The Long Run

Anyone who has been following the marathon training schedule on the LFF website should be entering the ninth week, and that means a significant change in the schedule is about to occur. Up to this point, the training can properly be called the base-building phase. The second phase will incorporate the “long run.”

Much has been written about the necessity for long runs in marathon training. Most of this can be summarized in a single sentence: “The long run is the absolutely essential component of marathon training.” Why? Because without long runs neither the body nor the mind will be prepared for the rigors of the marathon distance. Let me elaborate a little.

A question often asked by someone contemplating a marathon is, “How many miles a week should I run?” It’s easy to see why this question is much too simplistic.

Suppose an experienced marathoner answered this question by saying, “Forty miles per week.” The novice might conclude that running 6 miles every day of the week would suffice. After all, the total mileage would be 42 miles per week, right? But. Even common sense would indicate that it’d be very, very doubtful that a runner who followed such a “plan” would be ready on race day to extend that daily run by 20 miles (or run for an extra three or more hours).

On the other hand, a weekly schedule like this one: 3 miles on Monday, 6 miles on Wednesday, and 16 miles on Saturday totals only 25 miles per week. Although well less than 40 miles per week, someone on that schedule probably could handle the marathon distance without too much difficulty.

Of course, a beginner can’t just step off the couch and into such a schedule (at least not without some serious pain and the risk of some major bodily destruction on that first 16 miler)! The purpose of the 8-week base-building phase is to prepare the body to handle longer runs, and as the long runs themselves become ever longer the body (and the mind) become prepared for even longer distances--and eventually 26.2 miles. Someone more clever than I once made the observation that a well-designed training program doesn’t so much as train you to run a marathon, as it prepares you to get through the next week of increased training.

In addition to the long run, I’m of the belief that a marathon training schedule also needs to include a weekly “moderately long” run. I believe this because I think it’s easier to work one’s way up to the necessary 18- to 20-mile training runs if at least once each week you run several miles farther than you normally might. Following the same reasoning as above, running 4 or 5 miles each day from Sunday to Friday simply won’t get you physically and mentally tough enough to handle an 18- to 20-mile run on Saturday.

The scheduled longer runs begin this week with a long run of 8 to 9 miles and a moderately long run of 6 miles. Now that you’ve done your base building, you should be ready for it. We’ll continue with more on the theory of the long run next week.

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