Should you run long to get faster?

Nov 25, 2020

Marathon and ultra-distance runners can regularly be found out on the roads at the crack of dawn on weekends, diligently putting in their “time on their feet” as they log the weekly LSD. For them there is no question that the weekend long run is a good idea. It is a simple equation – to get fit for running far, you should, run far.

Running long to run fast

So what about the runner wanting to improve their 5k or 10k time?

What many runners do not realise (because it defies logic) is that the key to cracking that PB is often less short fast running and more long steady running.

When running a 5k, no matter how good you are, you will never be running at your maximum speed (about what you would run over a 40m sprint), even when sprinting for the finish line you are still way below this speed. What you will be running at is the maximum speed that you are able to maintain for the 5k without your legs turning to jelly (also known as incurring “Oxygen debt”).

When running at our 5k pace, the main metabolic process used by the body to release energy for the muscles to work is the are aerobic process, which simply means, the main ingredient is good old Oxygen which we breath in. The greater the oxygen supply, the more energy that can be produced. Oxygen to breath in is in no short supply, however each individual runner, depending on their physical condition, is limited in how much oxygen can be taken up and used by the muscles per minute. The faster the pace, the higher the demand. When demand is higher than supply, “Oxygen debt” is incurred with the accompanying build-up of lactic acid resulting in the famous jelly legs.

The key then to running faster, is to increase the oxygen supply and uptake in the muscles. This is done through long steady state running. The following adaptations take place:

  • The capillary beds (which transport oxygen) in the muscles are expanded and new ones are created
  • The heart muscle becomes bigger and stronger, so it is able to pump more oxygen rich blood with each stroke
  • Your lungs become more efficient and blood circulation in general improves throughout the body.

What are the nuts and bolts of these runs?

The best pace to do these runs at is about 70% of your 5k pace. It is a pace which is comfortable enough to talk, but still fast enough to leave you feeling pleasantly tired at the end. The runs can vary in length from 1 hour to 2 hours and can be done up to 3 times a week. Try to do at least one a week of 90 to 120 minutes. Just remember to start by increasing by no more than 10% of what you are currently doing and to build up slowly.

Train hard and remember to enjoy the journey!

Coach Kathleen

Coach Kathleen from Active4Life has over 16 years of coaching experience and 30 years competitive athletic experience. She is an ASA level 3 certified coach, qualified athletics lecturer and a qualified personal trainer. Read more about Coach Kathleen here.

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