A Beginner's Guide to the Long Run

A male and female runner run down a neighborhood street

By Rachel Craft

The long run is an essential part of your weekly running routine. Physical benefits of long runs include increased cardiovascular and muscular endurance, increased form/gait efficiency, and increased muscular strength to help your body safely cover long distances.

What’s more, the long run serves as the ideal testing ground to fine-tune your gear selection and nutrition/hydration plan for this training cycle or race day. Use this opportunity to figure out what works for you and what needs to be adjusted. Don’t wait until race day to try out that new hydration belt!

Beginning to incorporate long runs into your routine can seem intimidating and daunting at first. Review this guide for tips to help you feel more prepared and confident as you increase your miles.

How long should my long run be?

When you determine the distance of your long run, first consider your goals. For example, if your goal is to run a half marathon and you will be working up to covering the 13.1-mile distance, your long run mileage will gradually increase for the duration of your training plan, with the intended purpose of increasing your strength, stamina and mental fortitude to cover the entire distance of your race. Note that one to two weeks prior to race day, you should decrease your long run mileage by 50 to 60 percent. This rest period of lower mileage is known as tapering.

Generally, your long run should be 25 to 30 percent of your total weekly mileage, so if you are currently running 20 miles per week, your long run will be around six miles. You can safely increase your mileage by adding around 10 percent each week.

If you’re not currently working toward a race or distance goal, try adding one to three miles to your current base while slowing your pace to account for the additional distance. Apply the 10 percent increase rule per week as you increase your mileage.

A man and women talk as they complete their long run on a greenway path

How fast should my long run be?

Generally, a long run will be paced slower than your other runs throughout the week. This is to help keep your legs and body from becoming overly taxed to the point of negatively affecting your other workouts throughout the coming week. The goal of keeping a conversational pace with comfortable but slightly labored breathing is ideal. In other words, you are “working” but not to the point where you can’t carry on a conversation.

Another way to gauge the pace and intensity of your long run is to consider the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE). On a scale from one to 10, where one represents a resting state with no difficulties and 10 represents an all-out, maximum exertion, aim for your long runs to be near four to five on your RPE Scale.

There are several long run formats to consider:

Traditional Long Slow Run

Sample workout: Complete 10 miles at an RPE of four to five. Warm up and cool down included in total mileage.

Long run with speed work

Sample workout: Complete seven miles. Warm up for 10 minutes, run three miles at an RPE of four to five. For miles four and five, alternate five minutes at your normal long run pace with one minute surges (RPE of six to seven). Run two miles at RPE of four to five and cool down.

Time-based or “Time on Feet”

Sample workout: Complete 90 minutes of running, including warm up and cool down.

Run/Walk Intervals

Sample workout: Warm up for 10 minutes. Run for eight minutes, walk for two minutes. Repeat until desired mileage is achieved. Cool down.


A lady runner eating a GU gel

As your distance increases with your long runs, so will your need for increased nutrition and hydration. There are many different products available with a combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates designed to fuel your body for longer mileage.

In a Fleet Feet article, GU Energy Sports Nutritionist Roxanne Vogel says, “you should fuel for long runs over an hour in duration. Providing energy (calories) during long runs decreases the amount of stress placed on the body.”

An example of a long run fueling plan from GU Energy would be to consume one Energy Gel five minutes before you begin your long run and then another gel every 30 to 45 minutes for the duration of your long run.

These 100 calorie gels are designed to provide sustained energy and replenish the electrolytes that are lost through sweat. By replacing lost electrolytes during your long run, you may prevent fatigue, nausea and low energy.

The long run is a great time to experiment to find the right formula for your body. Approach your nutrition and hydration plan with your total activity time in mind.

Not sure what to consume? Check in with your local Fleet Feet to check out a variety of different nutrition brands and products. Outfitters are also trained to help answer any questions you may have about the different options, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Helpful Hints and Tips for Beginners

1. Work with a coach or training program.

Utilizing professional resources, available through many Fleet Feet locations across the country, will remove any guesswork from your training regimen. Running professionals and coaches are trained in evidenced-based best practices regarding safety, efficacy and personalization of a variety of workouts. Fleet Feet Training Programs and coaches share your goal of success and are here to help.

2. Plan your route ahead of time.

Knowing exactly where your route will take you can avoid unnecessary stress during your long run. For example, by planning ahead you will know where public restrooms and water fountains are located. It’s also helpful to be aware of any potential road/trail construction areas or closures that may impact your route.

If you are running in an unfamiliar area, apps like Strava and Garmin Connect are great ways to identify popular routes nearby. A great beginner long run technique is a looped route – starting from your house or your car, make several small loops until you reach your desired mileage.

3. Put Safety First

Share your long run plan with someone you trust. Let them know where you will be going and how long you anticipate to be running. Consider running with a friend or training partner if that makes you more comfortable.

4. Dial in to what motivates you.

For most runners, there is a point during the long run where you may be tempted to quit. It will be physically challenging and sometimes flat out boring.

Having a plan to combat these challenges will keep the miles rolling. Do you have a favorite motivational music playlist or funny podcast that keeps you going? Have that on hand.

Just be sure that if you listen to music, that you keep the volume low enough so that you can hear noise around you. Aftershokz headphones utilize bone conduction technology and sit outside your ears to make staying alert easy.

For some runners, it is helpful to have a mantra like “Don’t Quit!” or “I am strong and capable!” to tap in to when feelings of doubt arise.

Three female runner friends jump and play among appalachian mountain views

5. Reward yourself for a job well done.

Completing a long run is not easy and is a task worth celebrating! Have your reward planned out in advance – coffee from your favorite local shop? a new running headband? – whatever it is, use that as additional motivation to keep going.

6. Keep a run log or journal.

Record your run distance, pace, weather, location and overall feel during each long run. Being able to look back and reflect on past runs in your training log can help you troubleshoot any problems that may arise during your training by identifying potential patterns. This record can also be a powerful motivational tool when you look back and realize how far you have come!

7. Share your experiences with other new runners.

Be open about what works for you and what doesn’t. Sharing any struggles you have overcome and resources that helped you along the way can provide insight and motivation to other runners in your life.

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