The Long Run with Coach K: The Why

Some may love it, some may dread it, but almost all runners will do it: the long run. It’s an integral part of many runners’ training plans, and although some are nowadays stepping away from the practice, instead splitting their long runs into two sessions, the majority of people training for their goal races will be sacrificing their weekend mornings and days to these runs. If you’re one of us hitting the roads and trails for longer than usual, Coach K is here to walk you through the long run and all its intricacies.

(This is the first in a three-part series covering the long run. We’ll look at why it’s important, what it should look like, and how to navigate its challenges and rewards as your training progresses.)

Written by Coach K (Karen Peterson – coachkaren1964(AT)
Edited by Pavlína Marek

If you’ve committed to training for one of the distances at the SFM Marathon—anything from the 5K to the ultra—congratulations! You’ve made a commitment that will keep bringing rewards long past race day. And if you’ve signed up for one of our training programs, double congrats! Our professionally-designed programs will help you navigate your calendar as you move toward your event.

The Why of the Long Run

As your training progresses, you’ll see an increased emphasis on the long run. It’s your weekly chance to put in more mileage to adapt your body to the rigors of being out for a while. If you’re lucky enough to have an in-person training group with a coach, a lot of the heavy lifting will be done for you (location, mileage options, even snacks!). But if you don’t have access to a group, fear not… There are lots of resources available to make your long (solo) outing successful, even joyful. 

I’m no scientist, but the WHY behind the long run is pretty cool. (Here’s a nerdy explanation of what it accomplishes on a cellular level. But it’s not about mitochondria and capillaries—going long also helps the cells between your ears adapt to the mental challenges of being out for a while. It’s your time to utilize your mantras and use mindfulness techniques to tune into your body. 

Your Body

The long run, of course, increases your physical stamina (even on the cellular level!) and prepares you for the moment when fatigue sets in. Depending on the distance, nausea can also make an appearance, and it’s good to be ready for it. The long run offers a chance to experience all these things and figure out what works for you in terms of pacing, mid-run stretches, etc.

“Long runs produce many beneficial physiological changes. According to Running Times Columnist and Coach Greg McMillan, when you run long, you physically increase enzymes in your muscle cells and grow capillaries, which are the small vessels that surround the cells. These important changes allow more oxygen to be delivered to the working muscles. You also strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.”

Interested in the nitty-gritty? Read The Importance of the Long Run by June Calet for Summa Health!

Your Brain

When you run, how often do you notice the rhythm in which your feet strike the ground? What about the angle at which the sun shines? And have you tried focusing on how your breath flows in and out of your lungs? “Mindful running is about engaging all of your senses and physical sensations and keeping your focus on how they are responding to the environment and the exercise. By starting slowly, you can pay attention to how your body responds as you slowly increase your pace and movement,” wrote Elaine Mead in her article How to Benefit from Mindful Running & Mindful Exercise for Positive Psychology.

Running intentionally will help you focus on your body and figure out better what it needs. It’ll also allow your brain to get used to the distance. In short, the longer your race, the more important is your mind game. Some go as far as to say that running an ultra is 40% physical and 60% (or more!) mental. When it starts to feel like your run is falling apart, “acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, but don’t dwell on them,” wrote Mead. “If you find yourself ruminating or becoming critical, gently bring your attention back to your breath instead of these thoughts.”

Your Bag, Beer, and Burritos

The long run is also an opportunity for you to focus on things like gear, fueling, hydration, and other logistics of self-care that go into any long run. These are the building blocks of your race day plan. There are a thousand and one fuelling strategies out there but there are also many runners, especially in the ultrarunning world, who decided to skip them all and rely on beer and burritos.

The long run is your opportunity to figure out what works for YOU. Try as many things as you can to build your perfect battle plan and don’t rely only on well-marketed gels, chews, and other supplements. They might have their place in your game plan, however, it’s always important to try if a specific brand or type of product works for you.

Next time, we’ll break down the WHAT of your long run and tackle some logistics. In the third and final post of this series, we’ll dig into the HOW—every runner is different, and we’ll explore some tools to tailor your long run to your experience level, life circumstance, age, and more.

Want some more detailed guidance? Email me at Run happy!

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