The Science of the Long Run (Read 1745 times)

    Yes, science requires an understanding of what is being studies and what the implications are. Your comments about sprint training are appropriate: sprint training has benefits when compared with 'endurance training', but those studies are often comparing the sprints with relatively short steady state runs. Looking at study construction, blinding, sample size, outcome measures takes some deeper understanding.

     

    My article on 'the science of long runs' is not intended to be 'everything you need to know about long runs' by any means, but an entry specifically on the science. It's an intentionally narrow topic, and I hope to continue building it as more research becomes available.

     

    The conclusions I draw are too narrow and need to be moved out of this page, as I think the only recommendations that can be made on the basis of the science alone are too weak to be of much use. For instance, the science indicates that a >20 mile run is appropriate for a long run, but there is far more to the situation; mileage, terrain, build up period, pace, etc. Therefore a more nuanced set of conclusions with rationale and caveats that is based on more than this specific research is appropriate.

     

    Your comments and this thread has been remarkably useful, and I'd like to thank you and the other contributors.

    Trust me, I do understand your dilemma too.  When we put together Running Wizard, we had to create a formula based on certain principles.  That sort of eliminate our being able to create case-by-case situation with different runners.  I personally felt 3-hour is okay as a long run for beginning runners.  But we all felt that would be too much for well-trained runner.  Why?  If it's too much, would 2:30 be enough?  Yes for well-trained runners.  But would that be enough for slower runners?  I have nothing against science (though it may have sounded that way).  In fact, it was Lydiard who always said that it's always better to be scientific, to understand the reasons why.  It worked fine for a while but I think things were turning more and more toward; "If there's no scientific proof, I won't even waste my time trying to find out myself..."  I think you know what I'm talking about.  There's a relatively new thread about doubling.  I've been talking about doubling all these years, Malmo had been preaching doubling at other message board all these years...  I can't count how many times I've seen a challenge that goes, "Is there a any scientific proof that doubles are better?"  Science supports what we already know.  It may even refine what we're doing right now.  But it won't lead us.  The only area that I feel science "led" was high altitude back in the 1960s.  But the truth is; even then, it was all the East Africans who performed well at high altitude atmosphere of Mexico City that lead people to think that there might be something up there...  Other than that, maybe in the field of PED...???  All the other (mostly), coaches and athletes somehow figured things out and science always followed them to figure out why it worked.  

     

    As you're well aware, as I had pointed out, science would always narrow down the scope and pin-point the matter of subject.  But because of that, it quiet often tends to be received in a very narrow-minded view.  Take a long run for example...or even high mileage training.  Once again, I've seen so many thread, young and innocent asking desperately, "I've run so much during the summer but my time actually slowed down...!"  How many times have you heard or seen this?  Then the kid like this would go out and do Tabata sprints and bingo!!  He would PR.  A-ha!!  The key is sprint training!  Forget high mileage...  I've seen some very reputable article stating just this.  They had several series of books from Track & Field News, collecting all the thesis papers from various countries.  Quite interesting read--I can't remember the exact name but you should definitely look into it.  One Russian "paper" goes that this international level runner ran so many miles one year and performed such-and-such time in 5000m.  Next year he cut back and did more speed training and, bang!! he ran some incredible times.  The key to success is speed training and not the volume..."  Well, who could say that it was the mega mileage that he did YEAR BEFORE that enabled him to do that sort of hard training?  We have no evidence and science failed to direct us.  But practical coaches and runners know.   Same thing with long run.  So many elite ran 20-miler every weekend and ran 2:10 or 2:12 or whatever.  The key to the successful marathoning is frequent 20-miler....or is it?  Can 4:30 marathon runner emulate and gain the same, or even similar, benefits from regular 20-milers?  This is why I was particularly interested in your muscle damage research.  It wasn't quite the one I wanted to see but close.  I would very much like to see scientists work on that area a bit more in the future...

     

    Hope I didn't discourage you--that was not my intention.  Keep up the good work (and do it better!  Kidding!! ;o)).  If you have some inside connection, you should encourage those scientists to do some specific research that would actually help runners and coaches!

      My thanks to fellrnr for initiating a very interesting discussion, and to several others who have debated various points of discussion.

       

      It is all to easy for someone like myself, a hobby jogger of six years, to fall for the shallow articles and "one size fits all" solutions in the general media, and even in magazines and on websites aimed at runners.

       

      My guess is that much of the serious research is done on small groups of elite runners, and may yield findings not always applicable to the broad spectrum of less dedicated athletes of widely varying ages- e.g. is a training program for a competitive 28 year old woman marathoner suitable  for a 45 year old man who runs 5ks to raise money for charity? Or a competitive age group runner of 60?

       

      Some of the large studies of non-elite runners probably have far too many uncontrolled variables- do the subjects also cycle, swim, play tennis or soccer, work out at the gym? Vague terms and questions in the surveys, "Do you run a little, a moderate amount or a lot?" make the results of this type of "research" in the general media highly suspect.

       

      While this sort of thread cannot provide all the answers it certainly makes someone like me aware of some of the different points of view, and stimulates me to think more critically about the topic.

       

      Thanks again.

      PBs since age 60:  5k- 24:36, 10k - 47:17. Half Marathon- 1:42:41.

                                          10 miles (unofficial) 1:16:44.

       

        The Art of the Long Run


        And in the end...

          The Tao of the Long Run.

          ------------------------

          The GITM is moot.


          Dad of a real runner

            The Tao of the Long Run.

             

            The pain of the long run. 

              Trust me, I do understand your dilemma too.  When we put together Running Wizard, we had to create a formula based on certain principles.  That sort of eliminate our being able to create case-by-case situation with different runners.  I personally felt 3-hour is okay as a long run for beginning runners.  But we all felt that would be too much for well-trained runner.  Why?  If it's too much, would 2:30 be enough?  Yes for well-trained runners.  ...!

              Nobby, Something I was thinking about this afternoon with your Running Wizard. Don't you use the person's long run as an input as to some level of current fitness to determine the duration of long run or volume? That's regardless of race distance. I seem to remember having 2.5hr long runs for a 10k schedule. (I did tweak the schedule for my purposes, but I believe that's what was called for.) I remember being pleasantly surprised at the content of the schedule - something I could handle but still challenge me (esp. when I build more hills into it - as prep for a hilly race). I only did the Endurance part because of the amount of snow cover and snow coming down when I hit the "hill" part = no traction to do those workouts.

              "So many people get stuck in the routine of life that their dreams waste away. This is about living the dream." - Cave Dog

                Nobby, Something I was thinking about this afternoon with your Running Wizard. Don't you use the person's long run as an input as to some level of current fitness to determine the duration of long run or volume? That's regardless of race distance. I seem to remember having 2.5hr long runs for a 10k schedule. (I did tweak the schedule for my purposes, but I believe that's what was called for.) I remember being pleasantly surprised at the content of the schedule - something I could handle but still challenge me (esp. when I build more hills into it - as prep for a hilly race). I only did the Endurance part because of the amount of snow cover and snow coming down when I hit the "hill" part = no traction to do those workouts.

                Okay, AK!  I don't like you any more!! ;o)  Just kidding...  And your point is...???  

                 

                First of all, yes, the long run would be one of the main determining factors for the whole schedule.  And it only goes to 2:00 (when you plug in).  We have had an incidence (occasion?) that this ultra guy tried to set up and he (or I think it was "she") was already like 3+ hours...  So what do we do?  Well, what can we do?  We sort of identified "2-hours" as "enough" for a long run duration (as had discussed by me many times) with the cap at <3 hours.  We felt that (2-hours) is where trade-off of quality and quantity could occur (at elite level).  In other words, you can push, as Lydiard called it, "Best Aerobic Effort" start to suffer if you go too far beyond 2-hours.  I'm sorry but anybody can plod along for 3 or 4 hours...(I know I would get in trouble by saying this...)  In fact, we ARE seeing this trade-off everywhere nowadays right now.  Of course this does NOT mean that it's better to go shorter and harder/faster.  We had a high school kid (conducted by his coach) who plugged in 60-minutes, although I'd suspect he could have easily run 2-hours by slowing down, because he wanted to run faster.  Now that's the wrong approach too.

                 

                Now if you were "surprised" how "challenging" it was for a 10k plan; 10k was sort of a dividing point as well that you do need quite adequate endurance/stamina over speed.  1500 and 5k goes slightly less.  Of course even for 10k, we introduced strides during Conditioning Phase...  This is not a typical thing as Lydiard himself had prescribed but we have good reasons for that.  At any rate, yes, you'd go up to 2:30 even as a 10k runner and this may be a reason why some people shy away from RW.  We tried to make it very legit.  In other words, it could very well be implemented to elite runners as well and perform well.  For example, many might feel that you can easily manage 10k "race" by just jumping in.  Sure, same with 5k--my family ran the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day and I was in a way shocked (though I guess I should have known...) to see so many "out-of-shape" looking people, well, participating!!  "Well, it's good that they are out and about," my wife said.  But seriously, can we remotely expect these people to spend at least 5 weeks of "Conditioning" where they would go up to 2-hours of running?  Most probably ABSOLUTELY NO!  They'd be lucky to run up to half an hour!!  I'm sure that's why we see mostly half marathon and marathon plan being purchased.  Very few 1500m or even 5k plan--in a way, it could be too legit.  But, hey, what can we say...  I believe this is what Arthur would have prescribed (even <7 days a week plans).  Challenging...I'm sure.  But that's, in a way, what it's supposed to be ("It's supposed to be hard...or everybody will be going it!").  I'm not saying "training has to be hard" but "challenging" maybe.  Or "pleasantly challenging".  It'll push you because that's what will make you enable to handle all the race-specific training.  It's not just jogging/plodding either.  Now that said, however, even though it's very individualized (based on your current fitness level by your most recent race time and your current long run duration), it's still a cookie-cutter training UNLESS you implement Recovery Indicators Index to the fullest.  We provide ranges and we provide a great tool to check your day-to-day recovery rate to suite your daily condition and rate of progress.  How you discipline yourself to do all that, unfortunately, is beyond our control.  But we feel we laid out pretty much everything we can think of to suite this training program with your daily condition and current fitness level.  If there is a way to improve this (I'd say not so much program-wise but application), we'd be all ears.

                 

                One thing to clarify; if you were doing all the Conditioning workouts over hilly terrains, here's a news for you.  One of the things we felt that Arthur and his runners were doing perhaps without thinking anything of it is running over very hilly terrains in Auckland, NZ.  They were doing all (well...) aerobic running but, without thinking about it or knowing, they were also preparing their legs for the next phase--Hill Training--as well as more demanding race-specific training.  Most of us, even us Minnesotans, are not fortunate enough to have those natural environment.  That's one of the reasons why we included strides during Conditioning--to simulate at least at some scale running over hilly terrains.  You may do long runs over very flat area or you may do long runs over very hilly courses; and the difference would become very apparent once you move on to the next phase.  So this is yet another example of "X-Factors" or one of many other factors that should be taken into considerations in your training program.  Long run is long run and it would do what long run is supposed to do in a physiological sense.  But, in a practical sense, that's not enough.  In a practical sense, to run faster, or race well, is the final goal.  If a piece of puzzle called "training plan" along the way to the race day, if the workout doesn't fulfill that, it's not a good workout no matter how it may fulfill physiological criteria.  And here's yet another interesting and useful topic for the future research; long run at slower pace would stiffen your legs.  You plod along hours and hours and hours...thinking all those aerobic running would make you stronger and, in a sense, faster.  Well, it may never happen if you don't fulfill the other parts of the equation.  The art of long run, or incorporating long runs in your training plan, is to do just enough of that without stiffening your legs too much so it won't affect your overall goal (to run faster or race better) in the end.


                Dad of a real runner

                   

                  There's a YouTube clip, something called something like "Best Running Form" this and that...and it's a 2-part series.  Pretty good stuff.  There's a clip of this guy running at various speed--10MPH, 7MPH and 5MPH and his cadence is all the same, his landing (mid-foot) is all the same at these various speed.  Quite intriguing.  My saying that "the slower you run, the harder you land" is more or less a very general comment.  People with correct running technique can go slow and still run with very minimal shock.  I have no problem landing mid-foot at, say, slower than 4.5MPH.  

                   

                  Now when people tell you to "slow down so you can go further", it's more of an energy system issue.  If you're running "aerobically", it wouldn't matter if you're running at 8:00 pace or 10:00 pace.  Likewise, you'll get in trouble even at 12-minute pace IF that's no longer "aerobic" for you.  

                   

                   

                   

                  Interesting, and drives a follow-up question.  (I know - shameless – like asking a doctor to look you over at a party – but hey, when you have the ear of the expert why not take advantage).

                   

                  My question is to what degree is it possible to change your running form after years of using the one you have?  And is it wise to do so? 

                   

                  Let me elaborate.  I am a heavy heel striker - my shoes wear predominately on the outer back edges.  I had been running in Brooks GTS and would typically get about 400 miles before I had to retire the shoes.  I switched to Brooks Green Silence with a lighter weight and a lower heal drop and also get about 400 miles on these.  When I decided to train for a marathon I got another pair of the GTS specifically to use only on my long runs.  The other day, I noticed that these shoes had significant wear (more than I would normally have) after only 250 miles.  My conclusion is that when I run long (and thereby slow) distance, my heel strike is even more pronounced and it must be that I am somehow changing my form on the long run.

                   

                  So my question is, is this something that is more or less “normal”, do most runners have a slightly different running style at different paces, or is this a result of “lazy” running on my part and can be adjusted by my concentrating on my form as I run?

                   

                  I welcome comments from one and all.

                    Okay, AK!  I don't like you any more!! ;o)  Just kidding...  And your point is...???  

                     

                    First of all, yes, the long run would be one of the main determining factors for the whole schedule.  And it only goes to 2:00 (when you plug in).  We have had an incidence (occasion?) that this ultra guy tried to set up and he (or I think it was "she") was already like 3+ hours...  ....

                     

                    Now if you were "surprised" how "challenging" it was for a 10k plan; 10k was sort of a dividing point as well that you do need quite adequate endurance/stamina over speed.  1500 and 5k goes slightly less.  Of course even for 10k, we introduced strides during Conditioning Phase...  ..

                    My point is that the long run, in many cases, is about conditioning - not about minimally covering the distance of the race. Smile This gets lost in the shuffle sometimes in these discussions. I mean, if an 800m guy runs a hilly 22 miles, then surely a couple hours isn't too long for 10k.  (That wasn't me with the 3-hr long run, but probably would have used it if given the option.)

                     

                     

                    Just some comments on the challenge of the 10k plan as I implemented it:

                    Yes, I had noticed that about the 10k program and why I selected it. Full disclosure - I was using this for "speed" component of ultra training. (now, you're really going to hate me Wink ) The plans for shorter distances were probably going to be too different from what I wanted, and the longer distances would have been too much like my normal training - other than I use hills and mountains for various workouts. That first 10k is early enough in the season that I thought I could make it work before I really had to get into the longer long runs and bigger hills (running or power hiking up hills with 1300ft to 3000ft of vertical - rather than hill drills, which have their place, but also need traction that I didn't have at the time). Life and snow conspired against me though. But after all your talk about the Running Wizard, I really wanted to try it, so went with the best option I could find.

                     

                    Where I think it was most challenging, I normally include a "recovery" run or "easy" run where it truly is easy - 70-75% HRmax. I think most of your runs had RPE 3-5, which is the bulk of aerobic zone. Left to my own planning, I do some more at high end and some at low end. Being Type A and using this as component of ultra training for hilly trails, I usually went for the high end of RPE and the long end of the duration- at least to see if I could handle it. (yes, I can see you rolling your eyes)  IOW, I didn't have an enforced "recovery" day on a 5-day program - other than the 2 days of DNR. And this was all done on snow, packed most of the time, but occasionally some fresh stuff. And there were no cutback weeks in the 5wks of Endurance. I was relatively new to 5 days/wk vs 4-5 days/wk. During those 5 wks of the endurance phase, we had good snow pack, so I could push it and did. Never know when ice storm or next big snow dump will hit.

                    "So many people get stuck in the routine of life that their dreams waste away. This is about living the dream." - Cave Dog
                    zonykel


                       There's a relatively new thread about doubling.  I've been talking about doubling all these years, Malmo had been preaching doubling at other message board all these years...  I can't count how many times I've seen a challenge that goes, "Is there a any scientific proof that doubles are better?"  Science supports what we already know.  It may even refine what we're doing right now.  But it won't lead us.  

                       Interestingly enough, Steve Magness of "Science of Running" wrote an article quoting a study on mice doing triples vs. singles.

                      http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2012/12/revisiting-singles-vs-doubles-this-time.html


                      Feeling the growl again

                         Interestingly enough, Steve Magness of "Science of Running" wrote an article quoting a study on mice doing triples vs. singles.

                        http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2012/12/revisiting-singles-vs-doubles-this-time.html

                         

                        I don't know about mice, but I did some triples in my stupidity to run 550 miles last December and I can say that it was very rough.  Now we're not talking taking X miles and splitting it into doubles or triples; if I double I run X+ and if I triple I run X++.  I just could not get decent recovery.  Doubles 8hrs apart are really easy to recover from.

                         

                        I did 4hrs/33 miles on the treadmill today.  PR by time running, ~1 mile short by distance of continuous running.  I felt more punch-drunk after tripling to hit that volume, albiet doing the one run I was 7:17 avg pace and tripling it was ~7:00 avg pace.

                        "If you want to be a bad a$s, then do what a bad a$s does.  There's your pep talk for today.  Go Run." -- Slo_Hand

                         


                        HobbyJogger & HobbyRacer

                          My experience has been the opposite of spaniel's. I have done two long runs on the same day (e.g., 16 + 18), and I found that gave me a lot less soreness than one 50K.

                           

                          When I've done triples it has been much lower mileager. Highest triple I ever did was 20+20+5. The 5 felt easy, but I was tired afterward. But not really sore with tingly sore leg muscles, as when after a 50K or longer race.

                           

                          (I haven't done this stuff in many months.)

                           

                          Spaniel, I gotta suspect that the really high overall volume of your running last December was a big contributing factor. You weren't just doing a big double or triple as a weekend long run exercise - you were running lots all the time.

                          It's a 5k. It hurt like hell...then I tried to pick it up. The end.


                          Feeling the growl again

                            My experience has been the opposite of spaniel's. I have done two long runs on the same day (e.g., 16 + 18), and I found that gave me a lot less soreness than one 50K.

                             

                             

                            Spaniel, I gotta suspect that the really high overall volume of your running last December was a big contributing factor. You weren't just doing a big double or triple as a weekend long run exercise - you were running lots all the time.

                             

                            Big double =/= triple

                             

                            Yes, overall stupid mileage was a factor.  But when you only have 4-5 hrs between runs, there is not much recovery.  Say I run a double the day after a hard workout.  Typically the first run will be recovery, but by the second I feel even better and go faster.  Over the day, despite running twice, there is recover.  Triples just really broke me down.  I guess if you make them short enough....but I have never been a big fan of taking equal mileage and splitting it into more runs.  You don't get the same benefits.

                            "If you want to be a bad a$s, then do what a bad a$s does.  There's your pep talk for today.  Go Run." -- Slo_Hand

                             


                            tenacity

                              I like the idea of trying to get a run in every 12 hrs.

                               

                              Leaves time for recovery if you don't over-do any one run.

                              fellrnr


                                Sorry for the slow response - I've been busy with Christmas/family/running/etc.

                                 

                                There is so much we don't know about distance running, and it seem that there is little evidence around the Long Run specifically. The question of doubles is an excellent one - how does doing 2x 10 miles on the same day differ from doing 1x 20 miles? It's hard to know how the different factors interact, especially when the results may not be obvious until you've tried an approach for months. I'm going to move my recommendations into a different page, as there's too little science to be of much use. I think it's possible to use the science to back up intuition and analyze common approaches, so we'll see where it ends up.

                                 

                                I appreciate the conversation. While opposing views can be emotionally tough, they help counter the confirmation bias that is part of human nature.

                                 

                                Trust me, I do understand your dilemma too.  When we put together Running Wizard, we had to create a formula based on certain principles.  That sort of eliminate our being able to create case-by-case situation with different runners.  I personally felt 3-hour is okay as a long run for beginning runners.  But we all felt that would be too much for well-trained runner.  Why?  If it's too much, would 2:30 be enough?  Yes for well-trained runners.  But would that be enough for slower runners?  I have nothing against science (though it may have sounded that way).  In fact, it was Lydiard who always said that it's always better to be scientific, to understand the reasons why.  It worked fine for a while but I think things were turning more and more toward; "If there's no scientific proof, I won't even waste my time trying to find out myself..."  I think you know what I'm talking about.  There's a relatively new thread about doubling.  I've been talking about doubling all these years, Malmo had been preaching doubling at other message board all these years...  I can't count how many times I've seen a challenge that goes, "Is there a any scientific proof that doubles are better?"  Science supports what we already know.  It may even refine what we're doing right now.  But it won't lead us.  The only area that I feel science "led" was high altitude back in the 1960s.  But the truth is; even then, it was all the East Africans who performed well at high altitude atmosphere of Mexico City that lead people to think that there might be something up there...  Other than that, maybe in the field of PED...???  All the other (mostly), coaches and athletes somehow figured things out and science always followed them to figure out why it worked.  

                                 

                                As you're well aware, as I had pointed out, science would always narrow down the scope and pin-point the matter of subject.  But because of that, it quiet often tends to be received in a very narrow-minded view.  Take a long run for example...or even high mileage training.  Once again, I've seen so many thread, young and innocent asking desperately, "I've run so much during the summer but my time actually slowed down...!"  How many times have you heard or seen this?  Then the kid like this would go out and do Tabata sprints and bingo!!  He would PR.  A-ha!!  The key is sprint training!  Forget high mileage...  I've seen some very reputable article stating just this.  They had several series of books from Track & Field News, collecting all the thesis papers from various countries.  Quite interesting read--I can't remember the exact name but you should definitely look into it.  One Russian "paper" goes that this international level runner ran so many miles one year and performed such-and-such time in 5000m.  Next year he cut back and did more speed training and, bang!! he ran some incredible times.  The key to success is speed training and not the volume..."  Well, who could say that it was the mega mileage that he did YEAR BEFORE that enabled him to do that sort of hard training?  We have no evidence and science failed to direct us.  But practical coaches and runners know.   Same thing with long run.  So many elite ran 20-miler every weekend and ran 2:10 or 2:12 or whatever.  The key to the successful marathoning is frequent 20-miler....or is it?  Can 4:30 marathon runner emulate and gain the same, or even similar, benefits from regular 20-milers?  This is why I was particularly interested in your muscle damage research.  It wasn't quite the one I wanted to see but close.  I would very much like to see scientists work on that area a bit more in the future...

                                 

                                Hope I didn't discourage you--that was not my intention.  Keep up the good work (and do it better!  Kidding!! ;o)).  If you have some inside connection, you should encourage those scientists to do some specific research that would actually help runners and coaches!