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marathon long run training

Marathon long run training

Preparing for the Long Run During Marathon Training


The most important part of any marathon training program is the long run. The long run helps prepare the body, both mentally and physically, for the challenge that a 26.2 mile event presents to a person.

So we are on the same page for this particular discussion, the long run distance is considered to be at least 10 miles or longer and runs that are at least 90 minutes long or longer.


How to Approach the Long Run

The long run is run at least one minute slower than the pace you are going to be running during the marathon or one to 1 ½ minute per mile slower than what you run your current 10K race.

When the training schedule calls for the long run to be 16 miles, you are to run it all at one time and not splitting it into a run in the morning and one in the evening.


Why the Long Run is So Important

It is important for the body to physiologically be able to learn to use the energy reserves that come from fat stored after the glycogen has been used. Glycogen is the fuel for the body that is stored in the muscle and is converted to carbohydrates.

The long run training will help to help the muscles increase the storage capacity of glycogen. When the glycogen storage is increased it means that you will be able to maintain the pace you want during the entire marathon and keep the signs of fatigue away. If you don’t have enough glycogen stored, you will have problems with your pace decreasing significantly.

It is also important for the body to get accustomed to running for long periods of time. Mental toughness will develop upon completing long runs during training sessions will pay off on the day of the marathon.

The long run also helps you be able to experiment with a list of issues and concerns that can arise during training to help prepare you for the day of the marathon. These issues and concerns include things like shoes, nutrition, pacing, etc.

The marathon training schedules are designed so runners are rested adequately before taking on their long runs. The runner who completes two long runs of at least 20 miles or longer during training will reduce the possibility of hitting the “wall” during the actual marathon. By the “wall” it is when the glycogen stored in the muscles are depleted and the result is the pace of the runner slows down considerably if not ends up in a walk.

Many runners who find it difficult to complete the long runs of the training are the ones who fail to prepare themselves adequately to complete the critical workouts. It is important to remember that the long runs and the marathon aren’t meant to be painful. It is important to plan ahead.


Benefits of the Long Run

  • The ability to build up the needed endurance for completing the marathon.
  • The heart is strengthened along with opening the capillaries, which both send energy to the muscles that are working and also flushing any waste from the fatigued muscles.
  • Some of the other physiological benefits may include an increased number and even size of the mitochondria and myoglobin concentration found in the muscle fibers.
  • Improving your endurance can come from strengthening leg muscles and ligaments.
  • It works on getting the fast-twitch muscle fibers working in order to help the slow-twitch tasks that happen from running a marathon.
  • Gets the body to take fat and burn it as fuel.
  • It helps to develop mental toughness and coping skills which will increase the confidence you need to get through the entire marathon on race day.
  • Will increase the overall speed, including shorter races.
  • Preparing for the Long Run

Completing a long run can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be if you prepare properly by doing the training sessions in a way that is helpful. Below are some areas that may be and should be of concern that will help you as you prepare before and even during your long run. We are going to assume the long run is scheduled for a Sunday morning.



  • Get plenty of rest on Saturday night, eight hours is suggested.
  • Friday or Saturday needs to be a complete rest day for your legs.
  • If you choose to train on Saturday, make it an easy workout for the legs.



  • Make sure to drink plenty of water during the day Saturday.
  • Make sure to eat food high in carbohydrates for both lunch and dinner Saturday. Finding the “right” food is important and will take some experimenting.
  • Make sure to avoid any food that is high in salt and excessive in protein/fat all day on Saturday.
  • Make sure that you drink at least 16 ounces of water Sunday morning before going on your long run.
  • Make sure you eat a light snack on Sunday morning before your long run. This is a good time to experiment with your food selection.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of fluids during the run. It is important to get water frequently during the run. If the run will be longer than 90 minutes you will need to drink sports drinks like Gatorade, PowerAde, etc. in 2 to 3 mile intervals. Drinking while running requires planning of the route to make sure there is water available regularly along with finding a way to stash the sports drinks.
  • You might want to consider a gel carbohydrate replacement product. You will want to make sure you drink water afterward to make sure that you do not get stomach cramps and to help make sure they are absorbed properly. Make sure you dispose of all wrappers properly in a trash receptacle or putting them in your fanny pack.
  • Make sure to keep drinking fluids after you finish the run.
  • As soon as you can, within 15 minutes after the run, you will want to get something nutritious to eat to replace any of the depleted glycogen. It has been found to help avoid possible muscle fatigue the following day. Eating carbohydrates as soon as possible after a long run is great.


Shoes, Apparel, and Accessories

  • To help absorb the most shock it is important to train in shoes that have low mileage on them.
  • To help your comfort level you will want to wear things like cool-max or synthetic blend shorts, socks and singlets. This will help get rid of any moisture, perspiration and help prevent chafing.
  • Using products like Body Glide, Skin Lube or even Vaseline type products will help to eliminate or even reduce any chafing or blisters going on. You will want to put the product places like feet, underarms, nipples, between thighs, etc.
  • You will not want to over-dress. Make sure you are aware of the weather conditions and the need to wear long-sleeves, tights or any type of excessive clothing. When you are wearing more than you really need the “real feel” temperature is about 10 degrees warmer as you progress during the marathon. If the weather is cooler or there are windy conditions you might want to consider wearing an old t-shirt you don’t mind tossing to the side of the route once you start the marathon, but you will want to make sure you won’t be running into wind later on in the race. Consider whether you want to wear a hat as it traps in body heat, which can be great in cooler weather, but not so good with hot and/or humid weather.


Things to Consider While Running Long

  • To help conserve glycogen you might want to run at a conservative pace by starting out slow.
  • To prevent or reduce an injury you will want to run at an easy pace.
  • Shaking out the arms and shoulders regularly will help you stay loose.
  • To help conserve your energy keep your arms close to the waist or hips. You should also avoid any unnecessary swinging of the arms, especially laterally.
  • The long runs can sometimes be difficult and you may even experience some hard patches later in the run. By persevering through these parts will help you develop a mental toughness necessary for the marathon.
  • It is a good idea to have imagery, mentally rehearsed visualization and even some self-talk to help with the mental toughness. It will help mentally if you break the course into sections. It will also help to read about Psychological issues as well.
  • You can start cooling down by maybe running the last half-mile at an easy pace. After the Long Run is Over
  • Make sure to eat and drink.
  • Make sure to stretch thoroughly.

To help loosen your legs up you might think about doing some light cycling or even walking later in the day.
You might want to utilize therapeutic techniques like dipping your legs in some cool water not long after the run or even getting a leg massage a couple days after the marathon to help reduce any muscle soreness and fatigue.


Guidelines and Other Helpful Tips to Make the Long Run Easier and Safer

  • You do not want to schedule long runs too early in the training, no matter how physically prepared you are to go the distance. This can potentially lead to a premature burnout or even staleness. You can also “peak” way too early in the training.
  • You will want to schedule a few of your long runs to be at the same time of day you will actually be running the marathon. This will help you to familiarize yourself running during the time frame and also to help you develop a pre and post race routine you will feel comfortable with.
  • Make sure you include some weight training into the training program.
  • You might consider running for time and just approximate the distance. This will allow you to have flexibility and spontaneity when it comes the route you choose to run.
  • It is not wise to increase the distance of your long run any more than 10 percent each week. This comes out to about 15 minutes on each long run.
  • Each fourth week of the training program it is recommended you drop the distance of the long run. This will allow your body a week to rest and even recover.
  • The long runs during the training will allow you to experiment with your choice of food, clothing, shoes, etc.
  • Your longest run shouldn’t be closer than four weeks before the actual marathon. The maximum distance you should run at a time is 23 miles. It is important to not run the entire 26.2 miles in practice to see if you can actually do it. You really need to save your energy and efforts for the actual marathon.
  • It is quite alright to stop or even walk when getting your fluids down during the long runs. This will in no way negatively affect you as you prepare for the marathon. Water and sports drinks are what you keep you going to complete the workouts.
  • If you run with a group you will find that the long runs are easier to complete and more pleasurable as to running along.
  • Running as part of a group is great, but you want to make sure they aren’t races. This can ultimately lead to an injury. If you get a training partner make sure they run at or pretty close to your training pace.