Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece.
Last week my wife directed me to an article on ultra-running training. The headline was “Skip the Long Run.” As always, some professor of something jumped in, and now we have half the internet running around thinking that they can just run a few easy miles a week and expect to race well. It doesn’t work that way.
In my travels with the sport, I’ve found that there is a gap between what science says should happen and what, in reality, really happens. I used to coach a college distance running team at 7,700ft, and the training, if we were at sea level, should not have made sense. Most would have considered it to be too slow and too easy. What looked like very average workouts, we learned that, once paired with the altitude, led to great results. My athletes arrived at the start line fit, fast, and confident. It came down to balancing training stress, altitude, and proper recovery.
People read training articles and remember the catchy headline but misinterpret the actual information. I read the article and couldn’t believe how misleading it was. I’m not taking a shot at the media outlet, the author, or the athlete, but from what I have read, it seems many readers and runners might be missing the complete picture. The headline reads “Skip the Long Run,” and the athlete says she only does “one to two long runs a month.” It neglects to mention that she runs up to 22 miles daily. Although she may break up her daily run into smaller blocks, her mileage still adds up to 120-140 miles per week. But these aren’t long runs or “high-stress” days, right?
Another piece I think everyone missed was the author’s statement that this athlete only runs “one to two long runs a month.” Still, she shares that she runs eight workouts that, with some basic math, add up to some pretty long days. My favorite part is when the author states that the athlete will “race a marathon or a 50k a couple of weeks before the big race”. That’s a lot of running for someone who doesn’t endorse long runs.
I’m not the most intelligent guy, but let’s do the math. Starting with one to two easy long runs a month. Let’s say half of the workouts end up being over 15 miles; we can add four more “longer efforts” per month for those. Now we are up to 6 long efforts in four weeks. If we factor in the marathon or a 50k before the race taper, we are left with a different picture than what the headline teases. See how easily things don’t add up?
Ultimately, stress is stress. We all have different ways our bodies best deal with and recover from it. Coaches, scientists, and your next-door neighbor all have their own opinion for valid reasons. My point here is not to mock the media outlet, the author, or the athlete. All are doing a great job promoting the sport, and I thank them for that. My point is to show that we need to understand what we are reading and not get lost in the language or the athlete’s fame but think about the bigger picture and how to apply it to our own training. The human body is amazing, and we all react differently to stress. Most people will not benefit or last very long running 50 miles every weekend (the reality is most of us do not have the time). Still, there is something to be said for the satisfaction that comes with a good long run, the mental boost that comes with spending a handful of hours on the trail with friends, and the confidence that we get from putting together another great week of uninterrupted consistent training.
My Opinion: The long run is an integral part of training for your body to get mentally and physically stronger and ready to tackle big goals. It doesn’t always have to be long and slow, but time on your feet is essential. I encourage you to read and research all training methods, always reading between the lines and looking for what got these great athletes to the top of their game rather than what new ideas they think will keep them there.