How to Improve Long Runs

I finished the 2015 TCS NYC Marathon having difficulty walking after crossing the finish line and being unable to properly move my body, let alone walk for a week and a half after the race.

Hi! I’m Coach Alli! If you’re new to my blog. WELCOME! I’m thrilled to share a part of my running journey with you in hopes it’ll help you execute smarter training and better running while keeping the process enjoyable, challenging, and fun! 🙂

My first 20-miler run this morning was a success of the current marathon build-up. Woot! Felt AMAZING after 8 hours of sleep uninterrupted. I drank lots of water last night (a little less than a gallon). I had a BLAST participating in the 4x400m relay at the Adidas Running Adizero Games with a few running ladies yesterday! See our glowy smiles below! I ate lots of cantaloupe and berries for the rest of yesterday afternoon. Great way to stay hydrated with electrolytes and water! I woke up to a peaceful morning routine, heading out the door and planning on worrying about the time spent on my feet! It was SUCH a fun run, embracing all of the GOOD, accepting the initial discomfort of the NYC summer heat, and just saying YES! I definitely caught myself saying out loud “one step at a time” several times throughout the run today, too 🙂

Adidas Adizero Games 2022 #Runwithallisquad Team!

How long is too long? This is one of the questions I get asked often and ask myself. There should be a purpose behind every run. Factors such as your current fitness, age, skin color, environment, history, target, goal races, and available time to train all play a role in how the long run will be structured in your training.

Set a goal date to run x amount of miles. Understand the limit, distance, and goal times.

For 5k and 10k runners, a long run could be 90 mins. For a marathoner, a long run could be 3 hours.

Why do we include a long run? What’s its purpose?

Running long does the following:

  • Boosts mental strength
  • Helps to create muscular and physical adaptations
  • Efficiently trains our body to use fat as a source of fuel

Boosts Mental Strength

Running for 3 hours on your feet feels long, so mentally, you adapt to the challenge, and you physically need to strength to do it. Time on your feet needs to align with the challenge you’ve planned.

Helps to create muscular and physical adaptations

Muscle soreness happens, and we train to reduce the recovery process by progressively running longer in training. Recovery periods, including sleep, allow our muscles to adapt to the stress of exercise and strengthen. DOMS can hurt, but we adapt to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by running long in training.

After a long tempo run, feeling strong, happy, and injury-free!

Efficiently trains our body to use fat as a source of fuel

We can store so many carbohydrates, so once those stores get used, we can top them up or slow down and maybe even stop. Endurance athletes need to tap into unlimited fat stores. Teaching our bodies to use fat as fuel during the long run is a great place to do this, and the more efficient you become at this, the longer you can run and the longer you can maintain a pace. Ultimately, the whole training experience will be better and more enjoyable.

Should You Run For Time or Run For Distance?

Running longer requires running slower, especially to burn fat. The long run is personal for you.

Running harder and faster has a place. Structuring that to align with your goals is smarter than randomly adding speed bouts to your long run. How do you even track that? Please don’t do it! Trust me on that.

Long run, think in terms of time, not distance. Long runs too fast jeopardized other workouts, making other runs hard and useless. Running long and easy, you should breath calm and be able to talk. The conversational pace is what I like to call it, as some of you may already know!

Long runs and adapting for long-distance runs come from a combo of all your runs and accumulated, your running history – it all adds up to make you an aerobic monster. If you run longer than a marathon, you will have been running for some time.

Consistency is key! Progressing your long runs happen with ability and experience; it takes time. A long run should challenge you, not hurt you.

Let’s use an 8-week sample scenario based on a runner who can currently run 2 hours in the long run. I am looking at the specifics of a long run and how to make the long run longer. I love building two weeks, peaking for one week, and recovering one week in each training cycle


Month 1

  • Week 1 – Saturday or Sunday 2:10 hours
  • Week 2 – Saturday or Sunday 2:10 hours
  • Week 3 – Sunday 2:30 hours
  • Week 4 – 2 hours

Month 2

  • Week 1 – Saturday or Sunday 2:20 hours
  • Week 2 – Wednesday 90min / Saturday or Sunday 2:20 hours
  • Week 3 – Wednesday 90min/ Saturday or Sunday 2:30 hours
  • Week 4 – Sunday 2:10 hours

The above scenario provides a structured example of how to build up from running 2 hours comfortably to 4 hours. But remember, the above method is eight weeks of running with over 35 hours of running, just in the long runs!. That is huge and a great place to start for any endurance challenge if you already have a long run base of 2 Hours consistently for eight weeks already

My race is 26.2 miles. How do I know if I can run the distance?

Yes! It’s about accumulative weekly mileage. If you’re running 50-60 miles per week at an 8:30 min/mile pace, you’ll quickly have over half of your mileage outside of your long run (at MOST!) since the long run shouldn’t take up as much of your total mileage as that. Double runs are a great way to get your body used to the stress of the training as you build your way up to 2-hours as a side note. Using these 8-weeks and it’s not wise or sensible to run too long in any one session. But the 8-week plan above shows you how it’s possible to build time and confidence—following the two-week build, peaking at week three, and recovery for week 4 in the sequential months starting at this level or this plan.

I’m a HUGE fan of Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method. Mixing walks into your long runs allows you to get the time spent on your feet while keeping the run aerobically. Walking is aerobic. It will enable your joints and tendons to get used to the stress of training.

A couple of takeaways

Remember to listen to your body; training is a roller coaster. If, during peak week, you’re not feeling your long run, don’t do it. Continue with the next week, and so forth. Get used to moving forward, not repeating weeks, and give your body rest – you know it best!

Remember the purpose behind every run. For the long run, you want to be able to run for the long run (pun intended) and tackle it, feeling good afterward, able to walk the day after, and not experiencing crazy soreness.

The long run sets you up for a marathon so that on race day, you can eliminate as many surprises as possible aside from the ones that surprise you most during the race, but that’s the fun of the marathon, right?

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I hope you enjoyed the read!

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