With the summer quickly coming to a close, those of you who are training for fall marathons should be deep into your training programs.  Some of you may even be approaching your longest long runs and beginning tapers for early October marathons. 

Ashley, one of my readers, sent me an email asking my thoughts on what her longest long run should be.

How long do you think should be a first-time marathoner’s longest run? I am debating between 20-22 miles. Yet, some schedules say to go all the way to 24?? I am following the Hal Higdon plan which only has us go up to 20! Any recommendations or words of wisdom??

A first time marathoner should at most consider running 22 miles for their longest long run, with 20 miles being the optimal distance I would recommend.  I would NEVER advise anyone training for their first marathon to run 24 miles.  Why?  This distance *beats* up your body too much to be worth it.  You will loose more running 24 miles than you will gain.

One might say well the elites run 24 miles and often more in preparation for their marathons.  Yes this is true. It’s important, however, to remember that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.  One should also consider the level of the person training for the marathon – are you an elite or a 1st timer. 

What is good advice for someone who is training for their first marathon may change after 5 successful marathons.  Just because you love Meb, Deena, and Kara doesn’t mean you can or should mimic their training schedules.  Remember this is your first time tackling the marathon distance.

Often times it is cited that 22 miles is a good maximum long run distance because it teaches the body to go past the 20 mile mark where most people *hit the wall*  The wall is a very real thing.  It is however, completely avoidable.  Further, running 22 miles will not automatically help you not hit the wall.

First way to avoid the wall is to start slow, slower than you want to, slower than your average pace needed to hit your goal time.  Second way to avoid the wall is to hydrate – carrying your own water is a very good idea for first time marathoners.  Not only does this help you gain time when you stick to the middle of the road and run through the aid stations, but it allows you to hydrate your body exactly when it needs it.  Third way to avoid the wall is to eat.  You can choose what your body best responds too, whether that is a gel, chews, gummy bears, or a replenishment drink – you just need to make sure you aren’t skimping on the food – eat and eat often.  Fourth way to avoid the wall is to train your mind to push through exhaustion.  Tell yourself there is no wall – its a figment of your imagination.  Or tell yourself you are going to climb that wall like it’s an ant hill and it’s not going to stop you.  Make the mind run the body not the other way around.

You should be practicing starting slow and finishing fast on your long runs to mimic how you should run during the marathon.  People that say to me, oh that doesn’t work for me – make me crazy.  It works for everyone – it’s scientific – no ifs ands or buts about it.  If it hasn’t worked for you yet, then you are still starting out too fast.  You should be able to maintain your pace and even be able to speed up in the later stages of a marathon.  This will help you avoid *the wall*

It’s an awesome feeling(I know from experience) blasting past those people who went out way too fast in the beginning.  The woman who came in 2nd place at B & A marathon was a good distance ahead of me up until mile 13 or so, at which point I made my move and passed her.[I actually never once saw her until I came upon her at this distance – that’s how far ahead of me she was]  She finished over 6 minutes behind me and  I can’t help but wonder if she went out too fast.  One must have patience in the sport of running.  Patience and wisdom to know when to hold back so you can push when it really counts.

Keep in mind that on these super long runs you should also be testing out anything and everything you plan on using on race day.  Carry your water, practice filling it up on the go.  Wear exactly the outfit you plan on wearing on race day – complete with pony tail holders, sweat bands, headbands or anything else you think you may want to use.  Practice sunscreen – this may sound silly but you would hate to try a new brand on race day only to find when you sweat it gets in your eyes and burns.  You want to eliminate any minor detail that could derail your plans for an amazing marathon experience.

Hope this helps you in preparation for one of the most amazing experiences of your life!!

Who is running their first marathon this fall?  Leave a comment below and let us know!

P.S. Deena Kastor is pregnant!!!!!!!!!!  I seriously love love love the fact that I’m pregnant at the same time as Paula, Deena, and Kara.  If you are going to have to take a forced break from marathons, there is no perfect year than 2010 😉


  1. RunWithKate says:

    Thanks for this post, super duper helpful. I was slightly worried about only going 20 as well.

    Deena Kastor is pregnant!! I know, I saw this yesterday!! How crazy is this??? All 3 of them, and YOU at the same time. CRAZY and fun. I love it!

  2. Forward Foot Strides says:

    This is the first I read of Deena Kastor being pregnant, cool!

  3. sooo cool about all these amazing female runners being pregnant at the same time!!!! it makes me so happy!
    i have a question…i totally agree about 20 miles being a perfect max long run distance for 1st time marathoners, but would you recommend that they complete that distance just once during their training, or more than once?

  4. Your post was very imformative! Thanks for a great post!!

  5. Lesley @ racingitoff.com says:

    I am training for my first marathon (December 5th)… main reason I started my blog… to keep accountability. This is by far the best post I've seen on first time marathon. In fact, I think I'll link to it tomorrow… It's realistic, and sticks to the key points that we need to know… it's not weighted down with a whole lot of extra info that keeps us from focusing on the right things. Anytime I talk to a friend about a half marathon, my first piece of advice is to slow down if you don't think you can run that far. So glad someone told me that last year!

  6. Ashley Claire! says:

    Dorothy, THANKS for this post! :) Sorry about all my exclamations and ??s in my e-mails…thank you again for your words of wisdom. I feel more comfortable with my training schedule now. you rock!

  7. The Laminator says:

    Super helpful! Yes, you are AWESOME…just like all those other preggo super-runners! I see a lot of you in them! Woohoo! Hope everything is going well with your pregnancy =)

  8. Anonymous says:

    This was great.I did my firdt 18 today and last mile of it was tough.Even though I did pace good.I just really need to fuel better than I do and in two weeks hit that 22 miler! Thanks.Iggy

%d bloggers like this: