There are few workouts that I hate more than the weekly (or bi-weekly) long run. The workout probably offers the most benefit of any workout for a runner as it makes them tough enough to handle hard, fast longer races like half-marathons. This toughness also has benefits for shorter races because it develops the leg strength and aerobic capabilities that makes really gut-wrenching running possible. Thus, for lots of runners, this workout is a weekly ritual. A few friends gather together early on a Sunday morning and form a unique support group as each runner slogs their way through the weekly long run. In most cases, this leaves them stiff-legged and sore for Monday. I’d like to propose a few strategies to make this workout a little easier for the competitive age group runner.
Split up the Long Run
The first strategy for making the long run a little bit easier is to simply split it up. I find that what really hurts my body in a long run is never the first few opening miles—instead, it’s the last few miles where I’m asking my body to go into uncharted territory. Having two long(er) days instead of one monstrously long day minimizes the impact of the long run.
Some of you may say that that devastating impact is exactly the intended effect of your weekly long run. While it’s certainly true that it provides a strong training stimulus, it should be just as obvious that it comes at a huge cost. If your running is compromised for two or three days afterwards, that cost is way too high. This is particularly true for older runners who can’t bounce back as easily from intense workouts.
I think that the trick is to get right up to the border of the “uncharted territory” that I described above— and then stop the workout. This is hardly a clear test, but there comes a point in any long run where I start to feel the wheels coming off the truck. My form deteriorates. My pace drops (or it is really hard to maintain). Each step feels heavy as my feet drop with a thud. Every step beyond this point takes a real toll on my body—and it’s exactly at that point that I should stop my long run. This way, the long run only has slightly more fatigue than a normal run and I’ll be able to bounce back much more quickly—probably allowing me to get another long run or speedwork session for the week.
Finish Up on an Alter-G
When I was training for a half-marathon “A” race a few years, I developed this strategy for my long runs and found it really helpful. The trick is simple—finish up your long runs on an Alter-G treadmill.
The trick requires a bit of careful planning. Specifically, you figure out where in your run you may start to struggle— and give yourself a “buffer” of about a mile or two before that happens. You want to make sure that all of your “struggling” miles are run on the Alter-G. In my experience, runners in a sensible build have trouble in the last 4-5 miles of their long runs—so that portion of their running should be on an Alter-G. Next you have to reserve an Alter-G treadmill and plan your run so that you can finish at the Alter-G facility right about the time that you expect to struggle. Then, go on your run and immediately transition over to the Alter-G as planned to finish up your long run. While you’re on the Alter-G, you should try to run at your marathon goal pace and lower the gravity just enough to make this possible. This teaches your body to run at race pace when it’s really tired, while also minimizing the impact from these struggling miles. Each week, increase the amount of time running outdoors while keeping your Alter-G time constant. Then, once you hit your mileage ceiling on your long runs, just reduce your Alter-G time.
Pulling it All Together
Incorporating an Alter-G into your long runs may add a few weeks to your running build, but makes a hard running build a lot easier on your body. Unless you’re in the marathon build, I’d stick with splitting up the long run into two long(ish) runs. But if I were building up to marathon, I’d feel a bit nervous without a few really long runs under my belt. In that case, I’d probably start transitioning to using an Alter-G treadmill for a once-a-week long run.
While Alter-G treadmills used to be hard to find, they are now popping up everywhere. You can easily find one near you by visiting http://www.alterg.com/product/find-an-alterg/.
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