To become better endurance runners, we need to utilize different types of runs. One of the most important workouts is the long, slow run. Obviously, if you are going to do a longer race like a half or full marathon, this is important for building up mileage.
However, we often neglect the most important factors of these long runs, that occur at the molecular level within our bodies. The long run is where our bodies learn to utilize glycogen more efficiently. We are only capable of holding small amounts of glycogen within our muscles and liver, but through long runs, we teach our bodies how to empty these reserves more efficiently.
The long run trains our bodies to use fat as fuel, which delays the need to use carbohydrates. This allows you to run longer with less fuel.
Long runs break down muscle fibers and our bodies learn to rebuild, creating stronger and healthier muscles. This is necessary for the demands of longer endurance races.
Running longer also trains our bodies to become more aerobically efficient. As we create a greater demand for oxygen to be pumped through our bodies, our hearts become stronger. Blood begins pumping harder and in larger quantities throughout our body. Oxygen rich blood reaches our muscles and allows us to run longer, and faster.
Our bodies comprehend time. They do not comprehend miles. Your body knows that you have been running for 60 minutes but it doesn’t recognize that you just ran 5 miles. This important to understand, because your body needs that 60+ minute run to achieve all of the benefits of aerobic endurance training. However, 5 miles is quite arbitrary. Some runners can complete a 5 mile run in 40 minutes, while this might take over an hour for other runners.
The point here is that it is important not to get caught up in the number of miles or your pace when you are working to become a more efficient endurance runner. Your body needs time more than miles. This is why you need to go slowly on your long runs. When you run slowly, you allow your body to get through those longer miles. When we try running too fast, we begin asking too much of our muscles and aerobic system, making it more difficult to complete your necessary miles/time. If the number of miles seems daunting to you, aim for a time goal. This is what your body is relying on anyway.
The pace is not what creates these molecular changes. Time is what creates change. Allow yourself to slow down so that you can complete your longer runs and reap all the benefits.
Long Slow Runs = Fast Races