If you are training for a fall marathon you may have thought this a few times so far. We have reached that point where training is starting to really get heavy. The mileage is stacking up and your weekend long runs are starting to get into the double digits.
This past weekend I had a few different athletes ask me what they should do about the long run predicament. Some of them were going on vacation, others had schedule commitments, and some just weren’t sure how to fit it all in.
What I had to say left them shocked…..It’s okay to break up the occasional long run.
Now don’t get all excited and start thinking you are going to split every long training run in half. But it really is okay to divide them when you must and sometimes you can reap benefits from this change.
If you need to break your runs in half or other proportions it won’t hurt your training. In fact it can be very beneficial for many athletes. You can get many of the same results you would from one singular long run by doing two a days. Many coaches are now using these as part of their training plans for certain athletes and are finding great results.
If you are prone to injury or are dealing with one this can allow you to take some of the physical stress off of your body that comes with doing one big distance run. You can do part of your long run in the morning and then take some time to rest and recover before doing the rest later in the day. Taking some time to stretch, ice, or kick your feet up might take some of the additional strain off of your body. When you are injured, a 3 hour long run might be too much for your body to handle all at once.
If you run at a slower pace this can be a great way to take away some of the strain from your feet and legs. Running paces of 11:00 minute miles or slower will have you running for several hours during your longer training runs. At some point you will go past the point of receiving the benefits of the long training run. For example, you are training your body to handle more time on your feet as well as storing glycogen and using it more efficiently. After a certain time period you reach a threshold. Running for over 3 hours at a time might not continue to give you the same benefits you are looking for. This would be an okay time to break your run in half without losing the benefits you are looking for.
Sometimes divvying the run up can help you to mentally deal with it better. The idea of running 15 miles for the first time has you scared to death? Perhaps a one time 8 mile run in the morning and a 7 mile run in the evening might help you get through that mental road block. If it gets you through it, then great!
This is also a great way to handle long distance runs during the days of high heat and humidity. Instead of stressing your body in one long bout, you will get the same rewards by doing one in the early morning and one in the late evening. This will also help keep you avoid heat illnesses. And while you are at it, live like a professional runner and take a nap in between!
Before you set out and do this you have to be really honest with yourself. Are you the kind of person that will wake up early for a 16 mile day, put in 10 in the morning and still get out there and finish 6 later? Sometimes it sounds good the night before, but after you get that morning run in and continue with the day’s activities, it can be pretty easy to find excuses for not doing the second run. Know ahead of time that it will be mentally and physically hard to get started again.
If you are looking to break a four hour marathon pace this probably isn’t the most ideal thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend doing it more than once or twice during your training. That being said, I had a horrible stomach virus during my own marathon training. I tried doing a 17 mile run on a 90ºF day and after 5 miles I was in tears. We were on the road that weekend and I went back to the hotel and took a nap. I woke up still feeling pretty awful but hit the treadmill in the air conditioned gym and got my remaining 12 miles in later that evening. If anything it helped me on a mental level to not fret about having missed a long run near the end of my training.
I strongly discourage athletes from doing this for their longest runs unless they do not have a time goal and are only concerned with finishing or it is an absolute must. I personally think it is a bad idea to break up a 17, 18, 20, or 22 mile run unless you really need to. If however, you need to break up a shorter long distance run (10-15 miles), I say go ahead. Truthfully this has less to do with physical gains and a lot more to do with your psychological mindset. I would hate for anyone to get to the start line on race day and think, “Oh crap I never ran that 20 miler straight through, I don’t know if I can do this.” Self doubt will mess with you more on race day than just about anything else.
Marathon and all distance running is a major mental battle. You don’t want to get to the race and start questioning your training. If at times your schedule doesn’t permit getting all of those runs in at once, breaking them up will help you feel a lot better about your own preparedness and still give you the physical benefits.
The best rule is, stick to your plan as best you can. If you need to accommodate in different ways go for it. The more you can get the mileage in, the better you will feel on race day. We all are adults here and things come along that keep us from adhering 100% to our plans. Making it work for you will allow you to feel confident and prepared come race day.