The Long Run

Over the years I have always run over distance long runs. Jeff Galloway says race day is not the time to do your longest run. I have always accepted that. When I ran my best times I used to run 20 mile long runs for races less than half marathon. My race day would consist of 2 miles warming up including strides, then the race followed by over 2 miles warming down. For a half marathon that would be over 17 miles. The warming up enabled me to start at race pace rather than warm up in the early miles and I was always strong at the end when others struggled. Between 1987 and 1989 I completed about 15 half marathons all under 1:20. My best half marathon was 75.45 at St. Neots and best 10 mile 55.25 at Welwyn.

Most of us will do over distance runs for race distances up to half marathon. The question of running over distance only appears to be a problem for marathons. The maximum long run done by marathon runners seems to be somewhere between 20 and 30.

In an attempt to sort out the truth I decided to read as much about the subject as I could. After attacking librarys, bookshops and Ed's and Jack's shelves I found no definite answer.

A track based book suggested running as many miles a week as possible, and that two runs a day were better than one long run if the total miles were more. This book was quickly discarded. Others tell of the benefits of the long run and then print schedules with long runs of over 20 miles with no explanation why.

Delving through the better books, the following four points emerged:

1. The cardio-vascular endurance has possibly progressed sufficiently by the time the runner is capable of 20 mile runs and any further is unlikely to bring further improvement.

2. After 20 miles muscular endurance is still being developed.

3. Running over distance gives psychological confidence that the runner can complete the distance. This benefit is hard to measure and will vary depending on the runner.

4. The body has enough glycogen to run 18 to 20 miles. Over this distance the body has to use fat. Long runs above 20 will help develop this fat burning energy system. Some suggest hitting the wall at 20 miles is when the glycogen runs out.

Danielle Sanderson told me she felt better in the last few miles of the marathon after she did over distance long runs in training. When Eamonn Martin visited us last July he told us he did 25 mile long runs. Richard Nerurkar does the same but did note other runners would run over 26. He said more advanced runners would do 4 to 5 runs over 20 miles. His coach advised increasing long runs, totalling at least 100 miles over the build up period. Ian Thompson (1974 Commonwealth and European Marathon Gold medalist) would run 30 mile long runs. He said they gave him a lot of confidence and he always knew he would make the distance. Club runners views were varied. Many who did 20 miles maximum did suffer the last 6 in the race and some appeared to believe they had to. Those who approached or went over distance were most likely to be the ones who felt strong to the end.

Comparing my schedule based on Jeff Galloway's ideas with an equivalent number of 20 milers, even on maximums, my last four long runs would be 21, 25, 27 and 30. That would be only 23 miles more over a 4 month training period. The possible benefits of improved muscle endurance, psychological confidence for race distance and development of the fat burning energy system far out-weigh any risks.

My view after this research is that the final long run before the marathon should be at least 24 miles. But my advice would be to to run at least one over distance and one of distance or slightly below, as a minimum. These runs should be done at a pace 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than your present 10k pace.