Building Your Long Run
After Frequency Comes Duration
Part One of this series is How To Ramp Run Volume.
In Part One, I explained how to give yourself something to work with.
Minimum Effective Dose
Patiently Building Weekly Mileage
Once you establish your base, you will be tempted to add intense running.
Start by running more often.
After Frequency comes Duration.
When To Go Longer?
Most runners are peripherally limited. Meaning, your legs will give out before your central cardiovascular system. That’s why we focus on frequency, first. By splitting the workouts, we avoid chronic breakdown.
How do you know you are ready to progress your duration?
Establish Your Frequency - 4 runs per week.
Prove Your Biomechanics - 6 months injury free.
Run duration includes the 10-minute PowerWalk that I recommend you use to begin all runs.
In my prior article, I gave you a protocol to build your standard run workout to an hour.
With your frequency & biomechanics stable:
Add 15 minutes to ONE of your standard run sessions each week.
Repeat the modified week.
Back off for a week.
Repeat the modified week 2x.
That’s a six-week cycle.
Repeat the six-week cycle with another 15-minute addition.
That’s going to add 30 minutes to your longest run workout. Now, you’re running long.
Pace does not matter.
Staying healthy and avoiding injury does.
Back off immediately to minimum effective dose at the first sign of niggles.
STOP your run workout when you feel unusual tightness.
Having trouble backing off?
Tell yourself, “I have achieved my minimum dose. I need to stay healthy.”
I’ve laid out a 12-week progression. It could take anywhere from 12 to 26 weeks to add duration.
The timeline is not under your control.
Rushing your body will lead to breakdown.
Breakdown slows your gains.
Because of the likelihood of extended recovery, runs longer than 2 hours should be reserved for special occasions.
Over 18-24 months you build a Core Program of:
4 days running per week, nearly all Easy/Steady
A long run, most weeks
Supplemental cross training
Daily mobility work
Shorter duration races & benchmark sets
You are going to be remodeling your heart, your muscles and your connective tissues.
Consistency over time is what it takes.
The Principle of Time Compression
Before getting into favorite variations, the most important concepts for you.
Impact stress is cumulative.
You will focus on single workouts.
I want you to think in terms of time.
The safest, and most effective, way to build up your long “workout” is splitting it up. It is how triathletes build exceptional fitness and the principle applies to the single-sport athlete as well.
Track your volume and consider “run workouts” as containing more than a single session.
Let’s say you want to run 20 miles/32 kilometers. There are many ways to look at this “workout.”
Get it done in a week.
Split 50:50 - each session is 10 miles/16 kilometers
By 48 hours - Day 1 then Day 3
By 36 hours - Day 1 AM then Day 2 PM
By 24 hours - Day 1 then Day 2
By 12 hours - Day 1 PM then Day 2 AM
By 12 hours - Day 1 AM then Day 1 PM
With all but the last variation, you get to sleep between runs.
This principle of Time Compression is particularly useful for marathon and ultramarathon preparations.
With a bicycle, a flexible schedule and an 8-16km run session target… an experienced marathoner/ultrarunner can get a lot of volume done, quite safely.
To challenge duration, move the workouts closer together.
If you’re struggling to extend your single workout duration then break it up.
Duration Focused Long Runs
These are my favorites, in order of increasing difficulty.
Just Run Easy - When you are extending duration, run below the average intensity of the rest of your program.
Endurance Run - Once duration is establishedinsert blocks of Steady effort. These Steady blocks are best placed in the second half of the run. As I explained in Submax Benchmarking, be willing to slow down to keep your heart rate in your target zone.
Be willing to PowerWalk the hills.
PowerWalking uphill is excellent whole-leg training.
Mix the grades you use. On low grades, shorten your stride so your heart rate stays in your target zone.
When going downhill… just run Easy. The impact forces are increased. Downhill, at any speed, gives you what you need. If it’s a long downhill, then insert PowerWalking breaks. Just because your heart rate is down, doesn’t mean it’s easy on your body.
Don’t wear a backpack.
Do hydrate appropriately.
Your Basic Week
At this point you have (almost) everything you need for your training program.
Just Run Easy
The missing ingredient is Quickness.
Once, or twice, a week insert Strides.
If doing once a week then do the strides fresh, after an easy warm-up.
If doing twice a week then one session is done fresh and the other is done fatigued (end of a run).
Each rep is 15 to 20 left foot strikes.
Think quick, not fast.
Use ample recovery, minimum of an easy walk back to the start.
Soft surface, slightly downhill, is best.
This basic week will improve your running performance for a long time => at least five years.
Hardly anyone has the patience to build the adaptations required to absorb their specific capacity training.
The results were exceptional.
It’s the years of running that create championship run fitness.
While you are putting in the miles, know you are preparing your body for the next phase., adding Intensity.
Once this protocol works for you. Return to it. The classic mistake of the newly-fast runner is to forget the training that made them fast in the first place.
Triathletes are always running tired.
Literally, in their races.
Chronically, if they neglect their recovery.
Something runners can learn from triathletes is the use of combination workouts for superior aerobic adaptations.
It’s possible to combine workouts, as well as terrain.
Hills Then Flats
My favorite run-specific combo is Hills Then Flats: Run 30-60 minutes in the hills then 30-60 minutes on the flat.
The downhill load from the first half of the run will simulate the challenge of running tired.
Advanced runners can extend the hill section to 90 minutes and include 2x25 minutes Steady in a 60-minute block at the end.
This is an excellent marathon prep session for the late Base Period.
It’s also a great session for a triathlete to benchmark Steady run pace when fatigued.
The Long Track Session
A moderate track session can be turned into a duration workout.
Submax Aerobic Benchmarking via Progressive Run Test
Strides, or Tire Pulls
Easy Cool Down
This workout will cover 15-25 km and was a staple of my elite triathlon program.
The classic triathlon combination is called a Brick: Bike then Run.
Brick Warm-Up: Runners seeking to improve their metabolic fitness can warm-up on the bike (Easy pace, quick cadence) and create a longer duration workout. This is a simple way to build total workout duration, while keeping run volume the same.
Multiple Bricks: Marathoners seeking to train their race duration can mix multiple transitions into a combination workout.
For example: 2 or 3 rounds of 30 minutes Bike / 30 minutes Run
Progressive Brick: Using the bike to simulate late race feeling, with lower biomechanical risk.
The pattern is:
40 minutes Bike / 20 minutes Run
30 minutes Bike / 30 minutes Run
20 minutes Bike / 40 minutes Run
The last 40-minute run will give the runner a taste of late workout fatigue and also give them the confidence to “take it easy” early in the race. The same pace feels very different after 2.5 hours of exercise.
I know you want to progress your training.
However, what makes great runners is many years of consistent training.
Just Stay Healthy
Endurance Essentials is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Back To Table of Contents
Something, in this context, is General Capacity for run volume.
You’ll find my favorite run workouts here.
You can help the timeline with daily mobility work and lowering the total stress in your life.
Established for at least six weeks.
As an elite triathlete, I rigged up a tire with a mountain bike tube as a harness. I would do loaded strides both fresh (before track) and fatigued (after my long run).