Scheduling Long Runs

When training for the marathon, the long run might be the most important element of your training. So, when should you schedule them in the week and what percentage of your weekly mileage should they ideally be?

You’ll get the answers to all your long run questions in today’s daily podcast episode.


Audio Transcript

Coach Laura: Welcome to the Extra Kick podcast, brought to you by Runners Connect.

I’ll be answering your questions this week. The first question comes from Henning.

Henning: When training for the marathon, of your total weekly mileage, how much should your long run be? Also, where in the week should you place the long run?

Coach Laura: These are two great questions, and something us coaches see a lot of when writing training programs for new and old runners alike.

I want to start by talking about long runs, and a popular belief that for marathons, many long runs need to be 20 – 22 miles long. By addressing this, we’ll be able to come back to your question of how much of total volume your long run should be.

There are lots of runners who believe that they need to do a few 20 of the 22 mile long runs in their program. And the science shows that’s not necessary. After three hours of running, your risk of injury is greatly increased, while there is no additional benefit.

In fact, the majority of physiological stimulus of long runs occurs between the 60 and 90 minute mark. This means that after running for three hours, aerobic benefits are markedly better than when you run for only two hours. Long runs of over three hours build about as much aerobic fitness as ones lasting two hours.

When you’re going over three hours, you’re essentially wasting training time and energy you could be spending on quality work throughout the week. So why do we see so many marathon programs in multiple 20 mile runs in?

Many people think the 20 mile mark in a marathon of when they hit the wall.

So passing that, in practice, will be mentally beneficial on race day, a bit of a mind game that we play with ourselves. I think it’s more important that we train ourselves for the fatigue we’re going to experience in the marathon, rather than telling ourselves we’re going to hit a wall.

Also, many of the training plans that include multiples of 20 – 21 milers go back to the 1970s and 1980s when marathon running wasn’t as much of a community event. Average times were closer to three hours, while now average times are closer to four hours.

For someone doing a 20 mile long run at 6 minutes per mile pace, that’s two hours. But if you’re doing your long run at 10 minute per mile pace, that’s over three hours. To start, rather than looking at hard distances, we need to look at total time spent running.

How does this go back to your question?

Given the idea that we need to do a 20 mile long run, lots of runners start there, and then try to add in their other workouts and their easy runs. They end up having their long run being over 50% of their weekly total.

I believe a long run should be around 20 – 30%. Remember, we’re doing this by time, not by mileage. So if your long run is three hours, that means you’re running 9 – 10 hours a week. If your long run is three hours, but you’re only running four or five hours per week, your long run is simply too long.

For the second part of your question; when to run these workouts.

It really depends on what your schedule looks like. Most of us are not professional athletes, and we need to schedule around work, family and life demands.

For most, Saturday or Sunday is the ideal long run day. That means Tuesday or Thursday or Wednesday and Friday are the quality days.

At Runners Connect, when we’re not focusing on 20 mile long runs, we often have a long run in the 16 – 18 mile range, with a shorter but steady pace run the day before. This way, you’re able to stimulate the fatigue you’ll experience at the end of the race.

I always like runners to have at least one day between their quality runs. So it would go: workout, easy day, workout, easy day, and so on. The only exception to this being the steady state run, the day before the long run.

I do hope this answered your question. If you have a question you’d like one of the coaches at Runners Connect to answer, you can submit it at runnersconnect.net/daily.

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