Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Long Run - How Important is it REALLY?

15 Miles- 1:55 - 10.25 miles warm up (80min)- 4 mile cut down run- 26:34- 0.75 c dn

Very good run last night. It was supposed to be a hard day and rather than do some reps work (200-400m efforts) I felt like doing more threshold pace work. I want my hard days to be in the 12-20 mile range so I ran a big warm up. Then running on my Sinai mile loop "1520m" I ran 6:32, 6:26,6:12, 6:04 in a cut down manner. I actually felt better in miles 3 and 4 than the first one.

So after reading a lot of blogs,, and ultralist postings I have been wondering about long runs. How much is TOO much and how LONG do you need to run? I suppose it all depends.... I know my Brother has run an 8- hour 50 mile off a long run of 12 miles. My Dad ran an 11:30- 50 mile at age 66 off a long run of 15. I ran a 25 hour- 100 mile at RR in 2004 with long runs of 20 and 50K and averaging 30 miles per week in the 4 months prior. But, I ran 16:28 at the 2002 RR 100 after having done 7 runs of 50k-67miles in the 16 weeks prior to that race.

So what about the FAST guys? I remember when Dave Dunham of Massachusetts entered the ultra distance world and ran a great 6:46100K after only running a 26.2 marathon on consecutive weekends as his longest "training" run. Dave does have PR' s of 14:08 for 5K, 29:17 10K, 1:00:53 20K, 2:19:28 marathon, and 2:57:36 for 50K, However. I remember reading and talking to him back when I lived and raced a lot in Mass. He ran multiple times per week but of a shorter distance (3-10 milers, but 10-18 runs a week).

Other folks like the Lydiard system (like the U of Colorado program) and insist on running singles and getting your mileage in fewer but longer runs. They say you develop a better aerobic system doing it that way (it creates more extensive capillary networks in the muscles). I don't know... miles are miles, and more is better up to about 70mpw, then your risk of injury goes way up and the percent gain from your effort is slightl. In order to handle high mileage you need to for one thing have the time, then the strength of the connective tissues and tendons, denser bones, ect.... This happens over a long period of time. After running for many years, one can start improving from 80-100-140miles a week. But, some folks never can. I can build to and hold 85-105 mile weeks only briefly then I seem to get injured. when I have raced my best and had those feelings of invicibility where I could not even make myself sore anymore...they came after a week here, a week or two there of REALLY high mileage, or a succession of REALLY long runs 2-3 weeks apart.

Many 100K and 100 mile racers train by doing a long run of 4 hours but run it at or under race pace, while others go out for 8-12 hour training efforts. Many more still simply "bounce" from ultra to ultra never really doing LONG training runs on their own, but take part in 10-15 ultras a year. Most ultrarunners d0 fade badly in races of 100k- 100mile distance when you look at 50k/50mile splits v. finish times. Is this due to a "collapse point"; a theory that one's body will operate well for a set time period it is used to operating at, then dramatically slow after that time period has passed.

I first remember reading about the "collapse Point" in a book by Bob Glover, then I read something similiar byTim Noakes . His "central Governor Theory" is described in his incredible read The Lore of Running. By the way, if you do not own this book, you are not as serious about running as you think you are.

Noakes basically makes the case that the limit on performance comes from the mind. The mind is simply trying to protect itself/you from damage. And if it has only been established that you can run for 4 hours and safely live/recover to run a gain after that set amount of time, then running for a time period longer than this is going to be advancing into UNKNOWN territory and your mind is going to slow everything down in an effort to protect you from yourself. Pain and fatigue signals are going to be especially heightened making running difficult. One can continue, but you slow down. In 50-62 miles this can be 1-2min per mile slower, in 100 milers it can be the difference between running and walking or 10+ minutes per mile. (Trust me walking 22:30 per mile for 50 miles IS NOT FUN!)

As an exercise physiologist, I know their are definitely physiological things going on that cause one to slow as well. Nutrition intake is critical and if you can not continue to take in 250kcals of energy an hour or at least 1/3 of the kcals you are expending, you will slow down dramatically. The greatest ultrarunner to ever live is without a doubt Yannis Kouros. He was able to exactly match energy expenditure and intake during a 6 day race in which he set the world record. For the rest of us mortals caloric intake is usually the limiting factor. In 100 milers I can feel (and hear) when I am completely depleted and relying completely on fat oxidation for energy. Because you need much more oxygen to act as the final H+ ion acceptor during fat oxidation than you do with glucose oxidation. Thus, you end up breathing at a higher rate even when you are jogging, walking or even sitting. It can get ugly...

but, alas, assuming all things are equal with fluid / energy intakes and fitness (marathon PR's). Will someone who has done training efforts of 6-8 hours beat someone who has only done long runs of 4 hours in a race of 50, 62 or 100 miles? Even if the 4 hour long run runner runs at a pace 2-3min per mile faster than the LONG long runner?

I think so. I think the LONG long run makes one's fat mobilization process more efficient. We all have enough stored fat (even the leanest of us) to fuel efforts of 200 + miles. But, not everyone has high levels of the enzymes needed to break the fatty acids chains stored in muscle and subcutaneous tissue down into a usable form. For this reason..... optimizing the amount of lipo-lipase C (the ezyme of fat mobilization).....I think the LONG long run is more important than weekly mileage, more important then frequency of 2-3 hour runs, and more important than the pace held during training runs.

But, these LONG long runs have their place in the training cycle. I believe they need to come at the end, near the race itself, and AFTER one has developed the speed and strength. (But that brings up another interesting question..... How close to your peak race do you do your last LONG long run?) What I am trying to do now is get the speed..... then Next month I hope to do some long ones. Stayed tuned, solo 50 milers in the Egyptian desert in late May and June should be fun!


Addy said...

Very interesting post! I'll admit that I've skimmed through parts, as its the middle of the night here in CA and I've been up for a good number of hours, but I'm definitely planning to come back and read it again when I'm slightly more coherent. The question of how long a long run should be is a really good one, and one that I'm grappling with as I'm heading into my first 50k.

Brian said...

Greg- just thought I'd give you a little love with a comment. Good food for thought - I've run marathons with long runs of 4-5 hours (26-30 miles); my first 50 is in September. I'm tentatively planning on a long run of 40 miles, but as a rookie I'm open to wisdom. My base runs are 10 miles three times per week, with a long run on the weekend - and I never do speedwork (need to). How important is speedwork to your training?

Sherpa John said...

My longest run was 50 mile in prep for my 1st 100 this weekend.... but the runs I felt were important were the 50K I ran EVERYweek for the last month topping off with a weeked of Fri=20, Sat=30, Sun=20.

Whatever works best right?? We'll see if it does.


Dave said...

I agree with you. I believe the long run is important for a few reasons.

First, the body can't solely burn carbohydrates indefinitely - but if you don't do a longggg run - at least in my case, I'll burn too much carbohydrate/too little fat early on.

Second, I believe you have to train what you race in the sense that if you run a 100; your body needs to be adept at processing intake calories on the run. If you haven't practiced this on a run of sufficient length where the body needs to take in calories, the processing will be sub-optimal.

Kim said...

Mind over matter. My longest run before my 100 miler was 41 miles. I thought I was undertrained, then my husband reminded me I had finished.
I never thought about limitations and didn't think about dropping and didn't focus on the pain.

oneday100miles said...

Greg- good read! I think that you need to train your body with the long run. I feel that this is as much a mental training as it is a physical training. Keep up the good work and keep writing great posts. Hope to see you in the states soon.

I'll be running the McNaughton Parks Trail run 100 with Sherpa John this weekend and hopefully we'll have a post for you to read next week.

God Bless and Good Running

Geoff said...

Very interesting post. If you find an answer to this "question" please let us know. I ran my first 100 in February and did 50 miles as my longest training run. That seemed to work ok for me, but in the future i think i would maybe go a bit longer in training (60-70 miles). because such a large part of pushing your body beyond what you've already put it through is mental I think it makes sense to do a quite LONG long run so as to minimize the length in your race that will be new territory within your current training cycle. then again I am also very intriqued by the people i read about who do only 30-50 miles a week, with long runs of 20 miles in prep. for 100 milers. this is also an approach that is very intriquing to me. i guess the reality is that it's different for everyone.

GotLegs! said...

Interesting read ... I'm not very scientific about running on purpose. I've been "running" for 32 years and found (about 20 years ago), that I enjoy running more if I don't dwell on the science. It works for me. However, I go through spells of wanting to improve so I investigate and will sometimes even wear a watch.

Your emphatic comments, while I tend to disagree with most of them, are great! I'd rather hear from someone with an opinion that those who are afraid to theirs out there.

The comment about the Noakes book you made, "By the way, if you do not own this book, you are not as serious about running as you think you are," made me laugh. I generally don't read running rags or books. I find them elitist in nature and not of use for the average runner. By chance, my son was looking for a birthday present for me and bought me this book. Most of what I read seemed obvious to me - except the science part which just put me to sleep. No offense, it's just not my thing.

The history of ultra running was interesting to read ... once. I probably should hand that off to someone now that I think if it, as it's sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust.

So actually you're wrong. I am as serious about running as I think I am ... not very serious that is.

Keep up the good posts. I like reading from those who write from the heart.

All in good fun ;-) *tc

Ben, aka BadBen said...

It's nice hearing from you, again.
Bad Ben

Abichal said...

well your plea for some response prodded some action here it seems.

Dave said "if you don't do a longggg run - at least in my case, I'll burn too much carbohydrate/too little fat early on."

This made me think that there is no specific formula - everybody has to find the zone for themselves and the only way they can find that that zone is by putting the miles in and experimenting.

I will extend this thought on my blog, 51 Days at

Ellie said...

Wow, this is great stuff! I'm just now training for my first 50-miler and you've addressed questions I've been wondering about. I linked to you blog from the Ultra list. Glad I did!

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