This is how long weekend long runs should be

long run

We asked the Enda Community on Instagram what questions you would ask of a Kenyan running coach. One of the more popular ones was: how long should a long run be? 

So, I met with Coach Paul to ask him. This time we also had the Legendary Henry Wanyoike join in the chat and share his thoughts on the long run. 

Henry started off by telling me, I do not want to sound prescriptive about X distance or Y time. One of my biggest lessons as a paralympic runner is that training and everything that comes with it: it's all in the mind. I’ve learned that on days when you are calm, happy and easy, and you’ve had a good sleep, a 10 - 15KM may feel almost effortless, but when you are stressed or distracted, even a 5KM that is quite doable for me may feel a bit challenging.”

I took it as a polite way for him to tell me that the question was skipping a step. First, don’t worry about the long run. Only then will you be ready to do a long run.

He went on to explain how he thinks about the long run as part of his training plan:

I’ve always lived by a popular analogy I heard over 10 years ago in my running journey, it was about training being likened to drawing water from a well. I mean, the hand-dug wells in which the water is hand-drawn with the help of a rope to fill up your buckets (very popular in Kenya, and across Africa). In this case, the training process involves three buckets to fill, there’s the easy bucket (easy runs), the hard bucket (fartleks, hill work e.t.c), and of course, the long bucket (long runs). Each day of your training involves filling up these buckets.”

I came here to learn about that third bucket: the long run! How big should that bucket be?

Coach Paul jumped in here, “a long run is like the way to picture your endurance. I think the question, and not just to novice runners is, what do you want to make out of your long run? At the end of the day, the target (goal) is that we are trying to learn how to endure - teaching our bodies to continue moving regardless of a set distance or time. Other things like hydration, the right gear for the run, and what you eat (fueling) are central to your endurance, and how you will maintain your pace during your long run.” 

Makes sense. There is no right answer for how long a run needs to be. If you’re training for a marathon obviously you’ll need to train to endure for longer than if you’re training for a 5k race. But how should it fit with the rest of the week?

Again, Paul had guidance here of running distance “depending on your level of training, our definitions of long runs will vary. If you run 30, 40 minutes a day, it makes sense to consider a 60 or 80 minute run a long run.” 

It’s often said that a long run shouldn’t be more than 50% of your total weekly distance. Here Paul recommends the long run should only be about twice as long as your regular runs. Which makes sense. Twice as long does indeed make it a much longer run.

Paul concluded: “I think, my long run is not someone else’s long run. That means, while helping determine what distance or time you will need to take on for a long run, my judgment of what you need to try for a long run is based on your level of training, and your previous runs. If you do 5KM daily, on a gradual trend, and with your body adapting over time, an 8 - 10 KM day would count for your long run. An extra 20-30 minute on your daily 40-minute run I think is the same thing.”

Henry concluded, “If you are getting started, filling the long run bucket means being able to run throughout the distances that you previously both walked and ran to complete. And, it's important to note that your state of mind is a big part of how well your body adapts to filling this bucket.”

So from talking to these two athletes my answers were:

  • Long runs should be about twice as long as your regular easy runs
  • How long your long run will depend on what you’re training for. Train to endure what you’re training for by running your target distance. 
  • Long runs are also about training your mind. It’s key to being psychologically prepared to go the full distance.