight loss program as well as a tool to help you run faster in races of all distances by improving your stamina.
Here are a few quick tips on how to incorporate the long run into your training program:
- Do a long run once a week, on a day after an easy workout or rest day.
- Take a rest day or do an easy run the day after your long run so your body can recuperate. Doing a short shake out run at a slow pace will help work the lactic acid out of your muscles the day after a long run.
- Gradually add miles to your long run. Start with the longest distance you’ve run in the past two weeks and add one mile a week to your long run. Every third week, lower your long run distance by at least a few miles, then continue increasing the mileage the following week.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water every few miles, or try sports drinks for runs over an hour. Runners’ tolerance for sports drinks varies, so test them out on your long runs before deciding to drink them during a race. Water is always a healthy fluid option that is less likely to cause stomach upset, but for half marathons and longer, I recommend using some sort of sports gel or fuel to help replace lost electrolytes.
- Eat something within 30 minutes of finishing your long run. Eating will help replenish depleted glycogen so your muscles can recover more quickly. Try a piece of fruit such as a banana for a quick sugar surge as well as vitamins and minerals. (Bananas are so popular among runners because they contain potassium, which your body burns through during long runs).
- During runs of 10 miles or longer, try sports gels, bars or drinks to give your body an energy boost. Experiment with different flavors and consistencies to determine what works best for your stomach and energy level.
- Eat a large meal within a few hours after your long run. You will need to resupply lost nutrients in your body as well as satisfy what is probably a huge appetite after running. Just remember to keep your choices healthy, especially if your goal is weight loss. A long run is not a free pass to pig out on fried foods, junk food and candy, or you’ll cancel out many of the benefits of your run.
- Congratulate yourself! Celebrate your long run milestone and help yourself rejuvenate with a soothing bath (epsom salts are great to ease sore muscles), some restorative yoga or other relaxing activity you enjoy. Celebrating your milestones is vital to staying motivated and positive, and enjoying your training. You're killing it, be proud!