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