Pacing Your Long Runs

While I’m in the process of rebuilding my aerobic fitness, I’ve been looking into the right way to do long runs.

The weekly long run is a ritual every runner has done, but did you know there are many ways to use those hours on the road? Many times we just go out and run easy for a set amount of time. This builds cardio capacity, stimulates the body to burn fat more efficiently, and gives you time on your feet. This is the kind of run you can do weekly.

Competitive marathoners also do a different kind of long run done at race pace. They take a set distance or time, then break it up into chunks. Here’s an example Competitor Magazine gives.

Distance: 25 kilometers as 2 x 10K, then 5K goal pace with 4-6 minutes easy between efforts.
Time: 65 minutes as 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes at goal pace with 2-3 minutes easy between efforts.

This long hard run takes a lot longer to recover from, so it’s only done once a month at a maximum of three times in the training cycle leading up to a race. The idea is to push the body to run a sustained effort over a longer period of time.

Another kind of long run starts off easy and then builds into faster than race pace toward the end. This teaches your body to run fast even when tired and builds mental strength for the closing miles of a marathon or other long race. This kind of run session proposed on McMillan Running comes in during the final two months leading into a marathon. Alternate the “Fast Finish” long runs with easy long runs to allow your body to recover.

I think the main ideas here are:

  • knowing what your paces are and running at those paces at the right times within your training schedule, and
  • layering the speed and intensity on only if you’re already physically fit and taking appropriate measures to recover.

Otherwise you risk fatigue, illness, or injury.

Now, whether your training and race paces are based on heart rate or on past race performance is up to you. There are a number of online calculators that will do the math for you, like this one for paces based on past performance, or this one to determine optimal heart rate training zones.

Obviously you put your body under less stress if you’re able to run at lower heart rates.

I once wrote about doing my endurance runs at a pace dictated by the 180 Formula, targeting a maximum heart rate (or MAF number) of 155 beats per minute and training in the range of 145-155 bpm. However, I calculated that range when I was younger, fitter, and hadn’t been ill.

How to calculate MAF number:

  1. Subtract your age from 180.
  2. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  3. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
  4. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
  5. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

These days, my MAF is at 142 bpm due to age and illness. Therefore, I need to swallow my pride because my pace needs to be slower to train for endurance more effectively.

The good news is, if disciplined enough to continue training at this heart rate, eventually my heart will become more efficient and I can start running faster at the same heart rate. The bad news is (especially for impatient types like me!), it may take a while for that to happen.

I’ve already gone through this training protocol before but just didn’t have the discipline or patience to continue despite seeing good results. It was taking too long; I wanted to go faster already! As a result, I did everything at too high an intensity and heart rate, failing to recover properly. Do that repeatedly for a couple of years, you can dig a pretty deep hole for yourself. Ayan, now I’m overtrained and need to start from scratch.

It will be a while before I’m back to running the paces I’m used to. I’m hoping if I stay the course this time around I can be running those paces easier, too.

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