Runners often have a love/hate relationship with the long run. We love the sense of accomplish- ment we feel when it’s over; we hate the anticipation of actually getting out there.
Yet it must be done: the long run is the keystone of any training program – 5-K to marathon. “The long run builds endurance and strength, and teaches you how to deal with fatigue,” says Maria Simone, a US-based triathlon-certified coach and owner of an endurance coaching business.
Indeed, extending the distance you normally cover triggers several lasting changes in your body, says 2:24 marathoner and running coach Kevin Beck. Capillaries in your muscle fibres increase in number, which enables more energising oxygen to reach your muscles. Your mitochondria, the aerobic powerhouses of your cells, also grow in number and size, which helps you to sustain energy. Your muscles also learn to store more glycogen (carbs), which wards off fatigue over long distances. There are psychological benefits, too: long runs build mental toughness to help you manage discomfort. They also serve as a dress rehearsal, giving you an opportunity to test gear and fuelling options so when race day arrives, you’ll know what works best.
Long runs aren’t easy; they don’t have to be death marches, either. There are a number of ways to make your journey comfortable
– enjoyable, even.