It seems that the length of the longest training run for your marathon training has become a sort of hot-button topic in the coaching World. There was a time when just about everyone agreed that 20 miles was enough. Somewhere along the way, we’ve seen two diverging trends: 1) coaches advocating a much longer run, perhaps up to the full 26 miles and 2) coaches focusing on time or intensity, rather than a specific distance. I land somewhere in the middle, assessing each runner or walker individually.
I was asked a series of a questions for an issue of a national running publication on this topic and I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject. I was answering this on behalf of my work with the Team In Training (TNT) Program, as I am a national adviser to the program. The views below are my own and should not be attributed to the entire organization as many people have different opinions on this topic.
1) “Why don’t most marathon training programs include at least one long run of 26 miles?”
Coach Joe: I take a holistic view on runners and assess what’s best for each individual. It is a myth to me that every runner has to follow the same formula to be successful, when every runner comes to the starting line with different goals and having different capabilities. For many years we topped out all of our training plans at 20 miles, because this was a good balancing between the amount of training necessary to finish the race and the potential risks of getting injured in training. We now recognize that the recovery period and risk of injury both get progressively greater as the activity goes over 20 miles, but we also acknowledge that faster runners may benefit from going longer than 20 miles.
So in today’s world it makes sense to look, for example, at runners that are banging out 20 miles in under two hours and give them the opportunity to run 22 miles in training (which is only a few minutes longer at their pace). At the same time we may have participants that could take six hours to finish 20 miles at a slower run/walk pace and in those cases we may want to limit the length of their workout to a maximum duration to ensure that they don’t get injured in training. Our philosophy is to get participants to the starting line of their race, rather than having them get injured in training, so they can at least participate in the event that they set as their goal.
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