The long run. It is by far, (yes, pun intended), one of the most important runs of the week in any training plan. But how far should the long run be? Most half marathon training plans have the long run max at 10 or 12 miles. Marathon training plans max at 20 miles. I am here to tell you that is not going to get it done. Ok, for a beginner, you will finish. But if your running 13.1 and your longest run is only 10, what happens after you hit 10 miles? If your running 26.2 and you only have run 20 miles, what happens after 20. Well if you have run a marathon you know. But lets not go down that road :-).
I have run a few half marathons. Maybe 15, I think I lost count. But my first I remember clearly on my 12 mile long run day. I got to 12 miles and said, there is no way I am not running one more mile. Heck I went two more just to make sure that I could. Don’t you want to know you can do it, before the race? Ok, a half marathon is easy, we all know that. Yet every time I run one, that little voice in my head says “You can’t do this” 13.1 miles, you didn’t train enough, you can’t run that fast for that long. Just sleep in and don’t run. It’s true, our mind is our worst enemy. It stops us way before our body does. So why not run 14 on your long run day for your half training plan to shut that voice up? I am three weeks from my next half and how long do you think my max long run was? If you said 10 miles, nope, how about 12? Nope. Ok 14?, Nope. I did 17 miles. Not sure how I picked that number, but it for sure shut that voice up.
For a marathon, we all know 20 miles is when the race starts. So why are you only making your long run 20 miles. For my first marathon, I ran 26.2 as my long run. Ok, I signed up for my first marathon, set up my plan to run 20 three weeks before the race. Then I noticed there was another marathon on that same day in my home town. Heck, I said, I will just run that marathon as a training run for my marathon. No goals, I didn’t push it, and OMG at 20 miles I felt great. Then came mile 21, OMG I hurt like no other run. At mile 23 I stopped and walked, every muscle and a few other things hurt. I didn’t even want to walk. At the finish line I could only think to myself, why did I want to do that again. Then I made adjustments and for my real first marathon I was a bit more ready. Not that I hit my goal, one thing was sure, I knew I could run 26.2 miles. So for my third marathon, I ran five 20 mile runs to train for it. I was for sure ready for that one. I was going to BQ. HAHA….. Well the race came and yep, it was a PR, not a BQ, and 20 miles was easy. But then I got to 22, and since I had only ran that far in two other races, again I had no idea what was going to happen. Well, I have learned, I hope for the last time, to run more then 26.2 miles to train for a marathon. I also learned that you need to drink more fluid then 20 oz if you want to run a marathon. But I’ll save that for another post.
So my advice is to run well past your race distance for you long run. Build up to that run, increasing your weekly mileage 10% a week. You will silence that voice in your head and be much better prepared on race day. No surprises at mile 22, you will be ready.