Whether you’re training for a marathon or just want to improve your basic fitness level, extending the distance of your weekly long run is a must. A few of the ways running long helps include:
- Building leg strength
- Improving overall endurance
- Teaching your body to burn a higher percentage of fat for fuel
- Increasing mental toughness for upcoming races
While the length of your long run may vary depending on your goals, the basic principles are the same. Use these tips to increase the mileage of your weekly long run slowly and strategically to avoid injury and improve your overall running fitness.
1. DON’T INCREASE THE DISTANCE OF EVERY RUN
Before you begin increasing the length of your long run, you should have a good idea of your baseline mileage. This is the total number of miles you feel comfortable running in one week.
As you focus on increasing the length of your longest run, keep your baseline mileage the same to avoid injury. Pick one day per week where you’ll tackle your weekly long run. If your longest previous run is 7 miles, only add 1–1 1/2 miles each week until you reach your goal. This helps you stay within the 10% rule and keeps you from increasing weekly mileage too quickly.
If you’re a marathoner or more experienced runner with a higher baseline mileage, adding 2–3 miles each week to your long run may be doable.
2. GO SLOWER
The tradeoff for going long is you’ll have to go slower. If you try to increase your distance at the same pace you tackle your shorter runs, you probably won’t have the energy for those last few miles. Because of this, it’s good idea to worry less about your pace and more about finishing the distance.
If you like to keep track of your running metrics, slow your speed and add around 2 minutes per mile to your normal pace. It may feel incredibly slow, but remember the goal here is building endurance. You can always work on your speed with your weekly interval workouts.
If you notice you’re still struggling at the end of your long runs, take short walk breaks every few miles. You’ll still build your endurance along the way while you slowly increase your mileage.
3. EAT MORE
When your run goes over the hour mark, you’ll need to consume carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish what you’re losing during exercise. This keeps you from bonking and feeling sluggish during the latter part of your run.
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The basic rule of thumb is to include 30–60 grams of carbohydrates for each hour of your run, depending on how much you weigh. Also include an electrolyte drink in your water to replenish what you’re losing through sweat.
4. RUN WITH OTHERS
One of the toughest challenges you’ll face as you begin to run longer and farther is motivation. While the challenge of staying focused and pushing through rough patches builds mental toughness, it won’t always be easy — and running with others can help. Whether it’s a training partner or a running group, the social component helps avoid boredom and might even spark healthy competition. A training partner who is experienced and accustomed to running longer distances can also be invaluable, providing helpful tips when things get rough.
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Joining a weekend fun run can also be a good way to increase your long-run distance in a more festive atmosphere. If the race isn’t the exact distance you’re looking to tackle, it’s OK to run to a planned mile marker before calling it quits.
5. BACK OFF EVERY FOUR WEEKS
To build endurance and allow your body to adapt to the stress of running longer, you’ll need to give yourself time to recover properly. In addition to limiting yourself to one long run per week and light runs/rest days before and after that run, it also means decreasing your weekly mileage every four weeks. This recovery period gives your body time to adapt, get stronger and reduces the likelihood of overtraining.
If you normally do two fast workouts per week, do one during your recovery week. If your long run is 15 miles, decrease this by about 5 miles (or around 20–30%). You can also replace some of your other runs with low-impact, cross-training activities like cycling or rowing. Once your recovery week is over, resume your weekly long-run schedule and continue to build your distance slowly from where you left off.