Every marathon runner or coach has his or her personal theory regarding the longest run during marathon training. While some people argue that 15 miles is sufficient, others think you should go really long – up to 30 miles. Which of the many theories is correct?
There are components to the Long Run:
[pullquote]I recommend at least a two week Taper Period[/pullquote]First, timing. Most, if not all, runners are aware of the concept of “Tapering”. This means that you should cut back on your training in the weeks leading up to your marathon race. I recommend at least a two week Taper Period and obviously you should not be running your longest Long Run during your Taper Period. Thus, to allow your body enough time to recover, you should be completing this tough training session no later than 3 weeks before your mararthon race. Some more experienced runners, who for example follow the Advanced Marathon Training Program, will include more than one Long Run at their maximum training distance. For beginners, only one maximum Long Run is required.
Second, distance. Through years of coaching marathon runners and personal experimentation I have found that a maximum Long Run distance of 20 miles is optimal. I have tried following training plans that recommend multiple shorter Long Run training sessions and I have stuck with plans that have included overwhelming 28, 29 and 30 mile Long Runs. In all of these situations I have found that my marathon time has suffered – either because I was under-prepared or physically and mentally fatigued come race day.
The reason why the 20 mile mark works so well is that it is long enough to prepare your body physically for the marathon race and provides sufficient time and distance to develop the ‘mental steel’ required to overcome the 26.2 mile challenge. Come race day, the extra motivation that the crowds, support and other athletes provide will easily get you through the additional 6.2 miles while you dramatically reduce the chance of impairing your performance due to fatigue.
[pullquote]give your body at least 14 days to recover[/pullquote]A tip to bear in mind about Longs Runs. Once your Long Run time exceeds 3 hours, make sure you give your body at least 14 days to recover before running your next 3 hours plus Long run. These three hour runs take a lot out of you both mentally and physically. Extra time is required for the body and mind to adapt to these stresses.
My theory about the Long Run training has helped me set my own personal best times in the marathon. I really believe this will help you to achieve your marathon goals as well.