In all the training programs I’ve ever researched, they say that your long runs should be done at an easy pace. You’re building up distance, so what’s important is that you cover the mileage, not that you do so in a certain amount of time.
Of course this makes sense for your first race of any distance, and that’s exactly what I did when I trained for my first half and my first marathon. Long runs took as long as they needed to take, with walk and water breaks whenever my heart (or feet) desired.
Epiphany: training programs should note in the fine print that long runs are to be done at your easy pace when you’re training for a new, longer distance for the first time.
Having read this advice time and time again, for my first through fifth half marathons, I had this mental block that always told me I was allowed to go as slowly as I wanted during my long runs. Who doesn’t love that? A nice, leisurely 10 miles instead of the huffing-and-puffing kind. And there I was, wondering why in the world my finish times were only getting better by small increments. DUH.
Just realizing that so many months of “newbie” training had my brain stuck on long runs = slow was enough to kick my training into high gear. I had to retrain my brain to see that long runs, now that I know my body can go the distance, shouldn’t be relaxing and comfortable and “get there when you can.” I should be breathing heavily and getting tired and pushing myself to the end. That’s how I’ll get better. Faster. Stronger (at least according to Daft Punk). And hopefully you will too. 🙂