Sunday morning long run is a weekly ritual deeply ingrained
in running culture. For decades, no runner in their right
mind would dare toe the line of their goal race without
dutifully logging those extra Sunday morning miles every
week leading up to race day. But is the weekly long run
all it’s cracked up to be? A growing body of evidence
is questioning whether this near-sacred ritual is a necessary
part of training.
The bare bones of
it: running long is hard on your body
Physical activity, including
running, is supposed to be good for building strong bones.
Something, then, is going wrong with distance runners
– anyone who’s ever experienced a stress fracture
is intimately aware of just how hard hours of pavement-pounding
can be on your bones.
According to research, bones are similar to muscles in
the way they grow and shrink. If you load your bones,
they’ll gain mass (i.e. get bigger and stronger)
to handle the load, and if you stop loading them, over
time they’ll lose mass (this can happen if you’re
too sedentary, or if you’re an astronaut who’s
spent too much time in zero gravity).
The tricky part is that too much consistent
stress on your bones appears to de-sensitize them to the
load. Research shows that your bones reach their maximum
ability to adapt to stress relatively quickly. Once they’ve
reached that point, any amount of running on top of that
is no longer building bone mass (and could be having the
The good news is that studies have also
shown that after you let your bones rest for four to eight
hours, they are re-sensitized to the stress again. This
is where skepticism for the long run gets its roots
The case against
the long run
When you look at all of this evidence together, it starts
to become clear that one long long run is going to be
pretty hard on your bones. (This is why it’s so
important to rest and recover after a long race, such
as a marathon.) So should you ditch your weekly long run?
Some runners have started splitting their
long runs into two shorter runs, with a four to eight-hour
recovery period in between (one run in the morning, one
in the late afternoon or evening). This gives your bones
time to bounce back, so you can ultimately log the same
number of miles with less stress on your body.
If this sounds insane to you, there is
some research to back it up. A 2012 study in mice found
that when the animals did three 10-minute runs throughout
the day, they saw the same adaptations as mice who did
one 30-minute long run.
But if a lab study done in mice isn’t
enough to sway you, consider multi-world record-holding
ultrarunning champion, Camille Herron, who shocked the
world in a post on X (formerly Twitter) at the beginning
of this year when she revealed that she only does one
or two long runs per month.
So what does this
mean for runners?
OK – Camille Herron still does an enormous amount
of mileage, so does it apply to an average runner? Right
now, the science seems to say it does, and it may help
you get stronger and prevent injuries.
This doesn’t mean you should never
do a long run. As you’ll notice in Herron’s
post, she still includes long runs in her training, just
never back-to-back (or even two weeks in a row). Long
runs are great for practicing fuelling and race-day prep,
so including a few of them in your training plan is definitely
a good idea, but you just may not have to do one every
It’s also important to note that if you’re
like most of us, a recreational runner who’s trying
to fit training in around your other commitments. Depending
on your schedule, breaking up your long run into two shorter
runs may either work well or be completely unfeasible.
Ultimately, you have to run when it’s convenient
for you, and following a solid training program and getting
enough recovery is what’s most important for success.
Running can be highly individual, and
what works for one runner may not work for another, but
if you’re struggling with fatigue, burnout or injuries,
it might be time to (mostly) ditch the long run for a