I often get asked if I believe in the long slow distance principle for long runs.  I do. I typically run my long runs 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds slower than my goal race pace.

As I have matured and learned more about the science behind running and long runs I now know that I was running my long runs way too fast when I first started training. When I was running around the 4 hour mark my long runs were just as fast as they are now. I was running way too fast to reap the full benefits of the long run.

I wrongly assumed that if you were able to maintain that pace for 20 mile long runs then it was an appropriate pace for them. I was wrong. I was essentially giving it my all during my long runs and not taking into account that I needed to train my body to run well at 26.2 miles, not just 20.

As I fell short of my Boston Qualifying goal of 3:40 during the marathon I decided that maybe I needed to start doing 22 milers or more and that it would prepare my body for the full marathon distance. Again I was keeping the speed too fast and was not getting the benefits. It would have been better to complete 20 milers slower in the time it took to run 22 miles, than it was to just go out and run 22 miles.

I made the jump from a 3:59 marathon to a 3:36 marathon once I fully understood the purpose of long runs and how to execute them. I do believe there is value in doing progression runs for some long runs but without some long and completely slow long runs I do not believe you are giving your body the full benefit of the long run.

In terms of length I do not go any longer than 22 miles[typically I only do one of these each training cycle and believe that for most marathoners 20 miles is the optimal distance for the longest long run.]

If you aren’t sure what pace you should be running for your long runs visit the McMillan Running Calculator and plug in either your most recent best race performance or pick a reasonable, achievable marathon goal time and work backwards.

Here is a table break down of my long runs run outside for the training cycle leading up to National Marathon. 

On the earlier runs you will notice that my pace is more like 2 minutes off of my goal marathon time and well over 2 minutes off my marathon PR.  The slowed pace is due to the fact that when I began training for National Marathon & Boston Marathon it was less than 2 months after having baby C.  At this point my body was still healing and I assure you that those paces were top speed for me and hard to hit.  As my body has had more time to repair itself my long runs have progressively gotten easier to maintain.  The hardest long run of this season was my last 20 miler before the taper.

I typically feel out of shape on my long run three weeks out from a marathon. This represents the pinnacle in my training, and so mentally I try to remind myself that I feel broken down because my body is broken down. My body has three weeks from that point on to recover and taper for my goal race, at which point I should feel completely ‘in shape.’

These long runs helped me achieve a 3:26:43 at National Marathon, a 3:30:58 at Boston Marathon, and a 3:23:43 at Potomac River Run Marathon – for my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fastest marathon times ever.

What pace do you do your long runs at? What does McMillan suggest you run? Will you change your pace now?

Comments

  1. Allison says:

    I think I am doing my long runs too fast. During training, I was keeping them around a 9:15 pace, and I was likely doing too many progression runs as well. Each week towards the end of my training cycle, I tried to do a few miles at my goal MP during my long runs (8:35 for a 3:45 marathon) According to McMillan, I was supposed to do a 3:48 marathon (based on previous half marathon times), yet I just ran a 3:56 on April 30th. I dunno. On one hand, I'm happy that I broke 4 hours in my second marathon (first one in almost 11 years!!). On the other hand, I'm disappointed that I was nearly 8 minutes off of his projected finish time. Of course, it was warm that day, and it was a hilly course. You have to consider that too.

  2. Allison says:

    PS-I'm supposed to be doing my long runs at 9:30-10:30 pace based on the calculator and my last finish time. That feels like CRAWLING to me!!

  3. Jake Rosen says:

    Great post and insights. I couldn't agree more. I keep hearing and repeating that we run our slow runs too fast and our fast runs too slow!

  4. I RUN LIKE A GIRL says:

    This is a great post! I, too, always want to go faster on my long runs but it really helped training with someone who knew I should go a little slower than I wanted. So, for my 1st marathon (Potomac River Run) – I followed a similar distance/speed plan as you. Great marathon times – you rock! :)

  5. Amanda@runninghood says:

    Definitely think there is some major benefit to this idea of running those runs slow! My training plan this time around called for more progression runs and MP runs than I had ever done before. I mean I have only done 2 marathons but when I trained for both of them…Napa and Boston…I never did anything BUT slow for those long runs. I didn't even know what a progression run was or tempos or all the other fancy training things. It served me fine. But now, I feel like I've worn myself so think and I'm just hoping I can get my running legs back again to even run another long run SLOW before the marathon in 4 weeks. Experiencing some major burnout and I think a lot of that is from pushing myself way too hard on my long runs and especially my 20 miler last Sunday. Instead of running a 7:50 average, I should have been running more like an 8:50 average. Stupid stupid…especially after feeling so tired the week before. I had tape over my Garmin so I didn't really know what I was running but I should have known better and slowed down so that I could fully recovery from my rough week. Thanks for this reminder. Always learning! This makes life awesome!

  6. I am at the slowest end on the McMillan for my long runs. I tried the progression runs last summer and I had a really hard time with them. Are you running Wine Country Half?
    Where's your ab-ilicous picture? ;)

  7. Kerrie T. says:

    I'm a true believer of slow running on the long runs. Great post!

  8. I'm like you.. I always end up running my long runs a little faster than I should, which probably led to me being injured. I'm going to try to run my long runs slower this training season. Good post!

  9. Thanks for sharing this!! I try to believe in the LSD but end up doing all of my long runs as progression runs with an avg pace around 30 seconds slower than marathon pace. Trusting the LSD is so hard, but it really seems to work for you and others! hmm…

  10. Meredith says:

    Thank you for this post! My brain knows that I should run the long runs slower, yet, when I finish and see the time, I get my competitive (with myself) self gets disappointed. I really have been working on it though…

    20 miles at 9:50 (10:00 was on my training schedule)
    16 miles at 9:36 – Took out speed and tempo runs a while ago and tried to pick up the pace for just a few miles on this one.

    Getting there…

  11. mickiruns says:

    I'm an idiot and run mine way too fast.

    Thankfully this post came at just the right time, and this past weekend I ran a 9 miler with a friend. Turns out she's disciplined in taking it slow. Mentally, it was hard to not surge ahead, but we held a 10:15 for those miles, with a 9:45 final mile.

    Throughout the day my legs didn't feel as though we went out for 9 miles, and the next day we were out there for a few more.

    Thanks for driving the point home :)

  12. I do my long runs a little slower than what the McMillan calculator suggested. ( the calculator suggested 9:30 to 10:30) When I start training for a marathon again I will do try and do the suggested splits that this calculator gave me, it might help me run a faster time!

  13. The Hungry Mom says:

    I often have a hard time with lsd but i like it. I also like that it makes long distances seem less scary when you know you can do them slow. Beginning runners who I talk to are always pleasantly surprised when I advise them on taking the long run slow.

  14. runthelongroad.com says:

    I'm a RRCA-certified coach too and understand the science behind LSD. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for me. I've tried LSD for numerous marathons and didn't get faster until I started running my long runs a little closer to MP. I think for beginners though, LSD is a MUST.

  15. Thanks for posting this! I always make the mistake of feeling disheartened if my long runs are slower than normal – but what you say makes sense :)

  16. i'm with you. it took me a while and a coach drilling it into me, but i believe the science behind the slow long run. it's not always about speed but quality of the run.

  17. Gracie (Complicated Day) says:

    To be honest I don't do a lot of long runs! But I generally go fast, which is bad.

  18. Lesley @ racingitoff.com says:

    Though last weekend was an exception, I totally agree. I train slow and race fast (for me). I have my McMillan chart printed and on my desk. Most runs I do at 11 min/mile. Long runs, usually 11:30… but I can maintain a 10 min pace for a half. I think 99% of people train too fast.

  19. Allison says:

    Thanks for starting this discussion! I think I probably run my long runs too close to MP, but I am not sure if that is really because I am running them too fast or if I am a bit afraid to push myself during a marathon for fear of crashing and burning. My times from shorter distances definitely project to much faster marathons than I have run. I think I will make a better effort with LSD pace during my next training cycle.

  20. Thank you for posting this! I totally "get" the science behind it and really try to see the benefits from it, but I have a hard time with it still. I definitely have slowed down my long runs though from what I used to do!

  21. I am guilty of running to fast on some of my long runs.

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  1. [...] Excuse me?! No, not that LSD. In this case, the acronym stands for long slow distance, or the week’s longest run. The only kind of trippin’ runners might be doing out on the road is [...]

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