LSD Explained: Long Runs for Beginners

For $11.99 you can purchase this psychedelic Prefontaine Poster via ebay! It's a great way to start a conversation about long runs!
Psychedelic, man!

As many of us (me included) start a new training cycle for Spring races, it means that it’s time for some LSD!

No no, not that kind…duh.  I’m talking about those “long runs” you hear all the hardcore running nerds talk about, which is also referred to as “Long Slow Distance,” abbreviated as LSD.

Personally, long runs are my favorite parts of the training cycle.  In my jam-packed life, my long runs are the one times of the week that are 100% mine.  I can’t crunch statistics, respond to work emails, or read another riveting education book (I jest.  They truly aren’t riveting).  But when I started running, I had no idea what these elusive “long runs” were.  They were a mystery, something that only hardcore runners did – and I wondered how I’d ever make it through 6 miles, let alone 12, 20 or 26.2!

New to running, or beginning a half-marathon or longer training plan for the first time?  Here are my answers to a few burning long run questions!

What is it and why should I try it?’

The ‘long run’ is the run scheduled weekly or bi-weekly with the goal of increasing your mileage and endurance so that you can successfully complete your race distance. Especially true for beginners, this run is about distance not speed. Long runs boost your aerobic capacity and make you a stronger runner. They also teach your body to fuel your muscles more efficiently. Long runs are beneficial for those training for longer races like half and full marathons, true, but they are also an essential tool for improving shorter race times or simply becoming a stronger runner all around.

How long should the ‘long run’ be?

This will vary according to your current fitness levels, weekly mileage load and target race distance. A good rule of thumb is to run one run a week that is 25% of your weekly mileage. For example, if you’re running 40 miles a week, make one run a week a 10 miler.  Of course, at the edges – lower than 30 miles per week or higher than 80 miles per week – the 25% rule isn’t all that helpful. If you’re mileage is on the low side and you’re just trying to build a base or train for shorter races, add 2-3 miles to the average length of a typical run and start there. Also, when training for races like half and full marathons you will need to get your long runs way up there regardless of your weekly mileage. Exactly how far and how many long runs will depend on your abilities and your training plan.

Caveat:  Your long run should be long as defined for you, your fitness level, and personal training plan.  Increasing mileage too much too fast is the quickest way to an injury, and stalls a training plan in its tracks.

When should my long run be?

It should take place on the day of the week that you have the fewest other life commitments. Not only do long runs take more time to run, they also take more out of you and require a little more recovery time than regular easy runs.

This looks like a nice spot for a long run!
This looks like a nice spot for a long run!

Where should I run my long-runs?

As you know, I’m the crazy person who actually enjoys running on a treadmill, probably because it’s only way I ever catch up on television (Project Runway and Top Chef are my faves).  Many other runners say that long runs can feel even longer if completed on a treadmill.  Right now I run inside because I hate cold and the inversion in Utah makes running outside a literal brush with lung-death.  During the summer I run outside, around a local park .  One loop is about 1.2 miles, which makes it easy to calculate and there are plenty of crazies there on Saturday morning to keep me thoroughly entertained.  Others run city streets, wooded trails, longer loops, shorter loops, and some even run on a track.  Find a place you like to run and the distance will come easier!  What is important here is not where you run, but how far – wherever you will enjoy the mileage, I say do it!

How fast should I run?

Not. Fast. This is especially important for beginners. It’s called long slow distance for a reason! In fact, this is part of the reason I love long runs – I can easily carry on a conversation at the pace I run my long runs.  For me, it’s about a 10-minute mile.  Some of you will read that and think that I am super-slow and others will think that is rather quick.  I used to think 6.0 was sprinting, and it’s taken a lot of running and time so that it feels “easy.”  I just like to think of it as a “conversational” pace.  Can I carry on a conversation?  If yes, then I feel like I’m on the right track.

Anything else?

Speaking of conversation, find a long run buddy! Nothing makes the miles tick by faster than having a buddy to share them with. If you don’t currently have running buddies, look for running groups in your area. Many running stores and running clubs host group longer runs on weekend mornings and are a good way to get the miles in, possibly explore a new route and make new friends!

This may seem like kind of a no-brainer, but at the end of the day, your long runs should be the speed, distance, time, and place that work best for you.  In fact, being a no-brainer is kind of what makes them such a great, easy addition to your running repertoire!

What works for you? How do you get the most out of your long runs?

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Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. I like doing different routes for my long runs, that way I focus on exploring new areas of the city while getting my mileage in…makes it feel like an adventure

  2. I like the long runs for a few reasons. 1. Relating to the column last week about negotiating your time to run away from your relationship or family that work is already done. If I’ve got a race coming up, then this 2:30 or whatever is already scheduled and agreed upon and on the calendar. 2. It is slow like me. I never feel guilty when doing an LSR. Lots of folks pass me but they do when I’m not supposed to be running slow. I can use whatever formula I’m using to get my target pace and can usually hit or even beat that at the right HR or speaking or whatever.

    The longest LSR I’ve done was 17 (HM is my longest race distance) and I’ve done 4-5 at 14 miles. What I like best is to run away from my car or house for 1/2 the distance. That way as I’m heading away I’m still fresh. By the time I turn around I’m 7 miles from home and now want to get home and stretch and ice and shower and eat. So that’s motivation. And by the time I’m 1.5 from home it’s like… almost there!

    1. I think I like them because of the speed too. I like interval and temp workouts because I feel like they are over quicker, but I get my nice easy thinking time during my long runs! Love that!

  3. If I don’t have a running buddy for my long runs, I listen to podcasts. You can download them from iTunes or stream them on your smart phone. Quiz shoes really make the miles fly by, especially when you are screaming the answers like a crazy lady. NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (hosted by Runner’s World Road Scholar Peter Sagal) is a good choice.

  4. In the winter in Ohio, there’s no way I can run outside, so I’ve befriended my treadmill & my iPad Mini + Netflix. It really is an excellent way to multitask getting a workout in and catching up on my shows 🙂 I’m running my first 10K this May at the Cleveland Marathon – so I’m incorporating my version of long runs on Saturdays. I’m increasing the mileage every 2nd or 3rd week approximately.