It’s a love-hate for most runners; the thought of having to go out for an hour run on your weekend can seem like a daunting task for some, yet the after effect of the runner’s high and feeling of achievement is desired by every runner I know.
Besides the mental benefit of long runs, here are 5 more reasons to love your weekly long runs:
1.) Adapts Your Body to the Sport:
Since running is a high impact activity, the more that you do it, the more that your body will adapt to it. Long runs will break down your muscles and stress your bones, ligaments, and tendons. The right amount (along with the right amount of rest) translates to a stronger body via effective rebuilding of new cells. You can use long runs to gradually build up your strength and confidence for a race, knowing that each long run will be easier than the next.
2.) Production of the Powerful Mitochondria:
The mitochondria are tiny aerobic energy factories in your cells that uses fatty acids for energy. Long runs help increase the number and size of the mitochondria within your muscle fibers. The more of it you have, the more efficient your energy output will be and the faster you’ll go!
3.) Long Runs Helps You Burn More Fat!
To understand this, we have to look at how your body deals with glycogen (carbs). Long runs trains your body to store more glycogen within your muscle cells (this is a good thing!). They also allow your muscles to conserve glycogen by burning more fat (another great thing!) As you increase your endurance training, the scale tilts from mostly carb burning to more fat burning (but its still burning both!). Your body relies more on fat and less on carbohydrates at a given speed. As a result, your glycogen stores last longer—this is part of the adaptation process of a long distance runner. In a race, that means that "the wall" shifts closer and closer to the finish line. You certainly don’t want to hit that halfway through the race!
4.) Weight Maintenance:
Keep in mind that a long run will burn up your carbohydrate storages. This is why its important to carb load with the proper carb. Unfortunately many runners reach for the first available carb after the long run, which often times is not the ideal carb to have (ie: donuts). Try oatmeal next time and notice how incredibly different your body will react to that!
Remember, your body will quickly use up its glycogen (or carbohydrate) storages, and you will
start to burn fat for energy. This may be great for weight loss, but if you want to keep up your pace and endurance, then you need to give your body more quality carbohydrates to keep your energy levels high for the long haul.
5.) Increases Oxygen Uptake:
Another exercise science lesson here: More oxygyen uptake happens within cells with the addition of more myoglobin. Myoglobin in your muscle cells functions similarly to hemoglobin in your blood; it carries oxygen from the cell membrane to the mitochondria (theres that word again!). Long runs help increase the myoglobin numbers within your muscle fibers. The end result: more oxygen can reach the mitochondria to produce energy= a more efficient YOU during the run!
So there you have it—5 reasons to love your long run. Ultimately, long runs will make your body a more efficient machine and greatly improve your running economy. You can think of it as similar to the gas mileage on your car. In the case of runners, oxygen is your fuel. So when you train your body to run while using less oxygen, you’ll improve your running economy greatly.
This doesn’t work by holding your breath while you run! It can only work by slowly adding mileage to your weekly long runs so that the body can adapt on a physiological level (bones, tendons, ligaments, muscle cells, etc)
To best prepare for a long run, eat well the day before and get plenty of rest. You may also want to bring a few gel supplements in your training belt, as well as some water, coconut water or Gatorade (mixed with water) for electrolytes. This will prevent you from hitting the “wall” during your training.
Hmmm...just got the urge for a Long Run--heading out =)
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