A long run for a marathon
I like to see the marathon as a very long trip of 42.195 km with oneself. Every kilometres that comes and slowly goes has a story that remains in the mind of the runner. The meditative effects of marathons are well known.
Performing well over 42.195 km can meaning different things. It might be a personal best over the distance, perhaps simply crossing the finishing line at your maximum forecast time, or finishing the race without any problems. Perhaps you ran every step of the 42.195 km, or beat a feared rival. Marathons can have other meanings, but these are undoubtedly the main ones. Many different training methods might lead to such results. But despite the variety of options, long runs are the most important. Let’s have a look.
What is a long run?
It is a type of training designed to produce the following adaptations: a) technical, b) organic, d) muscle and tendon, d) psychological. These are all vital for marathon running. Let’s focus on them individually.
a) Technical Acquire an effective, economically running style that means you can run as fast as possible without wasting energy.
b) Organic “Teaching” the body to develop “lipid power”, as Professor Enrico Arcelli called it. This refers to the ability of the body to run as hard as possible using an energy mixture rich in fats.
c) Muscle and tendon Get the “mechanical structure” of the body used to and able to react to the different parts of a race. Supports pushing.
d) Psychological Train the mind to carry the body through this journey of 42,195 m.
As a constant running
I see a long run for a marathon as constant running, potentially at different speeds. But it can involve alternating walking and running. The length varies from a minimum of 24 km up to a maximum of 38 km. Top-level athletes can push this upper limit as far as 40-42 km. For “normal runners”, even good runners, the upper limit above is already more than enough.
Determining the speed for a long run
The first factor to consider for a long run is breathing. I like to use the concept of Run, Breathe, Easy (RBE). In practice, this means running but also being able to talk. Listening to your body, without thinking too much about keeping a constant time per km, as per your satellite watch, is a vital rule to learn.
Once this figure has been determined, the speed at which to do a long run can be worked out, by calculating 50-70 seconds slower than your RS. The more elite the athlete, the more the speed for a long run will match the RS.
Perhaps this is easiest to understand with an example. A runner with a RS of 3:30/km, can do a long run at 4:10. A slower runner, with a RS of 5:10/km, can do a long run at 6:20/km.
Using such an approach, the rhythm for the marathon will be, based on the reference value, 10 seconds faster than in the long run. Thus, returning to our examples, the marathon rhythm of the runner with a RS of 4:10/km will be 5:00/km, while the runner with a RS of 5:10 will have a marathon rhythm of 6:10/km.
As we’ll see below, a long run isn’t always done at a RBE rhythm. For example, the same training session might include sections that are done at a slight higher rhythm, what I call running with slightly heavy breathing (RSHB, or when it’s a little hard to talk and run), and others at the RBE rhythm. The RSHB rhythm is the average speed per kilometre in a half marathon. This is relative, once again, to the level of the athlete and can be 10 to 15 seconds slower than the RS.
Different approaches to a long run
The speeds for the various long runs are suggested below, using the RBE and RSHB abbreviations. These can then be adapted individually to your speeds.
1. Classic Run at RBE rhythm.
Suitable for all, especially for people preparing for their first marathon.
Example 30 km RBE. Or 36 km RBE.
2. Alternating Walk for 500 metres every 3.5 or 4.5 km run at a RBE rhythm.
Suitable for overweight people or those who are not in shape, but still want to run a marathon.
Example 32 km, alternating 8 times x 3.5 km at RBE + 500 m walking. Or: 30 km 6 times x 4 km at RBE + 500 m walking.
3. Progressive Half the session at RBE + half the session at r2 3×2 km at 4:00 rec. 1:30.
Suitable for all types of runners.
Example 25 km RBE + 5 km RSHB Or 15 km RBE + 15 minutes RSHB.
4. Alternating Run changing rhythm multiple times.
Suitable for expert runners.
Example 32 km (4 time x 4 km RBE + 4 km RSHB). Or 36 km (4 times x 5 km RBE + 4 km RSHB).
5. Power Start and end running at a RBE rhythm, including 1 km sections at a RSHB rhythm, with recovery at RBE rhythm.
Suitable for very advanced runners.
Example 10 km RBE + 8 times x 1 km RSHB and recovery of 1 km at RBE + 5 km RBE. Or 7 km RBE + 5 times x 2 km RSHB and recovery of 2 km at RBE + 10 km RBE.
How many long runs before a marathon
The idea is to do 2-3 long runs over 30 km, and the same number of slightly shorter ones.
Time between a long run and a marathon
Ideally, the longest long run should be done 3 weeks before the marathon. In certain specific cases, it could be as much as 4 weeks or as little as 2 weeks before. Everything depends on how your specific training for 42.195 km has gone.
- Arcelli E, Canova R. L’allenamento della maratona di alto e di medio livello. Ed. Correre 2006
- Massini F. Andiamo a correre. Ed. Rizzoli 2012
- Mujika I. Endurance Training: science and practice performance. Ed. I. Mujika I. 2012
- Noakes T. Lore of Running. Ed. Human Kinetics 2001
- Anderson O. Running Scienze. Ed. Human Kinetics 2013