The long run has always been my favorite – the longer the better. Some of my fondest memories are of 22 and 24-mile point-to-point training runs with the Cruisers. We’d finish the run exhausted, elated, and ready for a well deserved afternoon nap.
Long runs can be considered the foundation of marathon training. Without the long run, our bodies will not be prepared to meet the grueling demands of marathon day. Long runs should be done at an easy conversation pace and are designed to increase our endurance base. Benefits of long runs include:
- Training our bodies to utilize oxygen more efficiently
- Getting our bodies accustomed to being on our feet running for several hours
- Preparing us to emotionally handle the boredom and mind games that can go along with marathoning
- Strengthening our leg muscles
- Strengthening our core
- Boosting confidence for race day
Most marathon training programs include one long run per week, and most people choose to schedule that run for Saturday or Sunday morning. If you work weekends, and always have Tuesday off, that might be you best day for a long run. There are no strict rules, you just have to do what works best for you and your family.
When scheduling your long run, be sure to give yourself padding before and after for ample rest. Any speed sessions (tempo runs, track workouts, fartleks, etc.) should be scheduled at least two days before or after if at all possible, because a lack of proper rest before speed sessions can set you up for injury.
The Road Runners Club of America considers a long run to be anything longer than 90 to 105 minutes. For ease of discussion with my clients (unless they are training for a half marathon), I refer to long runs as ten miles or greater.
When setting up your long runs, you’ll want to gradually build up your mileage. If you run ten miles the first week, your second week’s long run might drop back down to six miles, and then you could jump to twelve miles on your third week’s long run. Your long run mileage might look something like this in a 20-week training program:
- Week 1 – 10 miles
- Week 2 – 6 miles
- Week 3 – 12 miles
- Week 4 – 8 miles
- Week 5 – 14 miles
- Week 6 – 10 miles
- Week 7 – 16 miles
- Week 8 – 12 miles
- Week 9 – 18 miles
- Week 10 – 14 miles
- Week 11 – 18 miles
- Week 12 – 14 miles
- Week 13 – 20 miles
- Week 14 – 14 miles
- Week 15 – 20 miles
- Week 16 – 10 miles
- Week 17 – 20 miles
- Week 18 – 14 miles
- Week 19 – 10 miles
- Week 20 – Marathon
Of course your fitness level, base mileage, previous running experience, and race goals would also be factors in determining how quickly we would build your mileage and how many miles your longest run would be. I will go into greater detail when I talk about marathon planning in a few weeks.
Long runs can be planned for anywhere. In my early marathoning days of training alone, I ran large loops around my neighborhood so I would never be too far from home, and I could stop back by my mailbox several times to pick up water and fuel. As my running posse grew, and I started adding accessories like hydration belts to my running kit, I started planning point-to-point runs.
Keys to a successful point-to-point run:
- Plan in advance and invite friends to join you
- Pack bagels, fruit, water, and Gatorade for a tailgate celebration after your run
- Park your car near your finishing point
- Have a friend meet you at your car to drive you to your starting point
- Thank your friend profusely for getting up and driving you
- Stop and deposit water, Gatorade, and fuel along the way (mark with your name)
- Carry a phone in case of an emergency
- Be prepared with fun stories to share with your friends
One of the Cruisers most memorable long runs was in September 2010. We met at 6 AM at the W&OD Trail parking lot near where we planned to finish, ready to be driven to the trail’s end in Purcellville for the start of our point-to-point run back to our cars.
By the time we got to Purcellville, a gorgeous sunrise greeted us for the start of our point-to-point run.
After making sure we had everything we needed out of our friends’ cars, we were off!
During this particular time, the W&OD Trail was undergoing some repairs and improvements. On a previous run we’d discovered that the detour involved running some horrible hills in a nearby neighborhood so we chose to ignore the detour sign. We knew the trail had been paved and was safe to run on, so we decided to be rule breakers!
Half-way into our run and we were still going strong.
Jerome started with us, but since he was running a shorter distance that day, he had Gatorade and water refills waiting for us about twelve miles into our run.
A tailgate party of bagels, fruit, and orange juice was waiting for us once we returned to the parking lot at the end of our 22-mile run. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture from that day, but do have this one from the end of our 24-mile point-to-point run a year earlier.
No mater where you happen to be, you can complete your long run as long as you have the motivation and space to do so. My friend Beth completed a 20-mile long run on the track of a ship in the Mediterranean once, and I’ve run several 18 to 22-milers on a treadmill during a particularly snowy winter.
Bill and I are lucky that we have each other, so even when we’re at the beach, we have a training partner. During this particular run, we were scheduled for twenty miles, and guess what – we did it! We drove north to False Cape State Park, and did a lot of exploring of the Virginia/North Carolina beaches during our run. We even stopped long enough to let a Park Ranger show us tracks in the sand where a sea turtle had come ashore the night before to lay her eggs!
Long runs are what you make of them. They can be something that you spend your whole week dreading, our you can turn them into an adventure. I prefer an adventure!
- What has your longest training run been?
- How many miles do you usually take your longest run to?
- Do you prefer point-to-point or loop long training runs?