The great successes Emil Zatopek achieved with interval training in the 1950s was followed by the era of Arthur Lydiard. The New Zealand coach swore by long training runs and even insisted that the 800-metre runners do a two-hour continuous run once a week.
It was Lydiard who helped to get the «LSD» (Long Slow Distance) training method accepted. The long, slow continuous run has since become the basis for endurance training, even for middle-distance runners. However, the longer the competition distance, the more important the long jog. If you are preparing for a 10-kilometre run or even a marathon, you can certainly omit one tempo training unit or the other and still come close to reaching your competitive goal. The long, slow run, however, is indispensable. It belongs to the weekly training program. No other unit can prepare the body to use the energy reserves in such an efficient way.
The long run should be at least 50 percent longer than the usual continuous runs; however, it is advisable to continuously increase the distance week by week and not start with runs that are too long. The long jog trains the metabolism to use the fat reserves as an energy source and preserve the carbohydrate reserves (glycogen) or only use less of them later. Long runs also improve the ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. What’s more, they prepare the musculoskeletal system for the special mechanical loads of a long competition, which is a decisive criterion, especially in the marathon preparation of amateur runners.
At a steady or increased pace?
The steady, slow long run remains the best variant for less experienced athletes as well as older runners who are somewhat prone to injury or overloading. The pace is slow, which means running about 2 min/km slower than in a marathon. The heart rate is a good indicator. During this type of training it should lie between 70 and 75 percent of the maximum heart rate, which is in the resting heart rate zone.
Experienced runners can also use the «African method». This means they start slowly, around 1:30 min/km slower than their marathon pace, and then increase it every four or five kilometres by around 15 sec/km, so that during the last kilometres they are only slightly slower than their racing pace.
Kenyan marathon runners frequently increase the speed on their long runs to the point that by the end of the perhaps 35 or even 40 kilometres, they are running even faster than in a marathon. This variant trains their metabolism in such a way that they can maintain their level of performance right to the end. And not to be forgotten: this tough variant is also mentally challenging to a great degree. You are forced to speed up again when your legs are already tired – just like in a marathon where success or failure often depends on just the last few kilometres.
It thus makes sense for runners with clearly defined half marathon or marathon goals to run the last kilometres of a long run at racing pace. And this is how it’s done: start running at a relatively comfortable LSD pace. On the last quarter of the route, switch to your racing pace. However, you should reduce the pace at the end again for a few minutes to slow down your engine. The following also applies: when doing this special variant of the long run, you shouldn’t run for longer than 20 (half marathon preparation) or 30 kilometres (marathon).
Galloway's «Run-Walk-Run» method
The American running guru, Jeff Galloway, who is an Olympic participant, book author and consultant to countless runners, has yet another variant in stock. He particularly recommends the «Run-Walk-Run» method for older and heavier athletes. «This transition from running to walking», he explains in one of his books, «brings the same physiological benefits as a steady continuous run, but with the advantage that the body is subjected to less stress ». According to Galloway, «most beginners believe that the aim must be to be able to run a route without a walk break one day, but this is not at all necessary. Even elite runners realise that a walk break on long runs leads to a faster recovery».
This method makes complete sense for less experienced runners as well as seniors. Even marathon runners who need around four hours are not necessarily slower when they take short walk breaks. However, top runners – despite Galloway – will continue to do the long run at a steady or increased pace.
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