Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Long Run (Part II) by Chris Puppione...

4) What are the benefits of a long run?
Benefits of the long run are as follows (from a scientific standpoint):
- Increases the number of capillaries per muscle fiber (meaning more oxygen-rich blood to the muscle later on, meaning running faster and more aerobically)
- Increases the number of mitochondria in the cells (mitochondria is (say it with me) the powerhouse of the cell--the more of the these you have, the faster you run)
- Increases the muscles' capacity to store glycogen (i.e. bigger and better energy stores to draw from when needed, thereby allowing the body to run longer at a given speed)
- Endows fast twitch muscle fibers with more characteristics of the slow twitch muscle fibers (this is not fact, but more of a scientific speculation by Dr. Peter Snell that I (and others) have seen evidence of in working with our athletes)

The most compelling for me is the last one--Snell's idea of the long run impacting the FT muscle fibers. Snell, as you remember, was the great Olympic 800/1500 champion from New Zealand in the 60's when he was coached by Arthur Lydiard. Snell would often run 22-mile long runs in preparation for track season (where he ran 1:44 for the 800m on a grass track running in the opposite direction!) These 22 milers, mind you, were not slow easy efforts--they were over mountains and at a solid clip. The idea here is that by running long and at a steady rate of speed, the athlete can fatigue their slow twitch muscle fibers to the point that the body must recruit certain FT muscle fibers to help them continue running, therefore training these FT fibers to have greater aerobic capacity. Not a bad deal, right? IS this fact? No. Do I believe in it? Absolutely.

Outside of the science, the long run has other benefits as well. Mark Conover, 1988 Olympic Trials Marathon winner and Head XC Coach at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, once told me he feels that the long run's greatest benefit is that it "calluses the mind"--i.e. it makes you tougher just by virtue of being out there for so long. Louie Quintana, coach at Arizona State and former Footlocker Champion, says that his athletes use the long run as a confidence builder by running South Mountain in Tempe. They feel (as he does) that by performing a strong, steady long run on the mountain, they have made themselves that much better and tougher, giving them greater confidence going into race season. As for me and my athletes, I would rather skip any other type of workout as long as we get in our long run and medium long run each week. The kids that can get those runs in regularly are going to just be flat out tougher and faster--period.

5) What should you do after a long run to help recovery for the next run? (ex. nutrition etc.)
Following a long run, you should be a little fried. The body, when carbo-loaded to the gills, may be able to hold about 90 minutes worth of glycogen. For the most part though, I would bet most kids are cruising around with about 60-70 minutes worth of glycogen. So, after a long run, these kids are either at or below zero in terms of glycogen stores. If they do not replenish these immediately, it is going to be a rough week to follow.

Some things to do then:
- Eat some fruits and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your long run. Notice I did not say just carbs. People hear carbs and they think pasta and junk--no. Eat the fruits, skip the white flour stuff, and hit up some protein as well. The protein is there to help out your muscles that have just taken a dull, prolonged beating--help them out!
- Ice and stretch and foam roll for regenerative purposes--if you do not do these things, your body will not recover as well from the run. When I was at UC Davis, we would often run in Folsom by the lake and river, and following our long run, the athletes would go stand in the cold water for a good 10-15 minutes right after finishing, and then we would go get breakfast on the way back to Davis.
- Get your rest after the long run. Keep your day mellow after the run and get to bed early. It is that simple.

6) Do you need a day or so before you do a workout following a long run?
I prefer to have a day of recovery following a long run or medium long run just because of the toll it can take on your body when done properly. Does that mean you can't do a workout after a long run? No. Does it mean you need to be more aware of your recovery from the long run so that you can run hard again 24 hours later? Yes. Whether you run long and easy or long and fast, the fact is that you put a heck of a lot of time in on your feet, and the body will need some TLC to recover. If you take care of recovery, you can run a workout the next day. I, on the other hand, prefer to just do a regular steady run the day follwoing the long run followed by some "diagonals" on the football field--easy jog across the end zones, uptempo strides diagonally across the field from end zone to end zone. The run shakes out the stiffness following a long, solid effort the day before, and the diagonals are a nice jump-start to the system before we come back the next day
and look to hit our solid workout.

7) Anything else you would like to add.
My friend Joe Rubio, coach of the Asics Aggies, and I were talking about the long run at length on one occasion, and I was telling him how some people just could not see how important the long run was to their success--especially middle distance runners. He said to me, "I have had some middle distance guys say to me, 'I can't do a long run. I can't do cross country.' My answer to them is simple--'Well, I guess you just don't want to be that good.'"


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