The Importance of the Long Run, by Jackson Preparatory School coach Jordan Pritchard
Q: For starters... What is the long run?
A: That's a great question, and in my opinion, the real answer is one that a lot of people don't know, and that is that the long run is a workout.
To get more specific, it is a threshold workout where you are trying to increase your aerobic fitness, and in turn, your cardiovascular system gets stronger.
The long run is one of the absolute purest and best ways to gain aerobic fitness, but here is the common misconception - They are not meant to be run at a slow pace.
To increase your aerobic fitness, you have to lower your aerobic threshold.
What does aerobic threshold mean? Well, aerobic means you can produce oxygen at the pace you are running, and threshold, in this case, is the line of producing oxygen versus not producing oxygen at whatever pace you are running.
The faster you can run at your aerobic threshold, the better your oxygen intake is, which can translate at any pace.
Q: How do you find that pace?
A: Another good question. Although we're talking a lot about pace here, your aerobic threshold is not a pace... It's an effort.
However, we have to start somewhere, and the best way to find your current aerobic threshold pace is two minutes slower than your mile PR.
Another way to gauge aerobic threshold is if you want to run a 4:30 mile, then you have to be able to handle the work of a 4:30 miler. This means that you need to, slowly and cautiously, work your way up to 9-10 miles at 6:30 pace for long runs.
There might be some athletes out there who have a mile PR of 4:30 but don't do this for their long runs... In my opinion, this means they are riding by on talent and can run even faster if they lower their aerobic threshold.
As distance runners, it is also very important to work on our aerobic fitness, as that is what will carry us through well over half of the race.
Q: What are the benefits of doing a long run correctly?
A: Well, if you are aerobically undertrained, then there is a higher chance that you might fall off in the last 10-20% of any race, 800 meters and up.
For example, if you look at the elite runners out there, a big reason that their kicks are so good is not that they're simply faster than everyone else - It is because they are less tired than everyone else going into the last lap.
Obviously, there is also some light speed work that can be done, but it should be a complement to your aerobic work.
Lastly, rule number one on any team is that you should always listen to your coach, whether or not they use this plan for aerobic training. This is simply my advice and input into the MileSplit Mississippi Coach's Corner.