Long aerobic run

The long aerobic run is the cornerstone of all our training programmes and the most important run of the week throughout the General and Related phases and also often into the Specific phase. It builds the foundation for every other training workout you undertake and maintains general fitness during the Competitive period.


Run comfortably easy. Deliberately start at a slow pace so that you have plenty of margin to increase it naturally as the run progresses.

Important points:

  • Time on your feet: duration is the goal not speed.
  • Build up your pace slowly and gradually to optimize your slow-burning free fatty acid metabolism.

Rate of Perceived Effort: 

2-5 (55-75% VO2max)


  • Aerobic
  • Endurance: cardiovascular & musculo-skeletal
  • Fat burning metabolism
  • Capillarization of blood vessels
  • Increased mitochondrial function

Experienced competitors/elites: 

Initially time spent on your feet is more important than hitting paces, but experienced competitors should note that their aerobic runs are not “long slow distance” but rather at 70-100% of your maximum steady state.

Lower aerobic effort, while it may be fine for joggers and fun runners, does not exert the desirable pressures on the cardiac and respiratory systems that an athlete needs. – Arthur Lydiard, Running with Lydiard


  • Rhythm
  • Learning to read your own body

 Biggest mistakes:

  • Running the entire run too fast and becoming gradually worn down over the weeks.
  • Starting out too fast and raising your core temperature to burn more glycogen rather than fats
  • Taking replacement carbohydrates on the way thus not allowing your body to learn to metabolize fats efficiently.*

* If your body is currently extremely carbohydrate dependent (insulin sensitive) or you have poor mitochondria, you may need to use some energy intake for the early runs until you have time to become more fat adapted.


Any terrain is suitable for this workout but Arthur Lydiard’s mantra was “undulating, undulating, not hills,” by which he meant a course with smaller ups and downs is ideal for this run as longer and steeper hills can make you stale. Mixing up the underfoot (having sections of tarmac, trail and grass, for instance) will help prevent repetitive strain injuries.


Long Hill Run: This run violates Lydiard’s normal advice but if you are a mountain runner or otherwise dabble in off-road running, you will need to include runs that specifically mimic the hard mountain conditions you face.

  • This run differs from the standard run in that climbs can be significant (several kilometres in length) and your route will feature hundreds of metres of ascent and descent.
  • Technical terrain such as loose rocks, dirt-path and heather can be part of your route depending on the terrain on your target race.

While some mountain runners are known to run on open mountain almost daily, Ireland’s own world champion John Lenihan recommend you try not to do more than 2-3 hill runs per week or risk going stale.

Progression run: These runs are not part of the standard schedules we provide as the programs provide you with a wide pace range as your target and if you pace it well you will find yourself speeding up towards the end in general. However, this session is often used by marathoners and heavily recommended in the excellent book “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger, and you can feel free to experiment with it in the later stages of your aerobic phase:

  • This run differs from the standard long aerobic run in that you set a faster pace for the last part of the run (for instance, the last 5k or 10k).
  • This pace is usually your race pace or a little bit faster.To accurately measure a Progression Run you will need to use a route with a uniform topography (so not a route with hard hills towards the end)

When doing this run it may be advisable to reduce the pace of your Out and Back workout the previous day as that workout focuses on many of the same adaptations and subjecting the body to this load twice in 48 hours could be excessive.

Fast finish long runs: These runs are similar to progression runs in being simply a normal long run with a predetermined ‘fast finish’ section such as ‘2 hours with last 10 minutes at 10k effort’ or ’25 km run easy with last 5 km at goal marathon pace’ and so on. Depending on how fast the finish is this can be a strong stimulus to experienced marathoners. As these workouts are both riskier and take longer to recover from they are not generally worth doing for beginners who can achieve much the same by doing a steady run Saturday and easy long run Sunday.

Fast long run: For the world’s greatest runners it has become practice to include a few very long runs very close to or just above marathon race pace. These runs are rarely used for anyone but the world’s absolute best due to their extreme difficulty and the high injury risk they carry. They are not GENERAL conditioning – but very specific work for extremely experienced athletes only.

Long uphill run: Another workout coming out of Kenya – essentially a long run done on a net uphill course. The strength stimulus is greater in this workout and it builds huge mental fortitude while somewhat reducing mechanical stress from the lack of downhill. It tends to be logistically more challenging as you will need a car or other transport at the finish waiting for you.

Parts of the workout descriptions are adapted from Running Wizard with permission.

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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