What’s The Long Run Anyway?
The long run is the bread and butter for all marathoners in any marathon training plan. This is because you train your mind and body to handle the distance by doing these runs.
Physiologically, you simulate what your legs and body will go through in the marathon during the long run. The experience helps you better prepare and be ready for that the marathon both mentally and physically.
The distance optimal for your long runs varies based on your running experience, history of injuries, and how far you can run without getting injured while also gaining the most significant return on your investment!
How Long Should My Long Run Be So I Don’t Get Injured?
Once you fatigue your muscles and mind, you lose the ability to absorb impact forces while running, increasing your risk of injury. This is why steadily building up the volume of your long run is so important! You will achieve your marathon goal PRs by doing so year after year. Good things take time. Every year you get stronger, you get faster, and better able to sustain higher volumes of weekly mileage during your training, and therefore, a longer long run marathon after marathon. Once you are more experienced and more conditioned for the training, you can most likely cover more mileage in 3 hours for your long run. When you were training for your first marathon, this might’ve not been the case.
What Can I Do To Ensure I Properly Do My Long Run?
The more seasoned of a marathoner you become, the more it makes sense to increase the volume of intensity or quality mileage as a part of your marathon training program and long run.
Simulating the marathon course terrain is essential for any marathoner at any level while training for your goal race! If you have a hilly marathon to prepare for, don’t neglect the hills! If you have a flat course of training, the hills can only make you stronger, but they aren’t a must!
In the long run, you want to keep a good running economy (your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently), so you don’t jeopardize your running technique or running form. Personalized, structured, and periodized training for a marathon will enable you to get to the starting line of your next 26.2 injury-free with confidence and feeling strong and excited about doing it! This is why it’s important not to copy someone else’s program or compare yourself to others.
Working with a running group or a coach to fine-tune your training to meet you where you’re at in your fitness journey will help you find your breakthroughs as a runner. Doing so will allow you to capitalize on your strengths, challenge yourself without getting injured, program ample time to recover after long runs and more challenging workouts, and avoid mental burnout. More is not always better. Your biomechanics, history of injuries, running shoes, running surfaces, nutrition, recovery, and other life factors dictate your long run for your first marathon. You want to build yourself up, not break yourself down, and the beauty of training is adapting the training to help you do it!
Common Long Run Questions
These are common questions that I’ve received recently, and I figured I’d do my best to address these questions below!
Is It Okay For My Longest Run To Be Over 20 Miles While Training For My First Marathon?
As long as you have the consistent weekly volume to rationalize a 20-mile long run or longer than that, it’s okay. It would help if you averaged around 50-60 miles per week to make sense of this and see improvements in your training and, ultimately, your first marathon. The length of the long run is not going to make or break your marathon, most likely. It’s the cumulative mileage weekly (with a down week every 4th or 5th week) for a set period (I recommend 6-8 months).
I also think how fast you are, and taking into account, as previously mentioned, your running history and history of injuries counts here. Given that you do your long run at a conversational pace or an easy effort (10-20% slower than your goal marathon pace if you’re going for time), it doesn’t make sense to be on your feet for more than three hours for your long run. This can be dangerous because you can go into overtaking mode, causing burnout and running yourself into an injury with poor form and mechanics. If you wear an HR strap to ditch the paces and focus on effort (my favorite way to keep the process fun), keep your HR around 75% of your max HR during easy effort runs as a rule of thumb.
Watch My Video Below On Marathon Training Staples!
Working up to a long, long run is not the most effective training physically, but it is hugely valuable when you have zero experience of running that far. It’s the only chance you have to learn what it feels like, what might go wrong, and what you can do about it. If you’re going to do such a run at a similar pace to race pace, realize that you will probably have to pad it with a little taper and recovery.
Watch My Video Below On Marathon Training & Recovery!
Why Should I Cap The Distance Of My Long Run?
You don’t need to run excessive long training runs to prepare for race day. Your long runs shouldn’t make up more than 30% of your weekly volume. If you are on a typical newbie training program, almost certainly it’s already violating that rule putting you at risk for injury. It’s better to show up to race day slightly under-trained rather than over-trained, under-recovered, or injured.
If you want to be well prepared for a marathon, I recommend you regularly run 30-40 miles weekly for 3-4 months. Total weekly volume matters most with long-distance running, not long runs.
What Does “Hitting The Wall” Mean?
“Hitting The Wall” depends on fueling and being well trained for the distance. The long run is only one run in your whole week. You make the mistake of thinking only one run in your entire week matters. That whole week matters more than the long run. Tempos and threshold training will be more critical to success in the long run.
Plenty of people run their first marathon (and I do mean run) and never run more than a 20 miler in training. It’s the weekly volume and consistency that matters.
If I Were To Do A Longer Long Run, Roughly How Long Before The Race Should I Do It?
You have to give yourself time to recover from it. Some plans do up to 22-24, but you will see the last time you do that would be three weeks before race day as you begin your taper down.
Remember that your fitness increases when you recover from and adapt to your training. It’s important to take training blocks to build your body up and challenge yourself physically and mentally in new ways year after year. Below is from two weeks ago after breaking the tape in the Trails of Miles Twilight 5000 5K on 7/18. This run was used as a tune-up race as a part of my current Chicago Marathon training to push my limits in every way and assess my fitness gains compared to last year during my marathon training cycle!
I saw over a 65-second improvement in my 5K compared to the previous year; these fitness gains weren’t linear and certainly didn’t happen overnight. I am not you, but I am using this merely as an example to show you what consistent, personalized, dedicated training can do when you commit to your training and are patient! Patience is a virtue!
The recovery doesn’t happen when you are running. Going past 20 miles for your longest training run for your first marathon depends on your marathon goal. If you need a confidence booster, it might make sense to strategically work that into your training. If you are working towards going for a particular time goal, I’d recommend not going past 20 miles. The increased time spent on your feet will reduce the benefit you’d gain from the long run, not allowing you to recover appropriately and potentially mess up the rest of your training leading into the marathon. Just recover well, and let your body adapt to the training 🙂
Should I Do 22-24 Once Before The Actual Race To Avoid Hitting The Wall?
Sometimes less is more. You’re less likely to hit the wall with increased overall training volume/weekly mileage than with increasing length of individual runs. Build progressively over time (The more time you give yourself to train, the more flexibility you have with this), and try your best not to get injured by following a program or working with a coach to personalize your training to meet your current fitness needs!
The knee stretches in my 7-Minute Real-Time Knee Stretching Routine Video are great for keeping you mobile and healthy while training for your first marathon! This FREE video includes knee stretches done in real-time, so they are easy to follow! Check it out by tapping on this link right here!
The long run in any marathon training program should increase progressively and consistently with time. Adjusting the distance (or the time you spend doing your long run) should be optimal to meet you where you’re at in your marathon training journey. The staples for any marathon training program are the same, but how you personalize your program to optimize your running looks different for everyone. That’s the beauty of personalization and training to meet where your current fitness is. The Daniels’ Running Formula is an excellent resource for marathon training. Another recommendation for a go-to resource is Running Periodization. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide is another. And my personal favorite, as it pertains to where any running program should begin, is Explosive Running, discussing the importance of running technique for any level and distance runner.
The odds are always in your favor when you trust your gut and are honest with yourself! You know your body best.
My race is 26.2 miles. How do I know if I can run the distance?
It’s about accumulative weekly mileage. If you’re running 50-60 miles per week at an 8:30 min/mile pace, you’ll quickly have over half of your mileage outside of your long run (at MOST!) since the long run shouldn’t take up as much of your total mileage as that.
Double runs are a great way to get your body used to the stress of the training as you build your way up to 2-hours as a side note.
I’m a HUGE fan of Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method. Mixing walks into your long runs allows you to get the time spent on your feet while keeping the run aerobically. Walking is aerobic. It will enable your joints and tendons to get used to the stress of training.
Remember the purpose behind every run. For the long run, you want to be able to run for the long run (pun intended) and tackle it, feeling good afterward, able to walk the day after, and not experiencing crazy soreness. The long run sets you up for a marathon so that on race day, you can eliminate as many surprises as possible aside from the ones that surprise you most during the race, but that’s the fun of the marathon, right?
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