A lot of my headspace is taken up with running. There’s this, for instance. Then there’s running books, running videos, blogs. There’s all the running people in my life: my athletics team, my coach, family, friends. There’s all the little things which I do alongside the running to make the process of running easier: the foam rolling, the core strength routines, the dynamic stretches, drills, strides. Then I actually do some plain ol’ running as well, but even that can be broken down into little intricate pieces of this relatively complex puzzle: tempo days, easy days, recovery days, speed days, and all of those days can be broken down into almost countless variations.
To prove my point, let’s look at a few of my more recent speed workouts:
- 8 x 3 minutes.
- 6 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 6 minutes.
- 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 6 x 300m.
- (5 minutes, 3 x 400m) x 2.
In the last year of running I’ve done workouts which are similar to each other, but hardly ever done two which are exactly the same. There are endless ways to run hard and try and get quicker, but is there a best workout? Something which I would recommend above any other?
No, I suppose there isn’t.
We’re all different, and will respond to training differently. Also I’m not a coach, don’t want to be going too hard with the workout recommendations.
But I do have a favourite run.
The Long Run.
Not an easy long run mind you, those are important too, but they’re not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about The Long Run, the capital-T-capital-L-capital-R, The Long Run. It’s an effort which takes some time to figure out, because you’ve got to feel out the pace which is comfortably hard, where you can flow and feel free, but still be reasonably cooked by the end of it.
It’s a run that I’ve not always given the respect that it deserves in the past, but have figured out a bit more in recent months.
A problem I was having with my long runs (my Sunday runs, ideally) was that I wasn’t quite being brave enough. I don’t want to go out and tackle half marathon pace every week, but I do want my legs to be moving at a decent clip. A key change I’ve made is considering the Sunday Run a workout, not just another run, not just a few miles to bump the total at the end of the week. I tend to give workouts space on the calendar, taking my running easy before and after, in order to prepare and recover. This space lets me attack the long run with a bit more positivity, even structuring a bit like an interval session. On my last long run I aimed to go about 7:00/7:10 minutes a mile through most of my miles, but tried to ramp the pace to around 6:40 every third mile.
I don’t think anything expands my fitness like these long runs, even if my focus is on 5k and 10k times, relatively brief distances in the distance running world. Long runs are vital to runners of every distance. The adaptations that running 90 minutes to 2 hours forces on the body are vital to the musculoskeletal system, strengthening bones, ligaments, and joints, as well as increasing enzymes in your muscle cells, and growing capillaries – allowing improved oxygen delivering to your body (Runners World, Why Non Marathon Runners Still Need Long Runs). These things will happen at slow speeds, but for me though, who is more interested at competing at shorter distances rather than full marathons and above, I need to keep that pace improving. I want to run fast so sometimes I’ve got to run…fast.
Not every week though, progression is important but it’s not linear. I might go further next week and try and keep the average pace about the same, but the week after I might cut it down by a couple of miles and take it a bit easier, ready to start gaining again the next week.
Beyond all the science, since I’ve stopped fearing the long run I’ve really learned to love it. The pace of my long runs is a happy hard pace, a pace where I feel like I can cut a little free and float. It gets hard towards the end, but it’s supposed to. It’s the run which feels most like how I want my running to feel, and now that I’ve dialled in on the right level of effort I look forward to Sunday morning’s over any other day of the week.