We all know that the strongest determinant of running a successful marathon race is putting in the miles on our long run. However it is these training runs that can make people cringe at the thought of having to put in 17, 18, 19, and even 20 miles over a weekend only to have to do yet another long run the next weekend. It’s the name of the game.
However, depending on your marathon goals, you might want to switch up the style of your long runs.
If you are running your very first full marathon, (need a training plan?) then your goal is probably going to be to finish the race. In this case, you will want to focus on putting in the miles of the long run, building your endurance as you build miles, and not dwell to much on how fast or slow you are going.
However, if you are training for a specific time goal, maybe you are training to qualify for the Boston Marathon, (we offer a couple of time goal training plans), then you may want to change the style of your long training run to allow you to build endurance while focusing on your time goal pacing.
Therefore, for those that do want to reach a specific marathon race finishing time I like to recommend to them to incorporate 3 different long run training styles. Let's talk a bit about each one, why you should incorporate them into your marathon training plan to reach a time goal and when you should schedule them before your marathon.
1.The “Easy” Long Run - I realize that “easy” long run sounds like an oxymoron which is why easy is in quotes. However the “easy” long run is the basic long run that you probably already have a love/hate relationship with. During these long runs, your sole goal is to build endurance and your aerobic system. As a long distance runner, the primary energy system that you are using when running and on race day is your aerobic system. That means that we need to make sure that we maximize this energy system to allow you to be able to run lots of miles for a long time. Your goal is never to try and run your long run as fast as possible. For beginner marathon and half marathon runners, this is the type of long run that you will want to focus on.
Pacing: Your pace during your “easy” long run can be run slower than your goal pace. Again, this is because we want to train that aerobic system while building our endurance.
When to Run your “Easy” Long Runs: Throughout your entire marathon training plan. Specifically every 7-14 days. Some training plans have you running long runs every week, some every other week, some every 10 days. It really just depends on the runner, the length of the training plan and the coach. It goes without saying though that these “Easy” Long Runs should never be skipped on purpose!
2. Long Runs at Marathon Goal Pace: The title of this long run training workout is a little misgiving as these long runs are usually shorter than your regular “long runs”. You won’t be building your mileage during these long runs. I like to keep these long runs between 8-12 miles (longer than your tempo runs) but no more than that. The idea behind this long run training workout is that you will practice running longer at your marathon goal race pace, learning how fast you should start, how to keep your pace steady especially on hilly terrain, and learn how to recognize pace adjustments that might need to be made.
Pacing: As the name of this long run training workout suggests, you should run at your marathon goal race pace.
When to Run your Long Runs at Marathon Goal Pace: If your training plan allows, you can run these long runs every other weekend or maybe every second of third weekend during the last couple of weeks during your training plan.
3. Progressive Long Runs: these long runs are my favorite and so effective! They are designed to get your body used to running at your marathon goal race pace when you are already tired or beginning to become tired. To run a progressive long run training workout, run the last 6-8 miles of your long run at your marathon goal race pace. For the beginning miles, keep your pace slow and steady, remember, even 1-2 minutes slower than your marathon goal race pace in order to keep training your system aerobically. Bump your pace up to your marathon goal race pace during your last 6-8 miles.
Pacing: As described above, keep your beginning miles at 1-2 minutes slower than marathon goal race pace and run your last 6-8 miles at marathon goal race pace.
When to run progressive long runs: Try to schedule about 5-7 of these long runs during the last couple of weeks of your training. How many you run will depend on the length of your training plan.
Now this might be a little confusing on how all of these long runs workout together. If you have a marathon time goal, it’s always a great idea to work with a running coach or to find a training plan that already incorporates these elements.
I hope this gives you some insight into what long run training workouts you can do to help you effectively reach your time goal!
P.S. If you are wondering what a good marathon goal race pace is for you then try out the Runner’s Pace Kit which will test your fitness and help you determine where you at and what some good finish time goals are for you. Plus you can use it over and over to re-assess!
I'd love to send you my FREE 26-page Step by Step Guide on How to Train for a Marathon!