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The Long Run for the Marathon

by Nichole Porath

preparing_for_a_marathon_imageI remember my first few long runs early in my marathon career. My hamstrings and glutes ached. I would run out of energy with a couple miles left to go and would be counting down the minutes until I was back at home.

I’ve learned a lot since then. If you have an upcoming marathon, here are a few tips and tricks to help you plan and make the most of your long run.

The long run build: For first timers or individuals newer to marathoning, it is important to steadily increase your mileage to get up to your long run distance. When I coach athletes, I like to schedule two long runs at or over twenty miles; one five weeks before their marathon, and a second three weeks beforehand. From those dates, work backward. You’ll want to structure your long runs so that you have three weeks of increasing mileage (15, 17, and 18, for example) and then a recovery week (14, in this example).

Strength work: Be sure to schedule in at least one, if not two, strength sessions per week. A well-designed strength program will help with two things. First, it helps prevent injury. Imbalances can be identified and corrected with targeted exercises. Second, it will help you gain the strength you need to be able to finish the long run, and finish it fast. My limitations early on were all muscular; my hamstrings and glutes were simply not strong enough to handle the distance. Adding in walking lunges, side leg raises (clams), and hamstring curls are a great way to help you gain the leg strength you’ll need. Also make sure to include at least two sessions of general core strength work. Remember to keep this balanced, focusing not just on your abdominals but your side abdominals and back as well.

Fueling before and during the long run: Before a long run, I typically eat a larger breakfast or meal, and it often mimics what I plan to eat on race day. Typically this is two servings of oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts and a banana, sometimes with peanut butter. This is a great opportunity to practice running on a full stomach, which you’ll want to be able to do on race day.

Fueling after the long run: If you haven’t been doing this, you must! I make a point to refuel after every training session (and at 100+ miles a week broken up into a lot of doubles, that’s a lot of targeted refueling!). My personal experience with refueling was that once I became diligent about it, I was able to handle much higher mileage without feeling beat up. Previously, I’d complete an 85 or 90 mile week and be really beat up for the next week or two. After making this a priority and working on nutrient ratios, I was almost instantly able to handle two 95 mile weeks back to back.

Try to target .5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Then target anywhere between 3–5 grams of protein per gram of carbohydrate. A protein shake made with Sunwarrior protein powder is an absolutely fantastic post-recovery fuel as it’s quick to grab and quickly digested. I typically make mine before I head out for my run so that it’s waiting for me when I return. You can play with other foods to try to get a few “go-to” items that fit your caloric and nutritional needs (not to mention your personal preferences! There’s nothing like looking forward to coming home to something delicious when you’re out running!).

the_long_run_for_the_marathon_imageAdding speed work: Once you’re able to start a cycle where you’re strong enough to run 18–20 miles without too much trouble, you may want to consider adding marathon pace or tempo pace miles into your long run. This change helped me drop 11 minutes from my PR in the span of 8 months, allowing me to run a 2:44 and qualify for the 2012 Olympic trials. Adding speed work helps you build what I call “long run strength,” the ability to hold your pace when tired. The best workouts I’ve found have been finishing a 20–22 mile run with 3 miles at your goal marathon pace (if you aren’t strong enough to hold all 3 miles, start with just a mile or two). Or running 2x6-8 minutes at 20 seconds faster than goal marathon pace at the beginning of a long run, running 10 miles easy, and finishing the run with another 2x6-8 minutes at the same pace. At first, you’ll likely struggle to keep your end segments at the same speed as your first, but you’ll develop the ability to be close in pace with practice. Another great workout is a progression run. Start the long run with five easy miles and then take the next 5–10 miles (depending on your current fitness level and point in your training cycle) progressively faster with the goal to end at your goal marathon pace or faster.

Long training runs are the key to running a fast marathon on race day. Hopefully these tips will help you get to a new personal best!

Follow the journey!

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