What you may be missing with your long runs

In distance running, the long run reigns supreme.


That’s not really news, and yeah, I talk about the long run a lot.


But even with all the attention paid to the long run, I think there is one thing that people frequently miss when they do the *really* long runs during marathon training.


I think people forget that the long run should be race training.


Which, I mean, that sounds kind of dumb to say because most people don’t run 18+ miles if they’re NOT training for a race.


But what I mean is that in marathon training, the long run doesn’t just provide a great endurance stimulus (which of course, it does).


It also provides a simulation of the race experience in a way that it doesn’t for 5k and 10k distances.


The act of running a long run is nothing like the act of racing a 5k or 10k, but it is pretty darn similar to the act of racing a marathon (and the half to a lesser extent).


Partly that’s because of the distance of the marathon, and partly it’s because of the pace of the marathon being closer to long run pace.


So you might be saying, “that’s a very interesting point, Carl (why, thank you), but what does that mean for my training?”


To which I would say, “what a great question! I have a few thoughts …”


When you get to the really long runs (18 miles and up), you need to not just think about them as a way to build endurance, but as a way to prep for the race itself.


That means you want to use those runs as a testing ground for:

  1. Your race day fueling and hydration plan
  2. The elevation profile and surface of the race course


18 miles is long enough that you’ll be able to get a peek at how your body will react to the distance on race day and that means it’s a great time to see how it will react to other things that you’ll encounter on race day — things like needing to eat, hydrate, and how your legs will hold up to the hills (or lack thereof).


Depending on how well the long run is going, it may be a good time to test out different mantras and self-talk that you’ll want to use on race day, too.


The important thing is keeping the purpose of getting race ready in mind rather than just thinking of it as another long run where the focus is just building endurance.


Finally, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention race pace.


I think it’s very useful to test out goal pace periodically throughout your marathon training cycle (including in select long runs). But that’s not the goal of what I’m talking about here.


You don’t want “race preparation” in your long run to just turn into a straight-up “race.” So keep the pace relaxed.


Taking this approach will make sure you get everything you can out of your really long long runs — not just endurance. And that’s a point I think is worth repeating.


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About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.