While I need those short intense runs where I have a brisk 10k blast, it is the longer run which is the best in my book. Counting as a long run involves running for two hours plus, so half marathon distance plus a bit. Currently I'm behind with my MK Marathon training schedule and I need to step up a bit more.
Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity for a nice long run, just before dusk. I set off with a rough idea of where I would be heading once I was out of the urban area; luckily for me it's only about a mile before I reach the edge of town and then up a short (but steep) hill and then I am in the countryside. A little further on there is a choice of different directions which is great. Although I have some well-trodden routes which I do like, I also like to explore new routes from time to time and yesterday I did that and I ended up going in a totally different direction - which was perfectly fine.
Yesterday's long run, reminded me of why they are of so much benefit:
Endurance: the long slow run is the staple run for the long distance runner. There are no stop watches, no sprints, no high heart rates, just a steady run. It needs to be faster than a jog but not so fast that you couldn't have a coherent conversation for most of the time. For me that means 9 or 10 minutes per mile. It gets the body used to that gentle pounding and using fuel over a long period of time.
Bones and joints get a real pounding when we run. With each step, the force of twice our body weight is landing on a foot with each stride. It puts stress on bones and joints. That's the beauty of running - it stresses the body, particularly knees, ankles and feet. Afterwards they ache a little and feel tired. In doing so the body is repairing itself and getting even stronger for the next time.
Heart rate is raised but not too high. When I run at this pace on the treadmill, my heart rate is comfortably within the right range. That's good - a raised heart rate during exercise to around 60 - 80% of the maximum heart rate is ideal for good health. That's a very good way of dealing with all those life-style diseases that trouble our modern world - high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, being over weight etc.
Nice scenery is often on hand and a goal in itself for many people. A chance to see the countryside through the different seasons and experience different weather, clouds and light. It makes me appreciate this wonderful world even more as I silently marvel at things around me. At a running pace I find I notice things I would not notice so easily on my bike and I'd never see while driving. Sometimes that's quite a privilege.
Mental benefits is perhaps one of the real drivers for me and I have Rambled about this many times before. Put simply, running longer distances is great for:
- problem solving - you can see things differently while you're running and work out different approaches
- being imaginative - I get all kinds of great ideas once I've settled into a long run. My only problem is remembering them when I get back (someone suggested I take a Dictaphone, which isn't a bad idea!)
- emptying my mind - I am sure we fill our minds with all kinds of rubbish during a week from TV etc. Running is a brilliant way of pressing the "delete" button on all that useless stuff
- Stress - this is the main one. As yet another of my colleagues has recently resigned (and I think stress is part of the reason) I am reminded of what drove me to take up running in the first place. I can go out with all kinds of worries, troubles and concerns and return having risen above virtually all of them, if not all. Naturally it is the Runner's High at work, with those endorphins doing their work, that is part of the reason here. It certainly works for me.
- Daylight, sunlight must have a beneficial effect on anyone like me who spends so much time indoors during the working week. I spend hours at my desk in front of a computer screen or in meetings under artificial lights. I'm sure that apart from topping up on Vitamin D, there is something good for all of us in getting some natural daylight into our eyeballs.
So there you are. A long run, once a week is a brilliant prescription which helps in so many ways. If I were your Doctor having just given you that prescription, I would also be telling you to ensure you get the right rest and sleep afterwards. After a long run, you need at least 24 hours before running again, preferably 48 hours.
Additionally make sure you eat well afterwards and rehydrate yourself. A large smoothie containing at least three different kinds of fruit is ideal.
All guaranteed to make you sleep well and feel good!