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How To Train For A Marathon | Getting The Long Runs Right

When you enter the final 12 weeks of marathon training, the long run becomes a key focus in your weekly marathon training mix, but how to get this key element right in your marathon preparation?

Before we dive in deeper into how to train for a marathon and get the long runs right, let’s get one thing straight: Marathon training isn’t all about your long runs.

The other elements of marathon training will also impact on how good you feel in the last 10 miles on race day and the long runs can easily ruin your marathon training.

Get the long runs right and you will “put the tiger in the cat”, but push too far too often and you will feel drained on race day or see injury and illness creep up before.

Patience, planning and progression are key for any marathon runner and this is always true with the long runs.

How To Start Long Run training before a marathon?

Don’t be surprised if niggles and fatigue sets in if you start jumping up the long run by 30-40 minutes at a time.

Even for experienced runners patience in marathon training is key. Adding 10-15 minutes each week onto your long run is a sensible progression. 

The long run takes an increasing role in marathon training 12-16 weeks out from race day. During these weeks, aim to keep your long runs at a fully conversational, relaxed pace of 30-60 seconds a mile slower than your planned marathon pace. This will build your body’s ability to burn stored fats and ensure you are fresh enough to hit your quality sessions mid-week.

16 weeks to Marathon:

A great goal is to get in a consistent weekly long run of 1.75-2 hours at a relaxed and conversational effort.

12 weeks to marathon:

Start to regularly run 2 hours and over, giving some thought to pace/effort and training zones.

How many long runs should I run before a marathon?

Even many experienced runners get too hooked up on how many long runs they plan to do, even though the focus should be on getting the right quality and pace into your key long runs and look to work on your time and effort.

What Should I Eat before and during long runs?

When you have 8-12 weeks to go, your long run should start to extend beyond the two hour mark. From this point onwards, start to practise with different options for pre-run breakfasts and also fuelling during the run itself.

Gels are the most efficient and effective way of getting carbohydrates quickly into the system whilst on the run. If you neck them back like a shot on a Saturday night, don’t be surprised if your stomach grumbles.

Instead, take small sips of gel and look to take one every 30-40 minutes or so during the course of your long run.

Should I include Speed work in marathon long run training?

About two months before the race, you will see good marathon training plans start adding faster efforts into the long run.

Look to include blocks of your planned marathon pace into the final stages of your long run. This can build over time to peak longs runs of 3-3.5 hours with the final 60-90 minutes at marathon pace. Or even tough progression runs, such as 35K run as 10K easy, 10K marathon pace, 5K easy, 5K faster than marathon pace, 2K hard and 3K easy.

Remember, the effort gradually gets harder in a marathon as you try to maintain pace, so progressing effort/speed in long runs can make sense in the final 8-10 weeks of prep from time to time.

Should I race a half marathon before a marathon?

A half marathon race as a marathon paced long run, perhaps adding 20-30 minutes easy before and after, can be a great way of building confidence around your goal marathon pace. It’s also a lovely way to complete a long run with good company taking your gels and drinks for perfect practice.

It can be tempting to tackle a long tune-up race in the peaks of your marathon training, but treat these with caution: Approach them sensibly and structure them as a mix of easy and marathon pace running: run half of the race with an easy pace and then the final half at marathon pace.

If, however, you run a hard and fast race at or faster than your goal marathon pace, you might well find it hard to adapt and recover in time, leaving your best marathon in a training run.

When should I run my Maximum long run Before a marathon?

Your maximum long run should be 3-4 weeks out from race day – cap this at a maximum of 3-3.5 hours or 35K (if you’re an experienced runner). Beyond this, it’s often a case of diminishing returns and runners find themselves struggling to recover for race day.

Don’t panic if this means you haven’t run beyond 30K – the collection of all of your training, not just the long run, will result in your best performance.

How Should I prepare for the final long runs?

In your final key long runs, choose a route that allows you to hit marathon pace (if relevant). This could be a flat road or a path along the river, in a local park or even part of the race course if local.

Wear your race day shoes and even the kit to be sure everything is comfortable and rehearsed.

Above all else, make sure you stand on the start line knowing your long runs were planned, progressed and ticked off – at 20 miles, you will be grateful. Good luck!

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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