The Long and Medium Runs

One of the important principles of running without injury is running heavy/light. The two words, heavy and light refer to the stress on your body not to your effort in completing the run. A light run should always follow a heavy run, because the light run gives your body extra time to recover from the heavy run. Sports doctors say we need at least 48 hours between heavy runs for recovery, and the light run gives us that 48 hours. Light cross training such as swimming, cycling, walking, or lifting light weights could be used instead of a light run.

Since a week only has seven days, the most one can expect to run in a week is three heavy runs, the remaining runs being rest runs. Some of us, because of our age or other factors that limit the amount of stress that our bodies can handle, only plan for one or two heavy days per week. Since I'm currently running three days per week, the strategy that works well for me is to have two heavy runs and one rest run per week. The remaining four days are not running days for me, although I may eventually add a fourth day of running which will be a second rest run.


My Plan for Running

My week is geared to half marathons and is planned as follows:

Monday or Tuesday: a rest run (light) of 5 miles
Wednesday or Thursday: a medium run (heavy) of 10 miles
Saturday: a long run (heavy) of 13-15 miles

Currently, I'm running one rest run  of 3+ miles and two medium runs of 4+ miles per week, but I've used the plan given above in the past and will use it in the future. As soon as my Monday or Tuesday run reaches 5 miles, I'll cap it. When my Wednesday or Thursday run reaches 7 miles, I'll cap that run as my medium run, and as soon as my Saturday run reaches 10 miles, I'll cap that as my long run. Then, after my body has gotten used to those distances, I'll slowly advance the medium and long runs to reach the numbers given above. I'm letting my body tell me how fast to increase my distance, but I expect it will take at least two years to reach the 10 and 13 mile distances.


The Long Run is the Key to Distance Running

Look at my distance figures from the viewpoint of stress. A run of 5 miles is a rest run that puts minimum stress on my body. The purpose of that run is to let my body recover from a previous heavy run. The medium run of 10 miles is to increase the stress on my body but to not maximize that stress. The long run of 13 miles is to significantly increase the stress on my body. This run is the most important of the three runs, because the stress is greatest, and my body will become the strongest as it recovers from the long run.

How Long Should the Long-Run Be?

Here is an easy way to determine how long your long-run should be. Through experience and a little bit of experimentation, determine how long you can be running and still feel relativity fine. You want to feel tired but not fatigued, and you want to be looking forward to your next run. If you run for time instead of for distance, use that time for your long-run. If you run for distance instead of for time, see how many miles you run in that time, and use that distance for your long-run. Keep in mind that the long-run is a LSD run. No speed training and no hill training. Of course you might have hills in your route, but you run, jog, or walk the hills and keep on going. No going up and down the hills several times. As your body gets used to the long-run, you can increase the time or distance of the run in 10% or less increments.

When I ran marathons in my mid 40s, my long run was 15 miles, and I ran that distance in two hours. I'm older now and my long-run is 6-7 miles. That distance takes me about 140 minutes (2 hours 20 minutes). This means that even though I'm much older now and run fewer miles, I'm still on my feet running or walking for about the same time that I did 35 years ago. This means that I'm still in good physical shape!

A question to be answered is how does one tell when he/she is fatigued? Here is my answer. If I'm tired at the end of a run but not fatigued, I will be happy about my run. I will look forward to the next run. However, if I'm fatigued, I'll be discouraged by my run. I won't look forward to the next run and may consider giving up running altogether. If I do become fatigued, I need to back off a bit in the time of my run and allow my body to become stronger. A key aspect of successful running is that when I finish a run, I'm happy about my running and look forward to the next run.

Long Runs Prepare for Racing

There are two aspects of distance racing: endurance over the distance and speed. The long run is the key run in terms of developing endurance, and speed workouts are the key runs for developing speed. Running hills is important for developing body-strength, and body-strength is important for both endurance and speed. With the exception of the marathon, long runs that are part of the training for shorter races should be at least as long as the race. Long runs for marathon training should approach the marathon distance. The following table gives suggested long-run distances for common races. Running those distances will help your body adjust to the distances before the race, thus allowing your body to focus on speed during the race.

5K: 5 miles (8 km)
5 Mile: 7 miles (11 km)
10K: 8 miles (13 km)
Half-marathon: 15 miles (24 km)
Marathon: 15-23 miles (24-37 km)

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