It’s Not You, It’s My Schedule

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!BreakUp2

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.


26 thoughts on “It’s Not You, It’s My Schedule

  1. GASP…You mean I don’t have to run all 54 miles of my training plan AT ONCE?? But seriously, such a good point–it is ok to break things up from time to time, just don’t do it every time because then you miss out on the mental and repetitive use benefits. But it is always surprising to people to find that out. I liken it almost to one’s diet–a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, whether it is throughout the day, or all at once. Doing too much can mean that you overload things, and certain timing and amount optimizes the benefits!

    • So true. It really is all about balance and what works best for you. So many of them were surprised and also so happy to hear this. I am always so anal about doing my training exactly as it is laid out. But I do realize that many people miss runs because they are busy or just don’t feel like it. If breaking a run up means they will get it in, I am more than happy to see them do that.

  2. I just saw an article in the July issue of runners world with a 20 week marathon training plan. Most of the long runs were broken up into doubles. I think the longest runs I saw on there was 1 13 mile run and one 20 mile run. I completely disagreed with that schedule. I would not feel confident or comfortable at all at the start line only putting in essentially 1 long run. I agree with your theory though. If you have to break up the long run once or twice, it’s probably better to do that than skip it altogether. I think it all depends on your ultimate goal, like you said.

    • Great point Jane. I would never advise a client to only ever do 13 miles and 20 miles straight before a marathon. But I also understand that not everyone has a finishing time in mind, and scheduling can be difficult.

    • Wow I can’t believe I didn’t see that. I agree with you, I personally would not feel comfortable breaking all of the runs up. You need those long ones mentally and physically. But yes, the occasional break can be good, especially for certain runners. Thanks for sharing, I am going to have to look for that.

      • Ok….my analysis may have been a little premature! lol. I just skimmed the article this morning (apparently before my coffee set in), but now I looked at it again. It seems like they have you doing a 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, and 20 mile long run, mixed in with 5 long runs split into doubles and 3 races of various distances. I don’t know….it sounds kind of interesting. Maybe it would actually relieve some wear and tear. I would be interested to know what you think. It’s on page 66 of the July issue.

  3. You have the best blog! I’m so happy to read this. Once I can actually get back into running, I’ll be splitting up some of my runs just to give my feet a bit of a break here and there. I figured that would be okay, but it’s good to hear it confirmed. 🙂

    • You are too sweet. I could say the same about yours. It might be a great way to get back into it as you continue to heal. As a side note, I do this sometimes when I am trying to get back into shape and lose a few lbs. It is by far the best metabolic booster. If I do 7 in the am and 3 in the evening my jeans start to magically fit better 🙂

  4. Such a great post – and so important. I am seeing people getting ultra-serious and intense with the upcoming fall marathons, and remember a couple of years ago being worried when I was breaking my 22 miler in half because of kids activities and Lisa working. But what I found was that I was still really kicking my own butt pretty well, and that getting miles and ‘chronic fatigue’ through multiple long-ish runs was very effective. I STILL love doing 30+ mile weekends on occasion, just for ‘fun’ 🙂

    Thanks again for the great post – so important at this time of year.

  5. Awesome advice! I’ve been worrying about what to do about my 16-mile run over vacation — definitely going to have to either just skip it or break it up. Definitely agree that sometimes we can all use a break 🙂

  6. I thought that if you split the run into two parts you should probably run slightly further overall. Eg: 15 miles split out to 8 miles and 8-9 miles.

    • For long runs I have learned that it is okay to stick to your regular mileage. Especially during marathon training it is probably best to avoid any extra miles. But I can see how that might be beneficial too.

  7. Thank you for this post! I was wondering if that is ok during my training to do that on a particularly hot day. I will try my best to not break up any long run but I feel a bit comforted knowing on 95 degree day, I might break up that 20 mile run. 🙂

  8. Nice advice! When I first started marathoning, my ‘coach’ told me the same thing about splitting up long runs into morning and night. However, found that I just wanted to get it done with, so I would push through it all in the morning. I can still see the benefit tho!

  9. I train for marathons and ultras with bricks. For example, I might run 12 miles, then bike 48, or run 16, bike 60. Saves wear and tear on the knees, breaks up the mental fatigue, and feels much better than a long run, especially on hot summer days. Successfully ran my first 50-miler training this way, and will attempt my first 100K this fall.

  10. Sage advice, as usual! I’m learning that training plans are a rough guide to get to your marathon goal. Splitting one run is fine – it’s the consistent training over 16-18 weeks that will get you across the finish line.

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