Long slow runs
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).
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.