Running Long

AJWs TaproomYou’ve all had some version of this conversation before,

“How do you train to run 100 miles?”

“Well, I just like to run, and, I like to run long.”

“But, really, how do you do it?

“Well, I just run long.”

Then, a boring interlude ensues.

Truth be told, typically it gets odd, repetitive, or annoying after that but, with all due respect to those who don’t get it, that is what makes us different. We run long. And, our version of long is typically very, very long.

As a once somewhat fast runner who is coming to grips with middle age and doing more than his fair share of slow running, I can assure you that nothing makes you feel more like a runner than the Long Run. Sure, it’s nice to do speedwork and the hill repeats are always good to make us feel a bit of vim and vigor, but nothing quite makes us complete like the long run.

And that, my friends, is what makes me happy to report that I finally, after a year of fits and starts, feel like a runner again. You see, last weekend, in the midst of an oppressive heatwave and near-record humidity, I managed to get in not one, but two meaningful long runs. They were by no means fast and, as a result of that, they were certainly long, but they were, in the end, the kind of runs that make us different.

They were the runs you take two bottles on, they were the runs where you walk a bit, they were the runs where you run out of stuff and they were the runs where you run into stuff. They were long and hard and sweaty and deep and, in the end, they were the kind of runs that make a difference in who you are and who you want to be.

I am at peace with the fact that my best running days are behind me. But, I am also at home with the fact that my most meaningful and purposeful days are in my hands right now and the running I am doing now makes me more of who I want to be. To quote the late great George Sheehan, “these are the runs that make me connect with the animal in me.” So, here’s to the long run!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Bell's Oarsman AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Bell’s. These guys never disappoint and their go-to session beer these days is Oarsman Ale. I gotta say, as far as sessionable beers go, this is one of the best. And, that makes it dangerous. If there ever was a brewery to sponsor an aid station at a 100, Bell’s is my pick. :-)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What role does the long run play in your identity as a runner?
  • What are your feelings after you return to the long run after a significant hiatus?
  • What’s been your favorite (non-race) long run this year and why?

There are 40 comments

    1. Sheamus

      I've often wondered whether the winning pro athlete's performance in a given race is easier or harder, relatively, to the first-time amateur who finishes hours and hours later and just seconds before the final cutoff time.

      For example, was Craig Alexander's 8:03 winning time in last year's Hawaii Ironman easier, mentally and physically, than the guy who finished in 16:59. Was 28 year-old Timothy Olson's 14:46 at this year's Western States easier or harder than 61 year-old Steve Westlund's 29:42?

      I'd be inclined to think that the pros are trained for this and that, therefore, their minds and bodies cope better with blazingly fast times than your non-pro, who in many instances gets to the finish line on sheer willpower alone. Pros expect to finish; amateurs do not. But I'm still not sure whether that means that, in the heat of the day, the former is having an 'easier' time of it, possibly because the latter, through no real fault of their own – this isn't their career, after all – is ever actually giving 100 percent.

      1. Brian K

        "is “long” different for front of pack v.s. back of pack ?"

        I'd say that 'long' has to be defined by the individual. It gets longer or shorter based on your running goals, experience level, etc.. In mainstream road marathoning "long run" is that run you do on Saturday or Sunday that is longer than your typical weekday run. At the beginning of a training cycle it might mean 10 miles. By the end it might be 20. On trails it could be a 3 or 4 hour run to prepare for a 50k, 6 to 8 before a 50M and so on. At my current fitness level 3 hours feels pretty long (physically and mentally), even if its only about 15 miles on the kind of trails I have to choose from.

  1. Rosie

    I look forward to long runs all week. During the week, the shorter and mid-length runs sustain me and keep me strong to take on the hours and hours of running on the weekend. Without my long runs, I would be a very unsatisfied runner. Glad you got them back, AJW!

  2. AJW

    Art, great question! For me "long" is 20 miles or more. It's just always felt to me that things feel long at that point. But, it's probably different for everyone.

  3. Alex (@alexbridgefor

    I love the long run just to see people's mouths drop when I tell them I ran 24 miles on Saturday. Its one of those things that you have to fight trough and helps later on when you have to get through the mental toughness. I love the high, there is nothing like getting in the truck after 20+ miles and feeling accomplished. My last 24 miler was the best, it had me on all types of trails and in the dark, I love night running.

  4. art

    I realize this comment does not belong with this article. but since this is the most active article of the day, well here goes.

    mostly directed to Bryon.

    Where is Geoff's article on racing and cheating ?

    by irunfar standards it basically went viral yesterday, but today it seems like its disappeared, definitely from the front page, and a quick search of archives, well, am I blind.

    I hope the disappearance is not due to controversy of the topic.

    What is your criteria for keeping an article on the front ?

    it definitely is not reader interest.

    1. Bryon Powell

      The article is still very much on iRunFar… it's just that 9 articles published in the past 24 hours pushed Geoff's article off the home page! The cycling of homepage articles is automatic, although we will sticky the most relevant article (preview/live coverage/results) to a race we cover in person.

      Feel free to contact me offline any time. The iRunFar contact button is in the upper left-hand corner of every page. Sometimes that's the most appropriate way to share ones thoughts.


  5. Reid L.

    The long run's role in my identity as a runner? It gives me a quiet, self-confidence that I call on when under stress from various sources.

    Favorite long (non-race) run of the year? A 50-miler that started at 2 AM, and took me across the Arkansas River 40 times, and up the nearby ridge 5 times. Of the few that know about it, a couple remarked: "Across the bridge 40 times? And you didn't get bored?" No, not at all.

    The things making it my favorite are (i) the self-confidence it provided, (ii) running alone at night, and (iii) watching the "night crowd" leave the bridge and the "morning crowd" come to the bridge.

  6. art

    for me there are two very different types of long runs.

    the workout long run – simply putting in the mileage needed for an upcoming race. it is ok, but still feels like a workout.

    the FKT type long run – often longer than the first type above, but much more fun. less concerned with time, more interested in scenery, usually some place I seldom go or have never been.

  7. Meghan Hicks

    I also count time-on-feet as a long run, sometimes. A couple weeks ago, I did a 6-hour run in the Alps and about pooped my pants when the GPS read only 17.5 miles. Turns out, those 17.5 miles had about 7000 feet of climb (And a stop for pastries at a refuge!), so I had no problem calling the outing a long run. :)

    1. T Bo

      Agree with this wholeheartedly, time on feet is what constitutes a long run for me and feeds the soul ie. 5 hours for 20 miles in the mountains vs. under three on smoother stuff. Great post AJW, definitely concur with the sentiment that long runs is what makes us runners.

  8. Nelson

    Right on! Love the long run. The marathon training group I lead does our long runs at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I have a 11.3-mile route I can do and get back just in time to change shirts, change bottles, grab something to eat, and go again. So tomorrow, 25.5 miles total. That 11.3-mile route at 3:20 a.m., when the rest of the world is still asleep, is two of my favorite hours of the week. My time, with nobody expecting anything from me. My group asks why I do it. How could I not?

  9. Jason

    What I have noticed in my own running is that I am very seasonal. My long run these days is between 2 and 3 hours. I just came off my racing season so I am scaling back and it is a nice change of pace. But, come March I will start to expand on my long run. By June I will be putting in 6 to 8 hour runs and some back to backs. So yeah it's different for everyone but also different as to where you are in the season.

    Are others seasonal? I have often wondered this. It is too much for me to consistently be able to pull off 8 hour runs year round. I enjoy the reprieve and feel healthier for it.

    1. KenZ

      While the length of my long runs is seasonal, I think what I consider a long run is more mental. Sometimes I consider a 4 hour run a long run. Sometimes it's 5.5. Sometimes I question if I should consider anything under 12 hours a long run (which I'd NEVER do as training, only in a race so don't get too impressed).

      However, I generally consider anything that would not (were I not eating during the run) completely deplete a fully stocked blood sugar/glycogen store a long run, which puts 'long' at anything starting between 3-4 hours. Basically: if I'll definitely bonk without eating, it's a long run. If I can cruise through it with only water, it's not.

  10. Tahoediver

    I'm new to this site and new to running. People just don't get it most of the time so it's really cool to find out there's a whole community out there that enjoys running like I do. So far my "long" runs are in the low twenties, usually on weekends but sometimes in the evening after work, mostly on the roads around my home. I enjoy the sense of adventure in going to towns nearby on a route I've never run on before, sometimes busy roads, sometimes backroads, but always fun. I try to explain the feelings associated with running long to co-workers, family, etc, but I don't really have the words yet. It's hard for them to imagine that it actually feels "better" the longer I run. Anyway, thanks for the post and thanks to irunfar for the site.

  11. OOJ

    What's great about long runs is that point of "transformation" – hitting the "groove" or that state of "flow" – where suddenly stiffness, muscle/aerobic fatigue cedes to complete ease. Perhaps a dull ache of fatigue, but a state of flow that is both effortless and incredible where you feel like you're simply gliding along the ground, or blowing in the breeze.

    The places in the world where I have best memories of that flow include several incredible runs between Dusty Corners and Michigan Bluff, Cal Street, and Green Gate to Brown's Bar…

    These are conveniently excellent places to forge such positive experiences. :)

  12. Paul


    I am going to use the famous quote from from Greg LeMond to answer your question. "It never gets easier, you just go faster." It's tough for everyone. Everyone experiences their own race out there. We are all stripped down to our core both physically and mentally. We all have to turn our bodies inside out to complete a challenge of this nature. Some go faster some go slower, but we are all covering the same course.

    I love my long runs! I live in Portland and my favorite runs are my days off and can go out to the Columbia Gorge with my dog for my 2+ hour long runs up and down the mountains out there. I'm able to get away from everything. No cars driving by me, no stop lights etc. My biggest concern: do I feel like getting my feet wet or not when I come to river and creek crossings today? That's a damn good feeling!

  13. StephenJ

    I think there are two types of MUT runners. Runners who run in the mountains, and mountain people who happen to run. I am of the latter type. My racing season (and by racing, I mean organized runs with aid stations and bib number, since I am just running, not racing per se.) is coming to and end and soon the wonderful Utah powder will turn the mountains into a different kind of playground for me. Less endorphine, more adrenaline. I might go three months without running if the snow is good. Come March, I'll be Jonzin' for dirt though, and driving to the desert for my fix.

    My favorite long run this year was a 35 mile out-and-back in the High Uintahs Wilderness area. I saw people for the first 6 miles in, and the last 4 miles out. Or than that, I was all alone running above the tree line. When I stood on top of Dead Horse Pass, I was probably the only human within 100 square miles. All I could see were more mountains to run. Or maybe it was when I was running the unofficial "Quest for Kings Peak" marathon, and decided to skip the peak and exit out Red Castle, adding 13 extra miles to the plan because the chance of getting pinned down by lightening was low. When I go on long runs in remote areas, I take a Spot tracker, with one of the custom messages being "Feeling good. Going big. Will be delayed", so my wife won't call SAR when I'm 4 hours later than I planned.

    For me, races are now just training for what I really love the most — running, usually alone, in really remote areas. Andy, your FASTEST running days may be behind you, but not necessarily your BEST.

  14. Tonya

    Great question… I often ponder it, being new to endurance running and struggling with the extension of my long runs (which, are addicting!). My own thought is similar to Shaemus; I think we all run to the extent of our abilities (and this includes the mental ability to push through). I am admittedly addicted to irunfar and find myself struggling with frustration after reading/hearing the feats of these amazing ultra athletes! Personally, I am a middle-aged back of the pack runner (carrying a few extra lbs in the middle) and I am inspired by hearing the struggles as well as the feats of the front of the pack (even the middle!)… I ran my longest long run today; 26.92… it took over 7 hours (with nearly 6000' of climbing)… but, man, if does feel good!

    Love reading your posts AJW!

  15. Jereme Monteau

    "I am at peace with the fact that my best running days are behind me."

    Nope. I don't think so. Maybe your "fastest" running days are behind you but certainly not your "best" and maybe that's one reason you keep going. :-)

  16. joan wilkins

    Can't believe I've come to understand you enough to be cheering for your ability to finally have a long run again…regardless of the heat and humidity, I can see a huge smile plastered from ear to ear…and dad says thanks for quoting your grandfather's doctor…George Sheehan…it's all coming full circle…cheers your mom

  17. Steve Pero

    The long run is certainly relative in different situations and in different periods of your training. For instance, last weekend I paced my wife the last 25 miles at Wasatch in 9.5 hours…yesterday I ran 18 in 3.5 hours, yesterday's run was MUCH harder on me, but I'll recover quicker from it.

    It's all good, just keep running and you never get old. ;-)

    1. Steve Pero

      Oh and on the beer, haven't tried that one yet but I did enjoy a fine Hop Rising from the Utah Brewery last night left over from last weekend. 75 IBU's! :-)

  18. Jvk

    I like the long runs (3-6hrs) because they are memorable. My favorite was a 6hr 32mile run in late July when I was training for my first 50miler. I did 4 loops on a local trail. It was cool because I was able to meet up and run with a few friends during the 3rd loop. The pace pushed me and I felt even better during the 4th loop.

    Great post!
    You've got great taste in beers!! Bells is local for me :)

  19. Kev

    i don't really run long, but i walk long. When i'm really feeling good i'm known to be gone 4 to 6 hours at a time. Last month i managed 7+ for the first time. That was pretty awesome. Hopefully within a couple of years i'll be able to make those into long runs.

  20. Sophie speidel


    First, just want to say that I loved your mom's post. She knows what makes her son happy!

    Second, I want to share your sentiment about the Long Run. Yesterday I went out on the Masochists course to recon the new start. It was a group training run organized by Clark and Horton, which was nice because Horty rode his bike ahead of all of us and marked every turn. We were on our own with aid, which made it extra epic, and I found myself alone for most of the 26miles–"alone" but never alone– I knew the course, I had plenty of water and fuel, I had my iPod shuffle, and I had the trail front of me…what more could I possibly need? It was a magical, quiet day of solitude in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along familiar trail where many memories have been formed. Bliss!

    Looking forward to hearing how your long run on The Wild Oak Trail goes! Ask Bryon about that one:-)

  21. Val Kuntz

    Running Long is Just The Best! I've now been running just over 2 1/2 years. I started out small like all of us do in the beginning, one mile, 2 miles, then 3 to 5 miles …etc…to where last year I ran and finished my 1st 2 Marathons in my 2nd year of running. This year [3rd Yea] I became an Ultra Runner and have now run 3 ultra marathons…although Bryon Powell told me last year I actuallhy became an Ultra Runner back on June 26th, 2011 the day I ran 28 miles for the 1st time. Going from regular roads this year to mostly crazy and bucky wild trails has been an adjustment and a definite challenge…but it's also been a Totally Great and Rewarding Experience! My family and friends have trouble undertanding and processing when I tell them I had a Great Training run of 26 miles, 28 or 30 miles. Some think I've lost my mind…I just smile back at them and think to myself, "You guys just dont get it….I'm having fun out there…yes, during long runs I will experience tears of pain, anxiety, exhaustion…but I'll also experience Tears of Joy during that same run. As for speed I'm not fast…but that's okay…because when it comes to Distance I can Run….and Run…and Run…and I'm never bored. I try to soak up all the enjoyment and great Magical Moments on these Long Runs that I do on the weekend. And now with the fall coming and the leaves changing colors, then falling down on the ground, the nice brisk breezes that will be hitting my face in the sun…to even those chilly, cold, and grey days when it starts to feel more ane more like Halloween and then seeing the Halloween decorations on the peoples houses and on their lawns in the neighborhood….it does not get any better than that. SO DO ENJOY YOUR THESE UPCOMING AND LONG TRAINING RUNS ANDY…AND I HOPE YOU CAN SEE AND FEEL THE MAGIC THAT I FEEL WHEN I'M DOING MY LONG WEEKEND RUNS THESE NEXT 6 WEEKENDS.

  22. Cooker

    I get it, I really do…the satisfaction of a long run, the ease of flow referred to above, the comfort is moving more slowly but for longer….even if the longest I've gone is 26miles. However, I think there is equal satisfaction in blasting out over the smaller distances. I bust 19min for a 5k recently…..nearly killed me in the end, but for the first 3k I was in an incredible zone….flow with pace. I felt like Mo Farah until the legs filled with lactic. Not right, not wrong, just different. But still running.

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