Marathon Training: The Long Run
Last week we looked at the benefits of training at lactate threshold. This week we look at another staple of marathon training – the long run.
Love it or hate it, the long run is a fundamental part of marathon training. (Although if you hate it, perhaps you shouldn’t choose to run 26.2!)
The long run prepares us both mentally and physically for race day, building strength, improving capillary function and the time spent out on the road gives us a taste of the mental challenge involved in completing the marathon distance.
However, of the most important objectives of this training session is to improve the muscle’s ability to use fat rather than carbs (glycogen) as a fuel. Get this element of training right and you won’t have to face the dreaded “wall”.
We are constantly using a mix of fat and carbs to fuel our daily activities. Carbs are much quicker and easier for the body to break down, so when energy demands increase such as when you are running, the higher the percentage of carbs in the mix. This also applies to pace – if you are out on an easy run you’ll be burning a higher percentage of fat than if you are pushing the pace on a tempo session.
For the shorter race distances, this doesn’t pose a problem – our bodies can store enough glycogen for most of us to do 90 minutes – 2 hours of exercise. However, unless you are planning to break the world record, you are going to be running for a little longer than that in the marathon…
The long run – 90 minutes or more - forces the body to use up its store of glycogen and (as with other elements of training) encourages adaptation, so that we both start to increase our stores of glycogen and learn to use a higher percentage of fat at marathon pace.
So, skimp on the long runs and not only do you risk injury as your body won’t be used to the impact of high mileage, you also will have missed out on the adaptations highlighted above. And run out of carbs on race day and your race is over. (This is also a risk if you ignore your pacing strategy and go out too fast).
Pacing the Long Run:
There is not complete agreement as to the correct pacing of the long run. We used to be told that the long run should be very slow, even minutes slower than easy/slow run pace. However, run very slowly and your technique tends to suffer (we start shuffling rather than running).
We tend to aim for a pace slower than easy run, a comfortable pace that enables you to recover from the session quickly, but quick enough for you to maintain good technique. If you are not sure about the right pace for you, try out our pacing tool.
Adapting the Long Run:
If you are hoping to run a faster marathon, you might consider some of the following adaptations to the long run. American Coach Greg McMillan explains in his book, “You (Only Faster)” the benefits for more experienced marathoners of adapting the long run to include more challenging elements.
He quotes some of the world’s top coaches including Bill Squires who includes “surges” of up to 10-12 minutes throughout the session, Gabriele Rosa with the fast finish long run, where the pace increases for the last 4-8 miles with the last 10 minutes as fast as possible and Pete Pfitzinger who advises that sub 3:30 marathoners run 12-15 miles of the long run at marathon pace.
It’s all Personal:
We’re all different, and generic training plans can take you only so far. If you’d like to have a chat with one of our coaches about your running objectives or have a custom training program developed just for you, then get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Enjoy your training!