Your weekly long run is obviously a staple in your formula for developing running endurance. Most of us have been taught that long runs should be slow and steady — in your Zone 2 range, or slower than marathon pace — and that still holds true. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have more fun during our time with those miles. Here are a few exciting additions you can build into your long runs to spice them up and to help you gain fitness a little faster.
5 Long Run Alternatives
The following are five long run alternatives that you can use in your weekly training. Alternate them every second or third workout between a heavy Zone 2 (aerobic workout) and your usual long run that should have some intensity.
1. 5K Efforts Within Your Long Run
After a solid 2-mile or 20-minute warm-up, you can add in 10-15 x 1-minute intervals at 5K pace with a 2-minute recovery period between each. Just get up to speed, get your legs turning over, and then bring it back down to Zone 2 pace. The idea here is to break out of the Zone 2 effort and to add a little zip to your run.
2. 10K Efforts Within Your Long Run
After a warm-up, you can add in 10 x 2-minute intervals at 10K pace with 2 minutes of recovery in between. Once again, you are creating some stress by touching a faster pace for a short period of time, and then backing off. Doing a few repeats won’t have a big effect, but doing 20 minutes worth will put a little dent in your recovery time. The idea is to teach your body 10K pace without smoking yourself early in the season.
3. Tempo Finish — One of My Favorites!
On a long run of any distance, I love to see athletes push the last 30 minutes of the run to finish it off at half marathon pace or faster. This is especially good if you are racing a marathon or an IRONMAN. Being able to push the pace a little faster than you’ll need in the race is beneficial both physically and mentally. An added challenge would be to run this on an out and back course, finishing with a slight uphill.
4. Marathon Pacing with a Mix of Half Marathon Pacing
This one can really test your fitness. After a good warm-up, run 3 x 20-minute intervals at Zone 2 heart rate, then do 2 X 12-minute sets at Tempo effort (Zone 3 heart rate and half marathon pacing). After that, and near the end of the workout, your goal is to run at your threshold for 10 minutes. This may sound easy, but it’s a hard one to execute properly. Those 10 minutes at threshold, toward the end, will definitely be challenging.
5. All Spice Long Run
Finally, the one workout that you can do about three to four weeks from your A race! Think of this workout as the one that will bring it all together for you. After a solid warm-up, run a few 20-minute efforts at Zone 2, followed by a nice 20 minutes of tempo, followed by 5 x 2-minute intervals at 10K pace. To really finish this right, you’ll run 10 x 1-minute sets at 5K pace, with 1 minute at 10K pace. This will definitely leave a mark and you’ll know if you pushed too hard, so it’s a good workout to determine if you are pacing well, or if you need to back off your pace expectations in the upcoming race.
This will be around a 2:20 to 2:30 long run — the cherry on top of all your other long run variations. Here’s a breakdown of the complete workout:
- 20 minutes of warm-up of Zone 1 building to Zone 2.
- Then, run 2 x 20-minute sets at Zone 2 with 5 minutes of easy recovery between the efforts.
- Next, move into 20 minutes of Tempo or Zone 3.
- After 5 easy minutes, run 5 x 2-minute intervals at 10K pace with 2 minutes of recovery between efforts. The last set will alternate between 1 minute at 5K pace and 1 minute at 10K pace for 10 reps. This is 20 minutes altogether of 5K to 10K pace.
- Finish up with a nice, easy cooldown.
There you have it — five solid, long run workouts that are anything but your classic, easy long runs. I have been adding these workouts and other similar strategies into my athletes’ training plans for a long time, and the evidence shows fitness benefits on race day!