This post has been a long time coming. I don’t want people to think that I don’t “practice what I preach” when it comes to the long run. I’m specifically referring to pace and pre-run fuel (you can read about my long run prep and refueling post-long run here and here). Why do I feel this is so important? I don’t want to mislead anyone, especially beginners. I’m training for my 8th marathon and have made every mistake in the book when it comes to long runs. By now I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I encourage everyone to try and see what works for them, because everyone is different.
What post from me would be complete without a little background info? 😉
Long runs are the most important runs in marathon training (and also half marathon). No where else will you be able to simulate the feelings (both good and bad) that you will encounter on race day. Long runs also give you the opportunity to test fuel (GUs, shot bloks), clothing/gear, and establish a routine that will be so comforting on race day when you are a bundle of nerves.
The purpose of the long run is to build endurance. After all, the marathon is an endurance event, not a sprint. Long runs train your body to improve its ability to store glycogen and use fat for fuel. We have an abundant amount of fat to use for fuel but only a finite amount of glycogen. Our storage of glycogen can be somewhat increased through training but ideally, we want our bodies to use fat for fuel for as long as possible before attacking our glycogen stores.
Onto the “do as I say, not as I do” portion…
I don’t eat before any of my long training runs…not even a 20-miler. There, I said it! I used to have my standard whole wheat bread and PB before a long run but then had some issues with digestion and regurgitating (TMI, I know). Because of this, I felt awful during my long runs (kinda like running on a full stomach). I experimented and found that running on an empty stomach works for me as long as I fuel properly during my long run (I eat 3 shot bloks every 4 miles for runs over 13 miles). The night before a long run I’ll eat a larger dinner and have a snack later in the night (around 9:00pm). This ensures that I don’t wake up starving and allows plenty of time for digestion. One exception to my rule: race day. Since there is often a huge lag time between waking up and actually starting the race, I’ll eat my PB on wheat bread about 2.5 to 3 hours pre-race.
I wouldn’t recommend doing your long runs without eating…I’m definitely in the minority. Most runners eat PB on either bread or a bagel. You’ll need to experiment and see what your stomach can handle.
Long Run Pace
I don’t follow the long, slow distance (LSD) rule, not anymore at least. What is the LSD rule? You are to run your long runs anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds/mile slower than goal marathon pace (GMP). For example, your GMP is a 10:00 min/mile, you should run your long runs between 10:30 to 11:30 min/miles. Why should you run this slow? For the reasons I mentioned above…allowing your body to make specific adaptions that will enable you to run a marathon. For my first 5 marathons, I followed LSD. My endurance improved but my overall finishing time was stuck in the 4:15ish range. For marathons 6 and 7, I picked up the pace a bit on my long runs; generally running 15 to 20 seconds/mile slower than GMP. And, occasionally, I ran the entire long run at GMP or did a fast finish long run (running the last portion – maybe 5 miles or so – at GMP). This benefited me not only physically but mentally. For the first time, I knew I could run 20 miles at GMP. It eliminated a lot of doubt about my abilities. But what about burn out? That is definitely something I had to watch and be very aware of. Over time though, my body recovered quicker and quicker from long runs. I have always wanted to be a faster runner but have come to accept that my strength is endurance. This is why I can recover faster from hard efforts in a long run.
Again, if you are a beginner, definitely, absolutely, positively stick to the LSD rule! You need to build your endurance and your goal for your first marathon should be to finish strong and enjoy the experience. Over time, as you become a more experienced marathoner, you can incorporate some fast finish long runs, as long as you listen to your body and don’t push beyond your limits.
Phew, I feel much better getting that off my chest! Now you know the method behind my madness 🙂