Marathon long run – the most important workout in the training plan

Marathon long run

Finishing a marathon forces the body to go through hell and come back. It can break people both physically and mentally. Some of them do it once as a bucket list goal, others crazy enough to repeat chase Personal Bests (PB) and endorphins. Either way, the quality of the marathon long run is what prepares anyone for this madness.

They say training for a marathon is the best thing you can do to your body. Actually running it is the worst.

Today marks exactly 10 weeks to go until the Munich Marathon and it’s time to look back at my training and see if I’ve missed something.

I noticed that despite my training consistency, I haven’t done any workout longer than 2 hours. Also my weekly mileage in the past months was only around 40K which seems a little on the low side.

I’m a bit concerned about it. That’s even less than I did for a half marathon last year and this time it’s twice the distance.

However, I focused on improving speed and endurance this year. I feel confident about finishing a half marathon with a PB, so the quality of my workouts was much higher. I just need to add those extra long runs in my training plan to work on strength and boost confidence .

There’s still more than 2 months to go, so there is plenty of time for it.

Marathon long run

Speed intervals and hills are nice to have in the marathon training plan, but it’s a bit like asking for an iPhone for Christmas and getting a book instead. Definitely nice to have, but won’t help you take cool pictures for Instagram.

Same is with hills and speed intervals – those are valuable to have in the plan, don’t get me wrong. However, a couple of hours into the marathon I bet I will think how long runs prepared me physically and mentally for the challenge. Not how fast I was able to run 800 meters.

Marathon is a test of pure strength and long runs build the strength required to go the distance. Extending the marathon long run is the best way to emulate that last third of a race when the body is in a state of depletion and hurts.

Marathon long run training practices

Training for a marathon adds a lot of stress to the body and much of it comes from long runs. It’s important to listen to your body, keep fatigue low and avoid doing more than the body is currently capable of. Too much duration too soon can lead to overused muscles, accumulated fatigue and injuries.

Start with short duration and increase the long run time by no more than 10-15%  per week.

At first keep the intensity low and focus purely on duration. Build up to the state when you can comfortably run at an easy pace for at least an hour and a half. Only once there it makes sense to start adding short portions of marathon-effort intervals.

At first 5-10 minute finishes at marathon pace (mid-Zone 2) in the end of a 1:30 run are enough. When comfortable with 2:00-2:30 hour runs, you can split the distance into several 20-30 minute intervals.

Most importantly, don’t be focused on the distance of the long run. Focus on the time spent running.

Contrary to beliefs, it isn’t necessary to do a 20-miler (33K) before the marathon. For slower runners the time needed to cover that distance will not outweigh the benefits. In fact, anything over 2:30 hours will greatly increase the injury risk due to accumulated fatigue. To me it’s much better to have a quality 2 hour run and spread out the rest throughout the week.

An average runner with a long run pace of 6:00min/km will need almost 3.5 hours to complete this workout. He will also, probably, need half a week to recover from it.

How to fuel for a long run

Marathon long run is not a regular workout. It’s long, tough and will require proper fueling before, during and after the workout.

It’s not really necessary to consume a lot the day before. Just stick with good nutrition habits throughout the week. Before the long run, however, it’s important to eat a proper meal that is high in carbohydrates and allow 2-3 hours for complete digestion.

When the workout is over 1 hour it’s important to take additional energy with you. Liquid calories are preferred, since they are easier to consume.

For a lower intensity workout one gel (around 25 grams of carbohydrates) every hour is sufficient. If the workout will include higher intensity efforts, then nutrition should be more like on a race day. Around 60 grams of carbs per hour or so.

Long runs is exactly the time when to test different fueling strategies to find out what works for you. Don’t try it on the race day.

Make sure you take water with you to avoid dehydration. If you have water fountains along the way – use those. Otherwise, take a throwaway bottle and some cash with you to buy more. 

Always carry cash if you’re planning on running far away from home. You don’t want to be begging for money if you need to get home quickly.

Finally, eat a proper meal within 30-40min that contains a mix of proteins/carbs and don’t schedule a workout the day afterComplete recovery from long runs is necessary to get all of the benefits and heal micro-traumas caused by so much running.

My marathon long training

This week I skipped cycling and focused on running and kayaking for a change. I boosted my weekly mileage to 60km which I plan to sustain for the next 2 months.

I also plan to change the schedule of my long runs a bit and make it more structured. I’ll do a 2:30 run one week and then a step back to 2 hours the week after. This should give enough mileage and let my body prepare itself. I’m really curious how my body will respond to so much running.

Currently I’m somewhere around 20-25K for my marathon long run, but I know I need to do more to understand how to pace the race.  

I still haven’t nailed stretching routine. I’m stretching after every workouts a bit, but I don’t want to repeat my yoga party a couple of weeks ago. I guess it will go away after the taper and just in time for the race.

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