Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 19 Jul 2000 09:12:52 -0400

How Long?

(from RC 312)

Daryl Smith is one of a shrinking breed -- a runner aiming to break three hours in his next marathon and capable of doing so. He's only four minutes shy of that goal.

"How long must my long run be?" he wrote from North Bend, Washington. "I got away with 18 to 20 for Vancouver [in May] and actually felt better prepared than when I previously did 24-milers. My number one goal for a fall marathon is to stay away from injuries in this buildup."

My experience, both distant (in my running) and recent (in talking with lots of other runners), is that training injuries often come from taking long runs too close together, too close to race pace. I recommend a really long run only every OTHER week and considerably slower than race pace. On in-between weeks take one about half as long but at race pace, or run a short and fast race of 10-K or less.

How long? I've had best luck (and have seen much faster athletes taking the same approach) by running up to marathon TIME in training. My longest run before setting a PR was 2:41, but at eight-minute pace it covered just 20 miles. The marathon itself took only a few minutes more time to finish than the training run, but at 6-1/2-minute miles it covered an extra 10-K.

The idea on the longest training runs isn't to mimic race pace. It's to get yourself used to spending that much time on your feet.


AFTER WRITING the advice above, I wondered how valid it was, based on but one of my marathons. So I looked at more of them.

These are still just one runner's results. But I have all the numbers on that guy.

Packed into my first five years as a marathoner were 25 races at this distance. I didn't know how to train; hardly anyone did then. So the training was all over the map -- running as long as 35 miles, running marathons in lieu of training, running nothing long.

Marathon results were all over the chart as well. Times varied by 40 minutes.

The best half-dozen were under three hours. I looked yesterday for a common thread among these times, and it probably was the long run.

Average time for the six fastest marathons was 2:55. Average time of the longest training run (typically taken four weeks before the race) was 3:08, but the distance trained was about 3-1/2 miles short of a marathon.

Said another way, the training averaged 1-1/2 minutes per mile slower than race pace. I put in the necessary time on my feet without pounding them too hard.

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