The other day I wrote a post about how you can finish a marathon with your longest run being 20 miles. However, many training plans call for something different and I felt it was important to briefly discuss these various distances. Some training plans call for as little as 18 miles for your longest run while others call for 22-23 miles. Below is a breakdown of these different runs and why they might or might not work for you.
The 18 mile long run: The biggest and most popular proponent of the “less is more” theory is the Hanson brother’s team who work with many successful elite runners. Some of their plans might even only go up to 16 miles. One of their main reasons for this approach is that a 20 mile run could add up to 40-50% of an athlete’s weekly mileage and this isn’t necessary and perhaps too much for your body. They follow the belief that instead of looking at an 18 mile run as eight miles short of a marathon, it is better to consider them to be more like the last 18 miles you would experience during the race.
Many coaches prefer this method because they feel 20-22 miles during a training session is far too much mileage and can lead to injury. This might be a more beneficial approach for a beginner or a runner who tends to get injured with higher mileage. However, as the Hanson’s have clearly proven, this method works incredibly well for top elites as well.
The 20 mile long run: From my experience this is the most common long run you will find on a traditional training plan. As I noted in my previous post, this distance will properly prepare you for race day while avoiding too much mileage and lead to injury.
I personally think this is an ideal long run distance and prescribe this for almost all of my runners. Some prefer to have two 20 milers in their plan and although I don’t feel this is necessary, it can certainly help you feel both physically and mentally more prepared. In my opinion this is a distance that is achievable for beginner through advanced runners. It is just far enough to make you question your sanity, but not so far that you risk pushing your body too far.
The 22 mile long run: To be honest, I am a huge fan of having one of these on my own personal training plans. I like to have a 20 miler a few weeks before this epic run. I do however, think this is best to be used for athletes who have comfortably built up to 40-60 mile weeks before beginning training and do not seem to have injury issues associated with higher mileage.
While I prescribe this in some training plans, I tend to reserve this for more advanced/experienced marathoners and athletes looking to set PR’s. If you are looking to simply finish your first marathon or enjoy running several marathons per year for the sake of running them, this would definitely be an overkill.
Pick your poison: There are so many ways to approach training for any race. As you can clearly see from the above information, there are many different ways to train for a marathon and achieve success. I believe it is important to determine what your individual goals and physical capabilities are. Remember that the hardest part of marathon training is more often than not, avoiding injury. With keeping that in mind, it is essential that you never over extend yourself. A properly laid out and periodized plan will help get you to the race, regardless of which long run you choose.
What is your preferred longest run during training?