The Long Run: Avoiding Mid-Pace Mediocrity

In many respects it is the endurance component that defines distance running.

In order to improve that endurance we gradually increase the distance of our longest run. The point where we stop increasing the distance is a factor based on training history and the distance of your chosen race.

The stimulus in terms of distance that would be applied to a 5k runner may be an 8 miler but runners training for the Comrades Ultra Marathon may need to run say 32 miles in training; certainly that was my longest run for that event. There is a Pareto type Principle (the 80/20 rule) with endurance training as the purpose generally is not to just cover the distance, nor is it to go too hard on these runs as you want appropriate adaptation but not a lengthy recovery so you can get the consistency of training in.

A good question to ask is if you are running at an appropriate pace and intensity. It is often reported for example that long runs should be 70-85% of max heart rate. So if you are in this band then one is facilitating the adaptations you are targeting  adaptations, which is the point. If you aren’t, then are you stuck in “mid-pace mediocrity” where you are going slightly too hard on your longer slower runs yet hard runs are not hard enough?

Remember the mantra: Make your hard sessions hard and your easy sessions easy.

With some of the athletes I work with I find a great way of conducting some of our long runs is to set very specific paces. So if you run a 3:03 marathon (7:00 per mile pace), then we might do a 12 mile session where after a warm up you run 4 miles at 7:45 pace, 4 miles at 7:00 pace and 4 miles at 7:45 pace.  We are aiming for adaptation and in fact this is a nice race pace type session.  I think that by targeting these specific adaptations and understanding pacing you can avoid any mid pace grey area work that does not bring the adaptation you desire.

Run smart guys!

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.


  1. Great Blog Neil.
    It is very difficult to control especially with having specific targets in mind for racing but it is crucial for long term success in endurance sport and for our health. Train well Wolfgang

  2. hmmm, I totally agree on all you said..

    just for us that are used to the metric system. could you please (time/km) the times etc. ?

    thanks 🙂

  3. If doing long runs off-road (esp when hilly) the pace will be slower. So couple of Q’s: A) what sort of time ‘allowance’ is appropriate? I find my off-road runs generally about 45sec/km slower than road for same effort. But also B) is it still valid as marathon training given the slower pace?

  4. Dan
    Thanks for the question. You will go slower due to the terrain but you are doing the right thing in keeping the effort constant. I think I would not worry about pace on the off road sessions and would call these my steady runs because I would want your specific marathon efforts done on the terrain you were going to race on. So if you are doing a flattish road marathon then your weekly sessions could include off road steady efforts off road but specific sessions, say 6 x 1km at faster than race pace, on the type of terrain you will come across on race day if that was possible. It just helps to dial in that pace in order for you to replicate it on race day.

  5. Hello. Always interesting to read you. However I think your assumption that long run should correspond to 70-85 pc of max marathon
    Performance for example Is rather…vague, and wide. More generally, I question more and more the fact that for most athletes – especially those with a “huge background in endurance training” – there’s need for LSD. Does scientific literature show case studies of athletes – whatever ages/levels etc – showing significant improvement by systematically (or for, say 90 pc of their training) practicing at or above max perf level? In other words what good does it do
    To run 120 min at 3:30 pace when you are certain of running sub 3hr your next marathon? Wouldn’t it be better to run eg 3x 40 at higher pace?
    I really question the force/burden of habits in endurance training. What was ‘true’ or the norm decades ago mightn’t be approrite anymore. I am
    Eager to read your take on that. Thank you

  6. For me the long Sunday run is 1.absorbtion run from either race Saturday or longer interval/threshold paced work out b. social, as often the pace run means a mix of runners who otherwise my not train together and c . Time under tension. Marathon runners need to be able to be on there feet and moving forwards upwards of two hours…. Every other sport in the world practices a full game/time most weeks… Steve Mongetti and others from that area had it right. 2-21/2 hours in the morning 28-32km and in base season go out for another 10km in the evening…. How do you expect your body to respond well right to 42km if your haven’t exposed it to the on going stress in training? After all isn’t that what training is? Monitored stress….