Long Slow Runs

Why you should slow down on your long runs
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Easy Like Sunday Morning

By Coach Tim, We Run Coach for Cardiff coach tim circleand the We Run Virtual Running Club

One of the mistakes that first time marathon runners make is to try and complete their longer runs at marathon pace. They often do runs prescribed as ‘easy’ on their training plan quicker than that. The legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard proposed the idea that the greatest volume of a runner’s training should be done at an easy pace. You’ll find it hard to find a modern day running coach who’ll disagree with that. I’ve dealt with the benefits of recovery runs in a previous post, so in this blog I’ll focus on the benefit of running your long runs slowly.

Building Endurance Is About Building Time On Your Feet Too

When you run your first marathon you will (almost certainly) be running the furthest you’ve ever run, for the longest time you’ve ever run. I wouldn’t advise first time marathon runners go too much further than 20 miles in training, so they aren’t going to get particularly close to full race distance. However, if a runner is targeting ten minute miles for the marathon, and they run 21 miles at 12 minute per mile pace in training, this will mean their longest training run is only ten minutes shorter than their target marathon time (4:12 v 4:22). Similarly, if someone targeting eight minute miles for the marathon can run 21 miles at 9:30 pace in training, they will also be just ten minutes short of their target time (3:19 v 3:29). These runners are going to feel much better-prepared and more comfortable during the latter parts of the race than someone who hasn’t got within an hour of their target time in training.

Running this much slower than target marathon pace is harder than it sounds. However, even if you can run 30-60 seconds per mile slower, you’ll still benefit from getting closer to your ‘time on your feet’ goal than you would if you’d done your longer runs at around marathon pace.

Runners training for half marathon can easily go beyond their target time in training, even if they don’t run the full half marathon distance. For example, if you are targeting a 2 hour half marathon (9:10 miles) you can go beyond that time by running 11.5 miles at 10:30 pace in training, or by running 12 miles at 10:00 pace.

You will, of course, need to complete some (shorter) training runs at race pace or quicker to prepare yourself to run faster on the day, but lengthening the time on your feet on long runs will help look after the endurance piece of the jigsaw.

You Can Train More

A 20 mile run at marathon pace will take at least a week to recover from, particularly for a less experienced runner. Dropping the pace will take less out of your legs and enable you to return to quality workouts more quickly.

You Are Less Likely To Get Injured

As long as you don’t ‘plod’, slower running is less of a strain on the body so you’re less likely to overdo it and pick up injuries.

You Can Try Out Different Types Of Refuelling

Running more slowly, particularly at the start of a run, means you can run sooner after a pre-run meal or snack. This is because running more slowly means your stomach doesn’t bounce around as much making it less likely that you’ll get a stitch or feel sick. The lesser impact on your stomach also means you can experiment with mid-run refuelling with solid food (such as a small ripe banana), or the thicker energy gels you need to take with water.

You Can Make Training Runs More Sociable

Running at a slower pace will make your training runs more accessible for other runners to join in for all or part of the run. The slower pace means you are more able to chat whilst you run too.

You Can Explore

When I’ve moved to a new area I’ve printed out maps of new running routes. Due to my ageing eyesight and the fact I don’t like bumping into things, it’s pretty difficult to follow these maps unless I’m doing little more than a slow jog!

You’ll Benefit In Other Ways Too

Long slow runs have been proven to strengthen the musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems, enhance your fat-burning ability and make you mentally stronger. (I probably should have put these higher up, in hindsight!)

what you need to know
  • The biggest proportion of your training should be done at “easy“ pace

  • Building your endurance means not only building the distance you can run, but the time you are able to run for

  • Slower long runs take much less time to recover from than quicker long runs, meaning you will be able to complete more quality work outs in the week following your long run

  • You are less likely to get injured if you complete your longer runs at a slower pace

  • Making your longer runs slower will mean more people are able to join you for all or part of the run

  • Running more slowly means you can experiment with different types of fuelling and refuelling

  • Long slow runs have been proven to strengthen the musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems, enhance your fat-burning ability and make you mentally stronger

what you need to do
  • Aim to do most of your longer runs a minute per mile slower than your target marathon pace. If you can’t manage this, make sure they are at least 30 seconds per mile slower

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