Friday, October 03, 2008

The Long Run (Part 1) by Chris Puppione

I am going to start a series of question/answer sessions with Chris Puppione (former UC Davis coach) that will include topics that pertain to distance running training. For today, I will start out with the importance of the long run. If there is a topic that you would specifically want to learn about, please email me the topic (and questions if you like) at

1) How long should your long run be?

- The long run should be set at a distance relative to overall volume. I will use mileage as the means of measurement here, although I know many people operate off of minutes in determining volume (which can be good or deceiving depending on where you are coming from).

I feel that there is no magic number, but more of a sliding scale when it comes to setting long run distance. I feel that those that run a smaller amount of volume should invest more heavily in the long run than those who run greater mileage. I like to use the range of 20-28% of weekly volume for the long run. This means that your higher mileage kids are running at or closer to 20% of their weekly mileage for their long run, while your younger/rookie kids are running closer to 28%. I break them into three groups--high mileage, moderate mileage, low mileage. High = 20-22%, Moderate = 23-25%, Low = 26-28%. This allows for coach's discretion when it comes to assigning the run while still maintaining some guiding principles. For high school kids, high mileage would be 60+mpw, moderate would be 40+mpw, and low would be 20+mpw (in my opinion).

2) What should be the pace of your long run?
Long run pace should be varied depending on the training goals for the particular time of the year or for the particular time of the individual season. I am a big believer in the long run. In fact, I have come to recognize the long run as the most significant run of the week.

Let's face facts--distance running is an aerobic sport. So aerobic, in fact, that the vast majority of our work should be done out on the trails or roads--not on the track. In cross country, your varsity athletes are running 5000m for the most part. When examining the aerobic vs. anaerobic contributions to performance over the 5000m distance, you will find that 94% of your energy is coming from aerobic sources--that is a staggering number! So where do you need to put your emphasis? It seems pretty simple to me.

However, this does not mean going out on Sundays and plodding aimlessly and without purpose for 60+ minutes. There is a time and place for regenerative running, but the long run is not that time. Bill Squires, the legendary coach of the Greater Boston Track Club, once said, "The long run is what puts the tiger in the cat." Does this mean you should go out and hammer the long run? Of course not--but don't waste your time dawdling.

If you are doing a regular long run, shoot for 1:30 per mile slower than 5k pace. Your solid varsity girl (capable of running 18:00 for 3 miles), then, should be hitting 7:30/mile on her long runs comfortably. That is a solid day's work!

However, as I said earlier, I believe in mixing things up on the long run, and I try to have my athlete's do this once every 2 weeks once we have established a solid fitness base. We will do a fast finish long run (accelerated tempo for the last 1/3 of the run), 30-30s (:30 @ race pace followed by :30 at easy pace) over the last 2-3 miles of the long run, or a block long run (a 12-mile long run would be 3 miles easy, 3 miles @ 5k pace + 1:00 per mile, 3 miles easy, 3 miles @ 5k pace + 1:00 per mile). We try to do one traditional long run one week followed by a "specialized" long run the next week.

By doing these "specialized" long runs, I feel my athletes get more bang for their buck on the long run day without beating themselves up too much to train or race later in the week. Also, by doing these runs, we elicit a greater aerobic stimulus than we would if we just went out and ran steady for the prescribed distance. Furthermore, most inexperienced runners do not know how to run a true quality distance run, so by doing a "specialized" long run, the athlete is sure to receive a great training stimulus on the long run day and will see the benefits of such a run come race day.

Dr. Robert Chapman, an exercise physiologist and coach of Team Indiana Elite (and former Head Coach of Indiana University), once described the heart as being a very tight balloon that needed to be stretched. By doing "specialized" long runs, the athletes are able to stretch their hearts to greater lengths and more frequently, creating a greater capacity for pumping oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, thereby allowing the athlete to run faster. Why would you not do these runs?

I could go on forever about this, but suffice to say the "specialized" long run once every two weeks is a coach's greatest tool for getting their athletes fit and ready to roll.

3) How often should you do a long run?
As I stated before, I am a big fan of the long run, so I expect athletes to get one in every week. Check that--twice a week! I look for the traditional long run on, say, a Sunday, and I ask them to run a "medium-long" run on a Wednesday. The MLR (easy name for it) is set at 15-22% of volume dependent upon overall training volume, and this run is expected to be even a bit faster than the long run. Often, I will ask athletes to progress this run over the final miles so that they are hitting a pace of about :50-:60 per mile slower than 5k pace consistently. That means that your same stud HS girl (18:00 3 miler) will start her MLR at a comfortable pace but then drop it down to near 6:50-7:00/mile pace. It is solid, but not overwhelming, and it gives you yet another great aerobic stimulus! So, how often on the long run? Once a week--with an additional nod to the MLR each week as well. YOU CAN NEVER DO TOO MUCH AEROBIC WORK, BUT TOO MUCH ANAEROBIC WORK WILL BE YOUR DOWNFALL.


Part II will be posted tomorrow. Please feel free to comment on the above post. As I mentioned, please email me any topics you would be interested in seeing on this blog.

One more favor. If you have a team website, please include the link to this blog on your website. The link is Also, if there is a way to share this blog with coaches and athletes in your league, please do so. This has been a great place for the running community and I just need help getting the word out.


Anonymous said...

After reading, I'm still not sure, do you elieve in the "long run"?

Anonymous said...

Where in pace or HR or intensity do runs stop being aerobic and become anaerobic?

Anonymous said...

VO2 max determines when runs become anaerobic.

Anonymous said...

Albert sent me the link to this conversation--glad people have questions, and this is a good one.

First, VO2max is not a determinant of aerobic/anaerobic contributions at all. It is simply a figure that represents maximum oxygen uptake.

As far as when runs are predominantly fueled by anaerobic contributions, it would be at 400m race pace. Yes, that's right--400m race pace. Even the 800m is an aerobic event! And the 400m derives roughly 46% of its energy contribution from aerobic sources--this is why the great Clyde Hart (coach of Olympic Gold Medalists Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner) had his 400m runners train like milers for a large part of the year.

So, as I mentioned, the long run must be a staple for the middle and long distance runner because from the 800m and up, our energy comes from the aerobic side predominantly.

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