The weekly long run can be tricky for runners to get their heads around. It’s one of those slippery but essential elements of training—like “easy days” or “hard” efforts—that not only differs from one person to the next, but is also tough to pin down for ourselves. Depending on a runner’s goals, experience and abilities, the weekly long run might range from a few minutes to several hours, or might vary in length from hundreds of meters to tens of kilometers. Despite the countless possible variations, long runs of all distances and durations may have something in common: clear signs that your longest run of the week is too long, and that it’s time to dial things back. If you’re wondering whether your concept of the long run could use some reworking, keep these clues in mind.
The numbers don’t add up
The total distance you run per week can offer sound guidance for limiting the length or time of your long run. According to famed US running coach jack daniels, runners who are racking up fewer than 40 miles over the week should limit their long run to 30 percent of their total weekly distance. For those logging more than that in a week, the long run shouldn’t exceed 25 per cent of the week’s total distance—or 150 minutes, whichever comes first.
Marathon workout: the race simulation long run
As the length and possibly the duration of your long run will increase in the course of training for an event like the marathon, increases need to be made wisely. Daniels recommends that runners not change their total weekly distance for four weeks before bumping up their weekly total, and by extension, the distance of their long runs. If the distance of your long run relative to your weekly mileage, or the frequency of increases to your long-run distance, shoots above these guidelines, it’s a sign you should trim your long runs accordingly.
Even if you’re sticking to those guidelines, your body can be sending you strong signals that you need to cut things back further. The most urgent warnings come in the form of recurring injuries. Pay attention to injuries or niggles that consistently resurface after your long runs. They might indicate that the distance is placing excessive stress on your body. Heed these warning signs and consider trimming the length of your long run to prevent further injury.
A plummeting pace
If you find your pace significantly drops toward the end of your long run, and you struggle to keep a consistent speed, it could indicate the distance is too long for your current fitness level. Try cutting off the distance of your long run at the point your pace starts to plummet, and if that new distance is sustainable, cap your long runs there for the next four weeks before returning to your original distance.
A prolonged lack of enthusiasm and persistently diminished motivation may be a clue that you’re consistently pushing yourself too hard during long runs. It’s crucial to strike a balance between challenging yourself and maintaining a positive mindset to make progress in your training. (Declining motivation could, of course, be due to any number of other factors, including that you are running your long runs too fast.)
Low heart rate variability (HRV)
More running watches and fitness trackers are adding heart rate variability (HRV) measurement to their long list of metrics. Low HRV—the natural variation in tempo from one heartbeat to the next—might be an indication that your long runs are too demanding for your current level of fitness. Shorten your long runs for at least the next two weeks and make note of your HRV. If you start scoring higher, it’s a good sign that the length of your training runs was the culprit.