The Long Run


Experience From - Karl King , Bill LaDieu , Karl King#2 , Al Zeller , Steve Pero , Ryan , Unknown , Rich Schick , George Beinhorn , Jay Hodde , Tom Noll , Tom Hughes ,

Karl King

The endurance benefits of a long run take 3-4 weeks to fully materialize.

If you have an ultra to do in 9 weeks, the best long run strategy would be to do a long run ASAP, another in a couple weeks, and then one 4 weeks before the run. If you're doing a 50, try to get two long runs of 25 miles.

Bill LaDieu

George Beinhorn discusses the benefits of the long run in preparation for 50's and 100's and I would like to offer my experience this past year. I have done a good share of my training on the Appalachian Trail in South Central Pennsylvania. A typical long training run done two to three times per month is a 20 - 30 miler with about 2000-3000 feet of steep climb and decent on rocky single track. This run typically takes about 5-7 hours to complete depending on the heat and how I feel. Training between the long runs is somewhat sporadic as it takes my body a long time to recover (3-4 days) before I can do any significant running. Hence the hard week easy week formula. The week before the long run I try to do Hilly 10 miler on the roads with some shorter faster workouts typically 5 - 6 miles. I closely monitor how I'm feeling such that I will be ready for the long run on the weekend.

This formula has worked for me. In all my races this past year 1-50k Hinte Anderson (MD), 1 -50M Bull Run (VA), 2 100 milers - Vermont DNF at 68 and Hlaiburton Forest(ONT) finish, I felt good and had a great time. My main problem is monitoring my fluid and food intake. I get very careless during the race and tend to under drink and eat and usually have trouble with nausea. If I eat and drink I have no trouble running. My stomach caused me to drop at Vermont.

Conclusions I have reached:

  1. I can get to the finish line in good shape if I pay attention to myself during the race.
  2. Keeps me fresh - I tend not to overtrain.
  3. Keeps me slow as I don't have the training volume or speed to maintain a fast pace over the distance.
  4. Provides sufficient rest to accommodate my aging body.
  5. The long training runs are low pressure and enjoyable.
Galloway's Book on Running provides an interesting discussion of the benefits of the long run and low miliage. He advocates the hard week easy week coupled with speed work for Marathon training. I extrapolated his ideas to ultra training along with info gathered from those of you who advocate low milage training.

Please note I am experiment of one and my training methods may not be transferable to others.

Karl King #2

Paul wrote:

"My guess is that after a runner has run a substantial number of ultra's, the body adapts to this training level, and the runner can maintain that ability with little running, as long as the runner continues to run periodic races. But newbies like us need a lot more conditioning."
Despite what they tell you in Runner's World, a long run is not for the leg muscles; it is for the endocrine system - a point which has eluded Runner's World authors for over two decades. You can train your muscles by running a 12 mile run every day for an 84 mile week, and be profoundly unprepared for a 50 mile run. However, if you did four runs of 12 and one of 36, you'd have the endurance for most ultras. The difference is that the 36 would stress your endocrine system and force it to adapt for the demands of long distance running. That adaptation is slow to build, and slow to fade, so you don't need a long run every week.

So, Paul's observation is correct. Newbies need the long run work to train their endocrine system. Veterans have paid their dues, so to speak, and can get by with the endurance work found in regularly running an ultra. For example, since Jay has run a bunch of 100s in the last two years, he doesn't need to run over 18 in his training between ultras. Of course, if he didn't run an ultra in three years, he'd lose his adaptation and need to build up again.

A good point is that newbies need to be careful in interpreting how the advice from veterans applies to them. A veteran may sincerely say "this works for me", and since the vet has the adaptation, it does work and seems pretty easy. The newbie, without much adaptation may find that the practice doesn't work for them. Growing and learning are part of the fun of ultra running.

Al Zeller

I have to disagree with Karl's response to Paul on this one. Based on my own experiment of one, total miles are more important than the length of single long runs. Fifteen or so years ago when I was running sub-six hour 50 milers, I never ran more than 20 miles at a time, altho a weekend work out consisted of two 20s and a 10 miler. A standard weekly sum was 100-120 miles.

It was only when I got lazy that I started to run my weekend 50 miles by doing a pair of 25s or a 30 plus 20, or some such. It was a lot easier on the body and mind than 3 work outs at a fast pace, but it wasn't as effective.

Now, you may be correct if you are talking about 100 miles, or the long ones, but 50 miles can be run without any walking breaks. Conventional wisdom said the slow down from the marathon was 1 min per mile. I think it closer to 30 sec, but that requires you to run every step.

Steve Pero

In defense of Jason Hodde, I, too, very rarely run much more than 18-20 miles at a time while training for a 100, but I will do this sometimes twice on a weekend. Generally I don't even know (or care) how far I've run...I usually go out for 2-3 hours on Saturday and 3-4 hours on Sunday, and I do these very slowly, walking hills, etc. to prepare for what I am going to do in the event. These runs are the meat of my training, bridging them with shorter runs during the week. Doing this type of training, I was able to comfortably finish Vermont in 19:45. I also, like Jason, will run an ultra run of 50K or more every 4-6 weeks to get that "long" run in.


I've got to side with Jason, Steve and Karl on this one. My long runs are usually in the 3-4 hour range (on trails) so the mileage I cover is probably not more than 20 on any given run. I normally race a 50k or 50 miler about every 4-6 weeks and this summer I was able to complete Western States and Leadville in 23:36 and 24:57. To Larry's post, yes, injury is very likely with such minimum mileage. I was able to run 2 days after Western States because my training up to the race was fairly steady (about 40 miles a week) but between Western States and Leadville (eight week period) I only ran 4 or 5 times total.

I live at sea level (actually maybe about 20-30 feet above sea level), I arrived in Colorado for Leadville on Thursday at 10 o'clock in the evening. Injuries that followed, serious case of tendinitis and lots of fluid in my lungs. Like Karl was saying, it takes a long time to lose that level in the endocrine system and this is definitely a testimony to that. Now 10 days after the race, I am just getting the feeling that I could run again painlessly. So yes, there are injuries that occur but nothing permanent on my part.


Scott Hodges wrote:

"With all the advice that has been thrown out regarding mileage and training. I would be very curious to hear what the LONGEST TRAINING RUN veterans of the sport did prior to their first or better yet any 100 miler. I understand the concept of you body growing adapt to the mileage, but is a training long run of 50 miles (not a race) prior to a 100 miler necessary?"
Scott, I've been watching the posts on this subject and it looks like you're getting good advice. It's important to remember you have to train the muscles, the endocrine system (as Karl King describes) AND the brain for 100 miles. The muscles are the easy part. If you're marathon trained and do lots hills for the legs, you'll be fine. The endocrine system is a different story, and if you're not used to running long, you've got to run long to train your metabolism to burn the right stuff at the right time. Only long runs can do that, so if you're new to the sport, you've got to do some long training runs of several hours. It's not so much the distance as the time out there, so you probably don't necessarily need a 50. But the brain training is the hardest part, and here a 50 definitely comes in hand if you're new to the sport. You need to experience all the ups and down your poor mind goes through in a long race. Some folks are tough enough to experience that for the first time in their first 100, but I don't recommend it. If you have a chance to do at least one 50 first, you should do it. And 3 50's first would be even better.

Rich Schick

While admittedly not much of a 100 miler(I hate sleep deprivation) I have eked out a 126m 24hr in the past and over the years passed the 200 mark for ultras completed with a few decent runs along the way. I have always felt that the key was "time on your feet". Somewhere along the line I came up with 4-5 hours as what was needed to have performances consistently near one's best ability.

As I get older and slower I don't need as many miles to reach this objective, and when young and fast, injuries or illness would sometimes decrease the requisite miles. I do this length of run once weekly except for the week prior and after running an ultra.

Utilizing time rather than distance as a parameter makes the principle applicable to all levels of runners, and self regulates with any given runners state of conditioning at a given point in time. The only other point I'd like to make is that I never concern myself with doing my long runs fast - they are strictly for enjoyment. My hard runs or "quality" runs are during my shorter runs.

George Beinhorn

At Miwok 100K, I asked a trail sweep how he trained for WS. He said he came out on the hills for 16-20 hours, sometimes overnight. I asked what pace he ran, and he said, "Oh, like we're doing now." (We were power-walking at about 13-15:00 pace.)

Jay Hodde

Larry wrote:

"This meant miles, losts of them. Not year-round, but in season with a focus towards a goal. Post-100 and off-season mileage hovers between 60-75 mpw, which is doable with a balanced work and personal/family life. In-season/peak mileage bumps up to 135-150mpw, and this is work! Doubles 2x weekly, and weekend runs of 30-45mi Sat/Sun. The peak season this year ran from early July to last weekend. Now it's taper time for Wasatch. All this groundwork pays off from 55 miles+ in the race, when one starts catching and leaving a lot of the earlier ones, who are pushing on their quads and having to cope with dehydration/nutrition events not experienced in their 20mi runs."
I want to thank Larry for posting some very good training advice that has obviously worked for him. This sort of thing benefits everyone and is much more informative than simply making some social commentary on what another person has written. It's the type of thing I want on this list -- feel free to disagree, but instead of just saying that one person's opinion is garbage, give some alternatives for others to consider.

That said, I've tried the levels of mileage that Larry runs. Personal experience tells me that:

  1. An off-season training base of 60 - 75 a week is incompatible with my body. I start to get nagging injuries when I reach mileage of this proportion. While 75 a week doesn't interfere with personal/family/work life much more than 60 does (at leat time-wise), I find that injuries make me intolerable to others. My body type just doesn't lend well to much more than I am doing.

    PS. I agree with the periodicity principle Larry talks about. The difference is that in the off season, my mileage is 35-40.

  2. An in-season training week of 135-150 is incompatible with me for a number of reasons. Work. Personal life. Body. I have never been able to run > 100 a week in training, and I've never wanted to.

  3. I can finish an ultra on the mileage that I'm doing. I may not finish it as fast as I might with more training mileage, and I may not feel as good doing it, but it can be done. (Other comments follow below)

"What does strike me is that through a powerful acts of will, Jay has gotten through a number of 100s, that by his own description [refer to his website], are testaments of overcoming suffering. Events described in these accounts refer back to training/mileage issues raised here."
The events described in those accounts are truthful, but I need to put them in context -- at least to a degree. Much of what I write (I write on the side, as a hobby, and most of my writings are not in a public forum) has to do with suffering and overcoming adversity. That angle is personal style, and while I don't like to say "that's the way I write", others should note that such themes are prevalent in what I write. Obviously, they come out in the race stories.

Larry mentions that such "suffering" relates to my lack of mileage. Some of that is true, no doubt, and could be corrected if I could train more (differently?). Thus, I am open to anyone willing to suggest an ultra training program that will make the optimal use of my body-limiting 60 miles a week.

I can't increase my mileage, but I could probably use the mileage my body allows me to a better advantage. Any suggestions?

The rest of my "suffering" during an event relates to the method I employ to race. I go out hard, and crash-and-burn at the end. I'm working on taking care of this, too, and was (I believe) quite successful in doing this in my last 100. (I'm not asking for suggestions here because all I need to do is hold back a little at the start.)

Tom Noll

I just returned from one of my more-or-less weekly long runs. There has been quite a discussion about training and first-time attempts of late and I thought that I would add my perspective.

Although it is undoubtedly possible to finish an ultra on minimal training, I don*t think the value of long runs should be underestimated. The long run trains the muscles, the stomach, and the mind. All three need to work in parallel to finish in fine form. Too much training focuses only on the muscles and people drop from ultras because they don*t know how to eat and drink, or because the task overwhelms their minds. The long run prepares all three.

My recommendation is to build up to longer distances in a stepwise fashion. Additionally, if you are planning to race on trails, train on trails.

Each run is a lesson. If you ask yourself, "What did I learn today?" you will notice that each run teaches you something. Sometimes you may receive an insight, and sometimes you only learn some obscure detail. Sometimes I have to learn the lesson several times.

Tom Hughes

Great points Tom. I know for myself, I was suprised to discover it was my stomach that required the most training. It was critical for me to first, be able to eat enough for an Ultra and second, to find what foods I could keep down. Once you find something that works stick with it.