Everything You Wanted to Know About Long Runs

Build endurance and develop mental strength with a weekly half marathon training long run. 

Ask any runner or running coach what the most important of their training plan is and they’ll tell you – the long run

Don’t believe us? Head outdoors on any Saturday or Sunday, and you’ll see countless runners with running belts secured around their waists slogging through miles — most of them in the midst of their weekly long run.

What makes the long run so important? Why is it a staple of virtually all training plans whether you’re preparing for the half marathon distance, marathon, or even a shorter distance event, like the 5km or 10km?

Outside of running with consistency, the long run is the most important part of half marathon training.

The long run enables necessary physiological adaptations, including increased mitochondria, muscle fiber recruitment, and musculoskeletal stress.

This adaptations are responsible for building endurance…meaning these are the changes that allow you to run further faster with less fatigue.

In this blog post, we explain everything you need to know about the long run when training for a half marathon, such as how long you should your long run be, how to prepare for a long run, how long your longest run should be before a half marathon, and more.

Half marathon training long run on a trail will provide more forgiveness than on concrete.

What is considered a long run?

Simply, the long run is your longest run of the week. The duration of your long run depends on your training goal, running experience, and how many weeks you’re into your training.

The long run is part of every balanced half marathon training plan. Where you’ll only start to get into speed work like fartleks or cross training at more intermediate levels, the long run is a necessity of half marathon training.

For most beginners training for a half marathon, a long run will be between 5 and 8 miles.

For intermediate runners training for a half marathon, long runs will be between 8 and 12 miles.

If you’re comparing your long run distances to other runners, don’t worry. Any type of long run serves the same purpose when training for a half marathon — it teaches your body to run more efficiently, and promotes the necessary physiological adaptations to run further, faster.

How long should your longest run be for a half marathon?

When training for your first half marathon race, your longest run should be no more than 12 miles completed two weeks before your event date.

This 12 mile long run should be followed by a two week taper — a period of decreased volume and intensity — to allow time for the body to recover for race day.

If you’re not a fan of running by distance, you can train by time. How many hours or minutes should your longest run be?

Jack Daniels, PHD and author of the Daniels’ Running Formula recommends that your longest run is no more than 150 minutes.

As part of Jack’s training plan: you don’t start to run for the entire 150 minutes.

On the first long run of a training plan, the recommended running time is 50 minutes.

As you increase your total weekly distance or time spent training, gradually increase your long run distance each week. So, the following week you may run for 60 minutes, then 70, and so on.

Daniels also suggests your long run should be no more than 25% of your weekly mileage. If you’re running 20 miles per week, your long run should not exceed 5 miles.

This is a standard best practice that tries to discourage runners from loading up weekly mileage in one weekend long run while skipping or reducing any weekly training mileage. A training program like that has a high risk of injury.

Simply, avoid increasing the distance too suddenly and stick to your training to see the best results. 

How long does it take to train for the half marathon?

We suggest dedicating a minimum of 8 weeks of training and up to 16 or even 20 weeks.

Typically, most half marathon training plans are 12 weeks total.

If you’re at a stage of your running where you’re in need of a more dynamic and specific training plan, through our partnership with Runna, you’ll get 2-weeks of free training plans with the code HALFMARATHON. Training with an app allows for better clarity into your fitness level, progress, and offers a variety of workouts like cross-training, and fartleks (also known as speed work).

Before starting a new training plan, spend a few weeks just running to build an aerobic and muscular base. If you want to be more specific with your training, keep the intensity light and in Zone 2, approximately 60-70% max heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate is traditionally 220 – your age. For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate, on average, will be 180 beats per minute. Your Zone 2 heart rate would therefore be between 108 and 126 beats per minute.

Consistent running (at least 3 days a week) will prepare your body, muscles, and tendons for the more intense training weeks ahead – reducing the risk of injury.

“When you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners and not against the time.” – Haile Gebrselassie, long-distance runner.

How often should you run when training for a half marathon?

Most training plans recommend running at least 4 days a week and up to 6 depending on your training experience. At 6 days per week of training, most days are easy pace running to build and maintain endurance.

We add 2 rest days a week to all Half Marathon Guide training plans to ensure adequate rest between sessions.

Rest days allow the body to recover and adapt to your training.

When should you do your last long run before a half marathon?

You should run your last and longest run 2 weeks before race day.

If you are running a half marathon, that long run should be between 10 to 12 miles.

If you are running a full marathon, that long run should be between 20 and 22 miles.

The objective of final long run is to mimic the race distance to train mentally and physically with how to deal with late-stage race fatigue.

This final long run is designed to simulate the tiredness you’ll feel during the actual race. It will be your final long run before a taper, but at a speed slower than your goal pace.

In the final two weeks, you will taper your running — meaning less intense running in both distance and intensity, to ensure your body is fully recovered and ready to perform at its best on race day.

Half marathon training long runs require warm ups and cool downs.

The different types of long runs 

There are several variations of how to actually run your long run.

The simplest long run format is to run at an easy pace which should be between 1:30 and 2:00 minutes slower than your race pace. If you’d like to run your half marathon pace at a 9:00 per mile run pace, you should aim to run a long run at a 10:30 to 11:00 minute per mile pace.

Other long run workouts you can incorporate include progression workouts, tempo efforts, and intervals. But unless you consider yourself an elite or advanced runner, we recommend focusing exclusively on slow, long distance run.

By increasing your weekly mileage and the distance of your long run — you’re placing extra stress on your muscles. Adding too much variety or intensity is not recommended or required for beginners and intermediate runners.

If you are a beginner or intermediate runner and you’re craving variety, you can do a set strides during or after your long run, cross train with biking or rowing, or incorporate strength training to improve muscle development and form.

How to prepare for a long run 

Some runners prepare methodically for their long training runs, others not so much.

We suggest experimenting with what works for you, so long as you cover these basic requirements:

  • Prioritize sleep
  • Focus on good nutrition the day before, morning of, and during your long run
  • Drink plenty of water

We’ll break down the best ways to prepare below, including what foods to eat, how much water to drink, and other training tips to help you prepare for a long run.

Nutrition

Nutrition is often overcomplicated when it comes to half marathon and marathon training.

But, what to eat before your long run mimics what you should be eating before your long distance races.

Nutrition and nutrition planning is really simple.

Eat plenty of carbs. But, don’t overdo it with bagels for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before a goal race, you’ll strategically incorporate carbs in a “carb loading” period, which should read more about in our guide.

Some runners swear by pizza the evening before their long run, but any other quality (ideally complex carbohydrate) will do. Avoid eating too much fiber, as this may upset your stomach. 

The morning before your long runs, practice your race day breakfast. Good options include porridge and fruit, toast, or cereal. Play around with it, and see what works best for you!

Aside from the evening before and the morning of your long run, the standard guidelines apply — get some form of protein after a run or workout, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and eat healthy fats, e.g., nuts, avocados, sesame oils, cheese, and even dark chocolate.

Hydration 

You’re probably dehydrated as you’re reading this. Go and grab a glass of water and then continue reading this post, we’ll wait.

Men should aim to drink 3 liters a day, and women 2.2 liters, according to one study

And while that may seem like a lot, hydration improves recovery (helps deliver essential nutrients to the muscles), lubricates the joints, prevents dehydration, and will improve performance.

Before your long run, aim to drink a minimum of 500ml in the 2 hours leading up to training.

If training on a hot day or running longer than 90 minutes, bring a small water bottle and take on fluids during your run.

Practice your half marathon fueling plan.

Race day nutrition

Depending on your estimated time goal, you might not need to eat anything during your half marathon.

Good rest and nutrition prior to the event will suffice. If you expect to finish the event in 90 + minutes, you may choose to pack a couple of running gels or chews.

Practice race day nutrition in training — your long runs are a great time to do this.

Intake of fluids are necessary for most half marathon events, especially if it’s particularly hot or humid. You can also take electrolytes to prevent cramps, dehydration and help you perform your best.

Aim to drink a minimum of 0.4 liters/hour, more if the weather is more intense. Again, practice your race day hydration in your training.

What is a good schedule for running long runs for a half marathon?

Your training plan for your next half marathon should not be complicated. Use any of our training schedules or use a training app like Runna.

Most runners schedule their long run training sessions on weekends. Often, this is paired with an easier paced run on the other weekend day.

For experienced runners, consider including recovery runs, tempo workouts (12-15 seconds faster than full marathon pace), long runs, and strides into your training cycle.

Find the right half marathon training plan for you 

When training for a half marathon, we always suggest that you follow a training plan. The added structure makes it easier to stick to your workouts, and a plan that is designed by an expert, ensures you tick all the right boxes, getting you to the start line feeling confident and in good fitness.

If you’re ready to increase accountability and train with intention, check out our half marathon training plans for runners of all abilities.

If you prefer an app for your phone that provides feedback on how you’re tracking along to a specific goal and can coach you to your best half marathon, consider an app like Runna.

FAQs

What is the difference between a long run and a tempo run?

Long runs are slow runs used to improve endurance, while tempo runs are much faster and help you run at higher intensities for longer. Both are necessary for half marathon training, but they are very different running sessions.

How many miles should I run a week for a half marathon?

A good target you can aim for is to build up to 30 miles a week in the last 2 weeks before your half marathon race. Increase your weekly miles gradually, perhaps starting at 15 and increasing this over an 8-12 week period.

How many long runs should I do before a half marathon?

It depends on how many weeks of preparation you have before your event. If you have 8 weeks, aim to complete 6-7 long runs.

Do I have to do a long run to train for a half marathon?

Yes. The long run teaches your body to run further and provides you with the necessary physiological adaptations to cover the full 13.1 miles.

Do I need to warm up or cool down after a long run?

Yes. It’s always recommended to warm up with dynamic stretching before any run, long run included. Additionally, a cool down is recommended but not mandatory for any running workout.

What kind of running shoes do I need for a long run?

Long distance shoes traditionally have more cushion and stack height, providing more relief over a long run, compared to a speed workout shoe.

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