Improving Aerobic Ability: The Long Run

Every runner needs to develop their endurance and push it as high as it can go. Long runs improve endurance drastically. Sprinters don’t need it so much, especially down to 100m and 60m, but it’s always useful to have. Even the 200m requires some endurance, and the 5k almost completely requires endurance. It only increases as the distance goes up.

One of the best ways to increase your endurance is through the long run. The long run is as simple as the name suggests – a long run. This could be a distance of 6k, 11k, or even 19k. It’s all up to what you would consider a long distance. During this type of run, the runner takes the pace slow and easy. A long run is all about relaxing. What this means is that unlike intervals, or fartleks, or hill training, you’re letting you body relax into a pace that’s easy for you. By running easy, you focus on your aerobic efficiency.

The long run:

A huge chunk of your weekly volume can come from the long run, and it’s not just empty klicks. This is all about controlling pace and learning how your body works. The general idean is to take an easy run, slow it down, and add distance.

Using this simple concept, you purely work on your aerobic energy systems. To make sure you’re working on this energy system, run at a pace where you can speak with relative ease. If it’s hard to say a complete sentence, you might need to slow down. This type of run is definitely not a race. Running this slow may feel wrong, or at too gentle of a pace, but it’s perfect for developing endurance. The distance is what makes this so effective.

If you’re a beginner who has hit 5k, a good long run distance would be to continue running 5k at an easy, relaxed pace. If the idea comes off as crazy and too hard, try taking 2-3 minutes per km off of your first 5k pace. Long runs should be at a speed of roughly 60-75% of your 5k race pace. This works for the majority of runners. Go faster if you’re more comfortable, or go slower if you feel the pace is too much for the distance.

After figuring out your pace, you need a trail/road to do your run on. The distance you want to run is the deciding factor for finding the perfect route(s).

Longs run should be at a speed of roughly 60-75% of your 5k pace.

Choosing the distance:

Depending on what your goals are and what your abilities are, the distance you run varies. If, for example, you’re building up to running a 5k, it would be best to do 3-4k at a very easy pace. However, after you reach that milestone a huge variety of options open up. Preparing for a 10k, or improving your 5k, or even training for a marathon are all possibilities. Maybe even track events have tickled your fancy, and you’d like to run more aerobic focused events such as the 1500m or 3000m.

If you haven’t ran up to a distance of 5k yet, disregard the following notes and work towards building up slowly to 5k. It’s a huge milestone, be careful not to skip over it.

For track athletes: The distance doesn’t need to be incredibly high. A long run of 7-10km is more than enough for most events.

For 5k runners to half-marathoners: Most of the energy used for these longer events comes from the aerobic system, so the long run becomes much more important. A beginner should start with 7k and start building up to 10k with each long run. After reaching the 10k milestone, increasing the distance up to 16k will provide a ton of benefits. Of course, running even longer than that can help, but is not necessary to run a great race. For example, running the distance of a half-marathon before the actual event can help build up endurance and confidence for the race.

For marathoners: As said with the previous section, a beginner should start with 7k and start building up to 10k with each long run. Increasing the distances is quite necessary after reaching the 10k milestone in order to prepare you for a marathon. If you’re a beginner, this might be scary, but breaking out of your comfort zone will help you reach the long distance of a marathon. Pushing long runs from 10k to 16+k will greatly improve the speed at which you improve your aerobic ability. Similarly to the half-marathon runners, running a distance close to event length can help – such as 30k (this is absolutely not necessary though). It may seem excessive, but before you can run a marathon, you need to be able to run this distance in the first place. Testing it yourself is a great way to set a benchmark.

After picking a distance, now you just need to find a road or trail with enough stretch to allow you to run the distance. Scenic routes are the best as there will be a lot of time spent on your feet. A long run on a treadmill is not recommended for boredom reasons, but go ahead if you enjoy the treadmill.

Run and realize the benefits:

The long run provides a wide array of benefits to any runner. Of course, due to the length of the run it takes a toll on the body and recovery is required. Despite this, it is a wonderful form of training. Here are the benefits:

  • Strengthens the slow-twitch and intermediate leg muscles.
  • Increases willpower and mental strength.
  • Improves aerobic efficiency.
  • Increases the heart’s stroke volume.
  • Increases capillary growth in muscle fibers.
  • Raises mitochondria numbers and size.
  • Increases myoglobin concentration in muscle fibers.

Doing a long run once a week will help improve your cardiorespiratory system and decrease times in longer events drastically. Long runs make noticeable, constant improvements. Plus, they’re fun! A lot of the long run is spent just thinking over the day, relaxing, and enjoying nature. It allows you to train without feeling like you’re training.

The long run is great.

Road image courtesy of Harold Litwiler under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Caleb Thompson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and other Amazon stores worldwide.

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