Benefits of Running Long

runner on path

If you’ve ever run a marathon or you’re currently training for one, you’ve probably heard about (and hopefully never experienced) “hitting the wall.”  Hitting the wall is a point in the race when the body has used up its stored carbohydrates, or glycogen. That’s when the body has to rely on fat for its primary source of energy. Since burning fat is not as efficient as burning carbohydrates, the body feels fatigued and your pace slows dramatically.

Some runners refer to the feeling as running through mud or running with bags of sand on their feet. 

So what’s the best way to avoid that miserable experience? By doing weekly long runs. For marathon runners, long runs are usually in the 10 to 20-mile range. Here are some of the benefits you’ll get by doing a weekly long run:

Improved Endurance

When you’re running long, you’re developing greater aerobic endurance so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to attain the same performance level. The long runs strengthen your heart and open your capillaries, both sending energy to working muscles and flushing waste products from fatigued muscles.

Increased Muscle Power

During long runs, your body recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers to help with slow-twitch tasks (like running a marathon), so you have more muscle fibers trained to get you through the marathon. Other physiological benefits include the increased number and size of mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouse of your muscles.

Trains Body to Use Fat as Fuel Source

The long run also trains your body to tap into fat as an energy source before your carbohydrates are depleted. As a result, your stored carbohydrates last longer, helping to avoid that dreaded “wall”.

Nutrition and Hydration Practice

Of course, you’ll still need more energy during a 26.2-mile race, so the long run also gives marathoners a chance to practice fueling with carbs while running, which is another way to avoid hitting the wall.

Since every runner reacts differently to eating or drinking carbohydrates on the run, the long run lets marathoners experiment with different fueling options, such as sports drinks, gels, or energy bars that are quickly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream to fuel muscles. You can experiment with different options and make sure you don’t have any stomach or gastrointestinal issues issues after consuming them.

Hydration is also critical to your race safety and performance, so long runs give you a chance to practice drinking water and sports drinks before the marathon.

Gear and Clothing Tests

In addition to your nutrition choices, the “nothing new on race day” rule also applies to your running shoes, gear, and clothing. Shorts or shirts that pose no problems during shorter runs may chafe when you go past the 10-mile mark, and it’s much better to figure that out during a training run than in the marathon. Testing gear and clothing during your long runs means that you’ll have your race outfit ready to go and there will be no surprises on race day.

Build Mental Toughness

In addition to building the necessary endurance and physically preparing you for running 26.2 miles, long runs get you ready for the challenge of staying focused and mentally strong to avoid hitting a point when your mind, not your legs, is telling you to stop. Long runs build your confidence as a runner so you’ll feel prepared to deal with the mental challenges. And if you face a rough patch during your marathon, you’ll be able to draw upon your long runs to help pull you through.

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