Gotta Run: The magical long run

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

Almost every runner should be doing a long run. The distances of that long run vary as much as there are different training plans and goals. Usually, the long run is done once a week or a couple of times a month.

My running career is now in its 37th year, a fact that might surprise you but is almost mind boggling to me. During those many years of running, the long run in some form has been a constant.

What is the purpose of the long run?  For most of us, the long run increases endurance and provides the mental assuredness that a goal distance can be accomplished. I mentioned distance before, and here is how it matters. If your goal is just to complete a first time half marathon (13.1 miles), I would advise you to train with a long run of at least 14 miles. If the goal distance is a marathon (26.2 miles), then I suggest a long run of 22-23 miles. Some might find it odd that I want the first time half marathoner to run farther than 13.1 in training, yet the marathoner doesn’t train for the whole distance. The difference is that recovering from a long run of 14 miles is much easier than one of 27 miles.

The rule of thumb is that for every mile raced, a day of recovery is required. That rule is meant more for long races, but I believe the same is true for those who race just 5Ks except when the runner has trained by running farther than the actual race distance. A runner who primarily races 5K (3.1 miles) but has a weekly long run of 8-10 miles is going to recover from the 5K race much quicker than another runner who only runs a maximum distance of 4-5 miles.

From my own personal history of long runs, I learned quite a bit over 30 years of competitive racing. I am what is considered an old school runner, one who believes that putting in the training will bring the desired results. I never found a gimmick that could replace proper training. Often, today’s younger runners expect big results from improper training. How often does a high school cross country runner expect to race well by only training for four months a year? I hear from the runner or the parents when they get beat handily by the year-round runner. When I tell them that their young runner needs to run all year, some of them start making excuses. Comments like, “He plays other sports and can only run during cross country season,” or, “She has dancing and between that and homework, there isn’t time to run” sound quite empty when he or she is trying to beat the kid who runs four to five days a week, year-round. Running year-round is a version of using the long run to achieve the desired results. It’s not that the year-round runner can’t take days or a week off, it’s just that they make the choice to make training a regular habit.

Long runs are old school, too. The pace of the long run is generally slower than the intended race pace. In fact, for most people, the goal is to just cover the distance. I tell my clients who want to truly race a half marathon or marathon that they have to believe they can cover the distance. The best way to do this is to cover most of the race distance on your long run. Mentally, those runners won’t doubt that they can cover those last miles running out of gas. And for many of us, the long run was very enjoyable as a time of deep thought, problem solving and mind clearing. I truly enjoyed my long training runs and looked forward to them. My longest was run was 32 miles, but yours can be much less. If you run three miles on four days a week and then seven on one day, then the seven counts as your long run. That means every proper long run will benefit your training.

It is time to think about the upcoming Beginning Runners Class that begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13 in the lobby meeting room at Novant Health. Look for more information at or call 704-310-6741.

David Freeze is a nationally certified running coach and president of the Salisbury Rowan Runners. Contact him at Learn more at