The Long Run is the cornerstone of any good marathon training system or really any long distance racing. This run provides strength, endurance, and confidence that is needed to finish a marathon. The value of this run should not be underestimated.
In the early Build up or Base stage, the purpose of this run is to build up, not tear down your body. If it takes days to recover after this run, then you are training at a pace that is too hard or you are going to far. It is OK to be tired after the run, but after a short time, it is best to be on the road to recovery.
In both the Base training and workout phase, there is a different approach to the Long Run depending on the experience level of each runner.
The most significant difference between this training system and others is the approach the Long Run. A good number of running training systems start at a certain distance and then add to that distance every single week. This is done until their people are running well over 20 miles. Running that far for most runners is pointless and counter-productive. If you can master running 12 miles on your long runs, you will outrace people at the same level who are running 20 miles poorly.
Many other systems add mileage every week to the Long Run, This adds stress of thinking that each week will be harder than the last. It is better to have a fixed distance in the Long Run and let the body get used to that distance, before moving up to the next level. After three weeks at a certain distance, a runner will be learning to approach that distance at maximum efficiency. This is what running is truly about – the art of learning to run efficiently.
The greatest difference in this system is the length of time of the long run. Many other systems will have you run anywhere between 20 and 26 miles. For all but the elite runners, this is a complete waste of time. The science simply shows this neither helps the overall success rate of finishing a marathon nor does improve one’s time.
As a concrete example, there are elite runners who have never run over 15 miles in training runs, that have world-class times. Grete Waitz set a women’s world record and won the NYC marathon without having trained over 12 miles. In my personal experience, I ran well under 2 hours 45 minutes early in High school without ever having run a workout more than 14 miles. There is certainly no reason to encourage anyone, let alone an amateur runner, to run over 18 miles. Again, running is about efficiency, It is better to learn how to run 12-15 miles efficiently than to run 20 plus miles poorly.
So what is the ideal distance? The answer there is none. Advance runners Runners see elite runner close to 26 in workouts and think they have to emulate them. To determine how far it helps to understand what the body is going through on this run.
Until people incorporate the Long Run into their workout, pretty much all runs are under 90 minutes. This time mark is important as it is around the 90 minutes mark the body starts to burn through all of its easily available energy. Slowly a transition takes place where the body no longer relies on easily consumed Glucose. The body still has a window of time before everything falls apart. This window is the sweet spot for running and getting the max out of this workout. The better in shape you are, the longer this window is. For most this window is about 30-45 minutes. For better athletes, this can be extended another 15 minutes or so. Longer runs past this time start to have an adverse effect. What are the consequences? Let us say an average runner is out for a Long 3 hour plus run. To accomplish this the first thing they will do is slow the pace way down as the body does not have the capability of running the same pace as a full 2-hour workout. This hurts overall conditioning and endurance as the point of the Long runs is get used to a strong pace for extended periods of time at somewhat close to marathon pace. So instead of running 10-15% slower than marathon pace, now the workouts are 20-30% slower. This also hurts the mind, as it gets tiresome to spend that much time on the road. Studies have shown the drop out rate after a person has completed their first marathon to be close to 90 percent for people that spend too much time on the road during the weekends. People, after a season of training, find that this type of running sucks up too much time between the run and recovery.
Ideally, this run will take place every week on the same day. At the very most, it can be shifted one day either way, but that is not a habit I encourage. If you cannot do this on your designated day, and you cannot do it on one day on either side, then you MUST forego this run. There should never be two Long Runs within four days of each other.
Another difference in this training system compared to others is that we do not take a day off after the Long Run. Many other training systems use this day as a break. The day after the Long run is the second most crucial run of the week. It will hasten your recovery if you get out and do an easy run. Taking a day off after a Long Run will leave one sore or stiff on the following day. Even if you are short on time, try to get a walk at least in after dinner. The only object of this run is to clear out the toxins from your tissues and provide fresh blood and oxygen to the fatigued muscles from the Long Run.
For additional information click on the links for more instruction for each level.