Mastering the Long Run

When you’re racing long, how far should you run in training?

It does not matter if you are new to trail running or are an experienced marathoner , the long run is the key to any successful trail running training program. Bit knowing when to schedule your runs how long and how vigorous t make them and the est way to recover can be confusing.  Marathoners typically work up to a run of 20 or more miles in preparation for the distance, and even middle-distance track stars regularly put in double-digit miles.

But when the distances you’re training for are unprecedented for your body – 50K, 50 miles, 100K or even 100 miles – how far, exactly, should your longest runs be?

Here’s how to you train your body for the battle ahead without completely wasting yourself before race day.

The basics

Long runs increase endurance and build capillaries – the small blood vessels surrounding your cells – which allows more oxygen to be delivered to your muscles. Perhaps most importantly, they build the mental fortitude to push through, or even avoid, low points.

There is no fool-proof formula for long runs, and they need to be tailored to individual athletes, says Christopher Lundstrom, 39, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a USA Track & Field-certified coach with PRs of 3:23 in the 50K, 6:48 in the 50-mile and 2:17 in the marathon. “How you respond to longer runs on specific terrain is going to determine how much you can and should do.

“Some runners are going to feel pretty worn out from a four-hour run,” he continues, “while others might feel great two days later as long as they don’t push the pace too much. The key is to time the long runs in order to continue to gain fitness, rather than to continually overload and actually become worn out – overtrained, injured, or just plain sick of running.”

All of that, he says, makes a difference in determining how frequent and far your long runs should be.

Video: Training for the long Run

50K training

The 50K distance can be approached like a marathon – it’s only about five miles longer – and Lundstrom says runners aiming to be competitive can do a couple of long runs approaching the 50K/31-mile distance. Otherwise, he says, “having done 23 to 25 miles on trails is enough, especially for someone who has done some road marathons and has a few years of running under their belt.”

He suggests breaking your longest runs into progression-type efforts: “The run is divided into quarters and the first part is nice and relaxed, the second part is just a touch quicker, the third part is a moderate effort and the final part of the run is moderately hard, the effort you expect to feel toward the end of the 50K.”

If you’re not a 50K rookie, you may be able to get away with even less. “If you raced another 50K two or three months ago, you probably don’t need to worry about trying to replicate that in training as you have the physiological and mental benefit of having done the same distance very recently,” Lundstrom says. “Oftentimes, I would do my first 50K of the year on no more than a 22-mile long run. But maybe I ran a 50-mile and a few 50Ks the previous year, plus a road marathon, so the idea of covering the distance was not a big concern.”

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