Endurance training – why so important?

For endurance training, the long runs are the most important ones. The effect of interval training for endurance is overrated and exaggerated by many.

Have you heard about the 80/20 rule for training, with respect to distribution between easy and hard training? This is a rule based on experience through many generations of testing the effect of hard vs easy training. The hard parts of training are normally competitions, interval training or fartlek. In our time it is too much emphasis on hard and intense training as a prerequisiste for achieving results. Some research institutions even prescribe hard training as “revolutionary” for achieving “revolutionary” results. Sadly enough, the real results of hard training is the opposite, in particular if you don’t have sufficient training basis in your body. The most important training basis for achieving endurance is the long and easy run. If you don’t have a basis in your body that is built up over many years, it seems like the body cannot absorb so much hard training.

What is a long run?

Long runs are continuous (meaning without breaks) running sessions from around 45 minutes up to 2-3 hours. It is obvious that the load is different if you run 2-3 hours compared to running 45 minutes. Nevertheless it should with a moderate intensity, in order to continue for so long time without breaks. It is important that the long run shall neither be too fast nor too slow. This is induvidual for every person, and we will here give you some advice on how you can find out what is the correct intensity for you personally.

A simple and often used rule, is that a long run session shall be at a speed and intensity where you are able to talk without having trouble to breath while talking.

It is common by some to give the advice that the pulse should be at a certain percentage of your max pulse, depending on the load in different types of training. We do not recommend this, since the max pulse is an insufficient reference, and even a reference that most people don’t know for themselves.

Which reference should I use?

Our advice is the following: Warm up thoroughly by easy running for 15-20 min. After this, increase the speed gradually over the next minutes. Pay attention to your breathing pattern while running. From the start you will hardly notice it, but you will notice the increase in breath in accordance with the increase of speed/load.

When the breathing pattern becomes uncomfortable, you are close to your anaerobic limit. Then, have a look at your pulse. This is approximately your threshold pulse/anaerobic limit. This threshold is not exactly one pulse, it is rather a range that can vary pluss/minus 2-3 strokes. If you are hyperventilating, you are far above  your anaerobic limit.

What is an uncomfortable level of breathing is of course individual, so this is not an exact measure. It is however a useful method to find out what level of intensity you should avoid and stay below on a long run.

The longer the run, the more you should stay away from the “uncomfortable level of breathing”.

For those living in cold countries, it is typical that winter training outside is dominated by many long runs, rather than intense training sessions like interval training. The “strange” thing is that most people then get in good shape. When the spring approaches, there will be more intensive training, and many then lose their good shape. A well known expert in Norway on endurance training, Johan Kaggestad, says: “Intensity kills good shape, however most people can absorb a lot of endurance training”.

If you by any reason want to more exactly measure and find your anaerobic threshold, contact a trainer or fitness center that have the equipment and competence to do so.

What are the advantages of the long runs?

First of all, long runs are good for the endurance as such. Here are some of the reasons for this, and other some other important advantages:

  • You get adapted to running in general
  • The effectiveness of running increases (adaption of running pattern)
  • High level of fat burning
  • Development of strength in bones, tendons and muscles, in a gentle way for the body
  • Training without “pain” makes training more enjoyable
  • Less risk of injuries
  • Easy to train together with others
  • Can be used as a “transport method” to/from work, school etc
  • Increases the number of small blood vessels, the capillaries that goes into the power cells of the muscles, the mithocondrials
  • Increases the number of mithocondrials
  • Increases the number of aerobic enzymes, who works as catalysts for the efficiency of metabolism
  • Increases the capability of the body to receive harder training

See more about the principles of endurance training and long distance running in our article: Basic principles for long distance running.

Authors: Ingrid and Arve Kristiansen

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