One of the most effective ways to improve your running performances is to incorporate a long run at least once every 2 weeks. The long run is a relative description, there is no "magic" distance that makes it a long run. What ever distance that is 15-30 minutes longer than your next longest run would be considered a long run. For some runners that would be an hour, others it might be 2 hours or more. Increasing the distance (or time spent running) a little bit every 2-3 weeks until you are able to run for 10 miles is one suggestion for anyone looking to improve your race times, whether you are training for a 5k or a half marathon.
One rule of thumb for determining how long your "long run" should be is to take the distance of the race you are training for and add 3-4 miles to it. The rational for this is you need to warm up a couple of mile for a race, run the race, then run a couple of miles to cool down. You also need to account for the fact that your race effort is harder than your training effort. So if you are training for a 5k you would need your long run to be at least 7 miles (3 for the race plus the 4 miles of warmup and cool down). If training for a half marathon it is ideal that you could do a long run of 17 miles. Typically your long run will account for 20-30% of your total weekly mileage.
Don't go out in week one and attempt the full distance of your ideal long run. Start with what you are able to do, then add 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks until you achieve your goal distance for your long run. Once you are able to cover the distance you can work on improving your time/pace for the long run.
Long runs should start off at an easy effort, what most would call a conversational pace. Running with someone else is helpful, but don't get sucked into running too hard if your partner is faster than you. When I run in groups we tend to run the pace of the slowest runner, at least through the early part of the run. Late in the run it is okay to open it up a little bit and pick up the pace.
So make it a habit of running a long run every 1-2 weeks!
One key to successful running is to run lots of miles and to stay healthy. To accomplish this much of your running has to be done at an easy pace. 1-2 taxing efforts a week is all that is needed to improve your running, but only if you have a sufficient amount of weekly/monthly miles. The time spent running has a direct correlation to your fitness and running performance.
On all of my runs I start off easy, even on a hard workout day. I usually need 10-15 minutes of slower, easy running to get my muscles warmed up before I start on the hard stuff. On my recovery days I run all of the run at a slower pace, usually 2 minutes a mile or slower than my race pace for a 10k. One of the most common mistakes runners make is being a slave to their GPS, trying to maintain a pace. I don't use a GPS, I go on what my perceived effort is. My pace for an easy effort days varies quite a bit depending on how rested or how tired I am. It does not matter, if it feels easy, then you are accomplishing what youset out to do. If it feels hard, you need to slow down. Relax, focus on finding a comfortable stride by working on your running form.