Long slow distance runs, or LSD, should be the staple of any runners training program whether you are training for a 5K or full marathon. However, many runners don’t know how to run long slow distance or look to substitute it with alternative exercises. Others may push themselves into injury by running too far or too fast. With long slow distance running the aim is to “slow down to go faster”.
Why Run Long Slow Distance (LSD)
Long slow distance provides many benefits, some physical… while others mental or emotional. The best part of a long run is that you obtain both. The key is to not over stress about the LSD run but just get out the door at a comfortable pace.
From a physical perspective, LSD runs provide the aerobic base and endurance runners need to support an overall running program. As you enter the aerobic zones during a long run, it grows the Capillaries (more blood supply for muscles) and the size and number of mitochondria. These combine to increase your VO2 Max, a critical element for your overall endurance.
Some runners also feel that their long slow distance run provides a “massage” that loosens kinks out of muscles and ligaments due to this workout being slower and less jarring than intense hill repeats or track interval work.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
From a mental or emotional standpoint, LSD running provides a break from intensity and pushing through tough miles. It allows runners to slow down and see the world around them without the focus normally required during other training workouts. Removing this pressure is key to avoiding burnout and getting mentally prepared for the next week’s schedule of running.
The rhythm one gets into during a long run helps to calm the senses while providing an opportunity evaluate the week or gain new perspective on running goals, or life events outside of running. Lastly, your LSD run is a great opportunity to partner up with other runners and enjoy some social interaction. In fact, many local running stores host long runs from their store offering a perfect excuse to meet new friends and get more involved in the running community.
As stated above, running with others is great for your emotional well being. Beyond you own emotional benefits, you are actually helping others as well. A pack of runners is more likely to develop a sense of community. This community can be there for each other during non running challenges. Conversely, runners find they have more in common then just running with their groups. In fact, there are many runners who meet their future spouses or best friends through a long slow run distance group!
If you are not able to meet in person, there is a huge social media running community online via tools like Strava and Twitter. This can be a bit of a double edged sword as mentioned in the “running naked” article. However, the ability to share runs and stories is a powerful motivator while giving you and others a sense of community. You can even find friends online to run with you (but be cautious when meeting people online).
How to Run Long Slow Distance (LSD)
Determining how long and what pace your long run should be requires knowing your desired race distance and pace for that distance. If you haven’t run the distance yet, or are struggling to determine your pace for a desired race distance like the 10K, you can use a running pace equivalence calculator. Another technique is to see how fast you can run a mile and enter the mile time into a calculator to get a range of where your desired race pace lies.
Once you identify your desired race distance and how fast you are able to run that distance, you can use the table below to determine the length of your long slow distance run in miles, along with some corresponding pace guidance.
It is critical to build up to the LSD distance and not push the run/be overly concerned with your time. If you can’t hold a conversation at the pace you are running, you are running too fast. Additionally, if you feel like you are “pushing” hard to get through the miles, back off and rest or take time to build into the long slow distance mileage range.
Long Slow Distance Mileage by Desired Race Distance
You don’t want to over or under train for your desired race distance. Use the chart below to determine your LSD mileage by the desired race distance.
|Desired Race Distance
|Long Slow Distance (LSD) Mileage
|8K (5 Miles)
Long Slow Distance Pace
Your long slow distance run pace should be 25% Slower than Marathon Pace. If you don’t know your marathon pace, aim for 2 minutes or more slower per mile for your “Desired Race Distance” pace. You should be able to run while being able to carry on a conversation (conversation pace).
Example: If you can run 6 minute miles for a 5K, your Long Slow Distance (LSD) Pace would be 8 minutes per mile for 5-8 miles.
How to Pass the Time While Long Slow Distance Running
While running long slow distance is a great opportunity for self-reflection. Running with a group or listening to music to pass the time is also a great way to cover the distance. Conversely, if you know your route and have a sense of pace, this could be one of your naked runs.
What to Avoid When Running Long Slow Distance (LSD)
Running long slow distance seems straightforward, but they are certain things you will want to avoid:
- Don’t try to run long slow distance fast or inject any sort of speed work. LSD runs are focused to straight endurance building
- If you don’t feel well, back off the pace or shorten your run as your body is trying to tell you something
- Don’t leave food or water at home, especially with longer runs. You will want to properly pre-hydrate (get plenty of water before your run) and bring along enough water or gel packs
- Don’t forget to refuel after your run with healthy food, liquids, and sleep
- Don’t run alone if possible, and be aware of your surroundings. This is especially true if you are engaged in trail running
Essential Gear for Long Slow Distance Running
The joy and freedom an LSD run brings can quickly be hampered by the lack of the correct gear. From blisters, dehydration, and exposure to the elements, it’s critical to be prepared for running long distance with a focus on comfort and safety.
The longer you run the more you sweat and lose fluids. On a short run this may not be that large of an issue, but you are risking dehydration on a long run. Finding a source of carry able fluid is critical and comes in many forms. This could be hand held bottles, waist carriers, or full on hydro pack vests. Whatever you choose it should match the criteria of how much water you need and comfort level.
Headlamps and Running Flashlights
Given the time is takes for a long run, you may find yourself running early in the morning or into the evening/night. It’s imperative to have proper lighting to not only see where you are going, but so that cars and others can see you.
Read the Top 11 Best Lights for Running at Night article to learn about running light options and our top rated recommendations.
A GPS powered running watch gives you a keen sense of the distance traveled and pace when running. For long slow distance, some of these watches can alert you if you are going too fast (a common mistake when on an LSD run) but may also display your course so if you get lost… you can find your way home. For long slow running on trails this is doubly important given the isolation.
Personal safety while running is something may runners take for granted, but one incident with a foul minded individual (or bear while trail running) could be your last incident! Be prepared with personal safety items that are legal to carry (check local laws). This may include mace, a heavy mag flashlight, or bear spray for trail runners.
You also run the risk of injury or getting lost on a long run, so carrying your cellphone in a water-resistant pouch or arm carrier is a clever idea.
Read our complete Tips and Best Self-Defense Gear for Runners guide to learn how to keep safe.
Anti Chaffing and Skin Protection
No matter your body type, your own body and clothes will rub against you. The longer you run, the more likely it is that you will experience chaffing. Body glides are to the rescue and should be used when appropriate. Beyond chaffing, protecting your skin from the elements requires the right sunscreen that doesn’t drip off once you start sweating.
Anti Blister Socks
Every step you take creates friction. The longer you run, the more friction and higher chance of developing blisters. Anti blister socks are made of special materials such as Kevlar or other padded components with wicking capabilities to reduce moisture. The combination of padding and wicking reduce or eliminate the development of blisters.
Non-Worn Out Running Shoes
Ideally, running shoes should have 300 miles or less on them to ensure they are not too worn. The best place to check your shoes is your local running store. They can do a full evaluation and determine if you require a different pair for your long slow distance runs. It’s not atypical to have a few pairs of running shoes that you rotate between depending on the workout type (Ex. More heavily padded for long runs or flats/spikes for speed work).
Weather Appropriate Clothing
Long slow runs are all about comfort. The second they are uncomfortable you start thinking about how far you must go and the “fun” quickly leaves. Therefore, it’s imperative to wear weather appropriate clothing. This means lightweight breathable running clothes in the heat and layered clothes with a windbreaker/shell in the cold.
Hats and bandanas play a role in protecting you in the sun, while winter running caps prevent heat loss and keep your head/ears warm. In extreme cold you may need compression tights and face masks as well.
Music (Or No Music)
Running with music on your long run is a wonderful way to pass the time, but for some it can be a distraction and it’s better to “Run Naked”. If you choose to run with music, select an MP3 small enough to carry comfortably or that fits in a running arm band. The main debate runners have in relation to music is using ear buds or full headphones. In the end it comes to comfort and features.
You’ve learned the benefits of long slow distance, how to run it, and got the gear… now get out there and start putting the miles in! If you are newer to running, please start with our comprehensive beginners guide to running.