Long slow runs

Grethe, Sue Ellen and Ron Finish 20m - photo by Owen Barder

Let's hope you look as good as Grethe, Sue Ellen and Ron when you finish a 20 mile run

The long, slow distance (LSD) run is the cornerstone of any long distance runner’s training programme.   (One reason why the term “LSD run” is so appropriate is that it is one of the most reliable ways of getting the “runner’s high”).

Why do long slow distance runs?

The LSD run has many benefits.  First, it helps to adapt your joints and muscles to give them the endurance for long runs.  Second, it improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens the heart and increases the blood supply in the muscles; it therefore enhances the body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to your muscles.  Third, it enhances your body’s ability to burn fat as a source of energy.  Fourth, it teaches your body to store more energy as glycogen in your muscles. And finally, long slow runs teach the body to run efficiently, minimising the energy expenditure needed to move you along.  Even if you are not training for a marathon, the long slow distance run is a key element in your overall fitness programme.

How to do long slow distance runs

The LSD run should be run slowly to ensure that you are developing the fat-burning metabolic pathway, and to minimise the effect of fatigue and risk of injury. It should be around 20% slower than your marathon pace; or 25-30% slower than your half marathon pace.  You may be surprised at first how slow this seems.  If you use a heart rate monitor, try to keep your heart rate within 60-80% of the working heart rate zone, or 70-85% of your maximal heart rate (see Chapter 10).

The distance of the long slow distance run depends on the length of the race for which you are training.  For a 5km race, the LSD need not be more than 5-10 miles; but for marathon runners it needs to be more like 20 miles (or longer for advanced runners).  This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 10.

For many runners, one morning of each weekend is set aside for the long run; and running clubs often organise Sunday morning long runs.  In the run up to major marathons, such as the London Marathon, there are also lots of organised races of up to 20 miles which you can use for your long runs (though you should resist the temptation to run these too fast).  If you are training for a half marathon or marathon, you can use your long run to practise some key elements of the big day (see Chapter 12 for more information about long runs as part of marathon training).

Rehearsal runs

If you are training for a half marathon or longer, you may want to add a rehearsal run into your training programme.

Why do rehearsal runs?

The inspiration behind this workout is that many runners never actually run at their intended race pace. They run faster, on the track; and slower in their long run; but their body has not got used to running at the pace they intend to run. It is useful to adapt the muscles and tendons, as well as the mind, to running at the intended race pace.

How to do rehearsal runs

Frank Horwill recommends beginning your sequence of rehearsal runs about 12 weeks before a marathon. Start with a 9 mile run, at your intended marathon pace.  Run it at exactly the pace you intend to run the marathon.  The following week, increase the distance to 10 miles.  If you don’t succeed in covering the distance within a couple of minutes of the target time, repeat the distance the following week until you are bang on target. Go on increasing the distance by a mile each week, up to 18 miles (which should be about 3 weeks before the marathon).  Note that this rehearsal run is intended to be additional to your long slow run.

This is quite a demanding additional workout during the week, and I would not recommend it for beginners training for a marathon.  However, it is sensible for beginners to get some practice at running at their intended marathon pace.  One way to do this is to use a weekend race – such as a half marathon – to practise running at marathon pace.  Another option is to aim to run the last third (but no more) of your weekly long run at your marathon pace (remember that your long run should normally be about 20% slower than marathon pace).  Either way, this will get you some experience of running at your intended pace.

14 Responses to Long slow runs

  • […] for me will be Wed and Sat group runs – Wed being the hill/stair workouts, and Sat being the long slow runs. Next Sat we’ll run for 70 min – increasing time gradually as we go. I’ll fit in […]

  • […] Running for Fitness web site lists several benefits of long slow distance […]

  • Gene:

    Ive been running for about 2years now, I just finished my 3rd 10k.1hr,05. I wished I could push my self more ,do better at my running .i have another 5kcoming up in July .i would love to 30 or less on that race. I’ve done alot of 5k last year but nothing less then 3min. Any help. Please.thank you.

    • Matt:

      Gene I have been on a hang up about breaking the hour for a while, I then got told a while ago just enjoy your run stop putting pressure on yourself guess what 56min was achieved I now swear it was physiological next ten k ran 54 min but when training can’t break the hour ! I suspect due to trying to hard relax and run !

    • Rich:

      Race more. If you are in training you should be able to jump in a local 5k about any weekend depending where you live. Experiment with pace. Go out a little harder than usual one time and hold on as long as you can. Go out a little easier another time and try to run a faster second half of the race. A 5k can be thought of as a great group run you paid to be in. There are almost always people there to your run pace with and is a huge motivator. Also, jumping into more races will eventually land you with a good group of “race friends” that you will eventually start warming up and cooling down with. This is a great way to add to social life and get others ideas of running.

  • […] was nice to have something to aim towards each week and the slowly increasing mileage of the Sunday long slow run gave us something to look forward to and an ever growing number of new friends that we’ve met […]

  • James:

    I’m trying to incorporate the LSD running alongside my goal-paced runs. I’ve just started training for an special marathon that incorporates 200 obstacles over the entire distance. It’s 4 months away.

    Building up the distance, what sort of length should I begin with? And when should I first tackle the 20 miler? I think I’d be dead in the water attempting a 20 miler this weekend 😉

    Thanks! Any and all advice will be very appreciated…

  • […] Short runs taken at a slow speed (About a 10-12 minute mile) are great for the beginning runner. Running long distances slower helps build endurance and weirdly enough, speed. Here is a running route that offers city scenery with long stretches of lake scenery. This route goes by beaches and through Loyola University Chicago’s Beautiful campus. […]

  • Rob Osborne:

    I have been running LSD for most of the last 44 years covering 175 marathons and ultras, plus 3500 races. I have run and walked 165,000 miles, biked88,000 miles, and swum 400 miles. I also Race Walk, and do very well at that. One of the reasons I still compete is because that much of my training has been LSD. Good stuff.

  • Tim:

    I love the idea of using my midweek longer run as a race-pace rehearsal run. I have been using the middle miles of the weekend LSR every other week, and that suits me this time around, but next marathon I’ll hopefully have a decent time to beat, so the training is going to be brutal!

  • […] was nice to have something to aim towards each week and the slowly increasing mileage of the Sunday long slow run gave us something to look forward to and an ever growing number of new friends that we’ve met […]

  • Breda winston:

    Hi I was just wondering it take me an hour and 30 minutes to do a 10k I’m 57 years old I’d like to run it quicker but I can’t seem to pick up speed so I think it my age my dream is to do the 26 dublin marathon but at this stage I don’t think there any hope any advice would b a great help

  • Surely the nature of your long run depends on the structure of the rest of your training program. Pontificating about it in isolation seems pointless. This is just my personal view.

  • […] types of athletes (think marathoners, triathletes, or long-distance swimmers) it’s the LSD (long, slow distance) workouts that really makes the […]

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