Tag Archives: long runs

The Marathon Training Mistake People Make In Organized 20 Mile Runs

CARAready2run

Logo for the Chicago Area Runner’s Association’s annual Ready To Run 20 Miler, held about 3-4 weeks before the annual Chicago Marathon.

In many major cities with major marathons, organizations will hold an official pay-to-play 20 mile run 3-4 weeks before the marathon, to coincide with most participants’ final planned long run before their taper. The official events mark out a course and provide aid stations every 3K or so, much like an actual race.

 

Though these events are technically held and run like an official race, the clear idea is that participants will do this as their longest training run before the marathon, since most training plans typically ask for runners to peak with a 20 mile long run a few weeks before the race. The idea is not just so runners can do their long run with a like minded group of runners, but that they get support along the way with water and electrolyte sugar fluid every 3K or so, as well as the usual commemorative gear like a bib number and race shirt.

While I totally support the staging and usage of official 20 miler runs for marathon preparation (provided your training plan calls for said 20 mile run), there is a significant mistake most runners make when doing the 20 miler.

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The Overload Principle: The training value of runners training tired

Human nature leads us to take it easy when we’re sore or tired. Obviously, we don’t feel good, so our nature tells us to rest until we feel better.

Many training plans for runners will ask you to run a high volume of miles, even though often times you are tired from the prior workouts. Many novice runners will make the mistake of skipping or curtailing the easier workouts because they are tired. They don’t realize their being tired is part of the training stimulus for those workouts!

In fitness training we have a concept called the Overload Principle. The principle is that your training stimulus has got to exceed your current capabilities to elicit optimal adaptions from that training.

For a beginning runner who doesn’t run much, the simple act of running in itself kicks in the overload principle. A beginner’s current capability is they aren’t yet comfortable running a lot. So running in itself already exceeds their current capabilities. A simple run will for them elicit those optimal adaptions.

Separately, consider strength training through weight lifting with heavy, challenging weights. Done with a suitable intensity (i.e. sufficient weight, capable but challenging form), lifting weights can exceed anyone’s current capabilities as long as the weight and/or exercise itself is more challenging that the trainee is generally used to. Even if a trainee gets comfortable with a given weight/exercise, adding weight or progressing the exercise into a more challenging form can once again exceed the trainee’s capabilities and elicit those optimal adaptions.

However, if the trainee were to maintain the current intensity as they got comfortable with it, the exercise while still beneficial would produce lesser adaptions and results. This is often why people hit a plateau when training.

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Applied practice of fueling and hydration on long training runs

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some will argue that you should do your long runs in marathon training on an empty stomach, to practice depleting your body of glycogen, not just to prepare for the experience of doing the same in the longest run itself but to also prime your glycogen stores to hyper-compensate and hopefully store more glycogen than before.

Some will argue that you should eat a good meal before long runs and stay completely fueled, in order to maximize your performance on these runs, avoid bonking, and maximize the potential physiological hypertrophy (growth) from these long runs.

Some will argue that you should practice doing it both ways, that both approaches have their respective benefits and that doing both will maximize your development prior to the taper and the longest run itself.

What is my point of view? I’ll be honest: My point of view has gone back and forth. I have trained with long runs on nothing more than a small meal beforehand, to push myself to the limit otherwise cold turkey. I have eaten a full breakfast, then brought 2 liters of Gatorade in a hydration pack and fueled religiously throughout the run, even stopping to eat or drink during the workout as needed.

But now, when it comes to the best way to do marathon training long runs, I come back to a semi-rhetorical question:

What is the primary goal of a marathon training long run?

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A best practice for very long marathon training runs

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If training for your first marathon, or even if you’re generally not used to regular runs longer than 2 hours… there’s a better way to get in long run mileage than just doing one long uninterrupted run.

Once a single run exceeds 2.5 hours, the physical damage a run does can offset a lot of the training benefits from running long. Many runners may need multiple easy days or days off to recover, which derails some key workouts and disrupts your fitness development more than the long run helped it.

The Galloway Method, aka run/walking your longest workouts, offsets this by building in repeated rest breaks through walking. However, training this way only makes sense if you intend to run/walk the marathon. If so, then Galloway’s approach or any run/walk variation is completely fine.

For those who intend to *run* the entire race, you need to fully run all your long runs. And you need to be mindful on long runs of the 2.5 hour threshold.

Yes, that means your uninterrupted long runs will be well short of many training thresholds like the 20 Mile long run.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t run 14-20+ miles on long run training days. In fact, when new to marathons, you absolutely need to get these long mileage days in.

So how do you do it, if you should only run 2.5 hours max, and you can’t possibly cover the needed distance in 2.5 hours at an easy, sustainable pace?

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Is it ever okay to do two quality workouts on back to back days?

woman in gray crew neck shirt running on brown soil during daytime

Cross country runners often train long the day after a race. It’s possible for others to do back to back hard, quality workouts. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First, to clarify: A quality workout for runners is any run with more than 5 minutes of a challenging volume of running:

  • Fast or otherwise hard running
  • A very long period of running
  • A run with intermittent fast running (such as speed reps)

Secondly, in brief… yes, back to back quality workouts are not only okay but beneficial in some circumstances.

In fact, one demographic of runner actually practices this regularly: Interscholastic cross country runners.

Many cross country runners will run a race or a speed workout on Saturday (a quality workout), followed by their long run on Sunday (also a quality workout). They have an easy day Monday and then follow a more balanced schedule through the school week.

Now, is that healthy? Running guru Jack T Daniels will actually recommend in some of his Daniels Running Formula training plans that, during the peak phase, you do two quality workouts back to back. This is the only period in his plan that you do so. In other phases of such plans he spaces out the quality workouts as others do. In most plans you do the long run later in the week (while he is one coach whose cross country plans have you do a race or quality workout right before a long run).

So while many running minds recommend you avoid running quality workouts back to back, here is Daniels not only scheduling back to backs but in many cases putting them in the important peak phase. Are those other running minds wrong?

Well, no. Most plans might schedule more demanding regular and quality workouts, and perhaps their quality workouts require more recovery. Putting their workouts back to back may be a terrible idea. In Daniels’ case, the back to back quality workouts he schedules are not as daunting: A 3 mile cross country race and a long easy run. The 2nd workout in particular is done at a lower intensity, just for a longer than normal period.

Another training plan where back to backs are possible is IronFit. Because the rest days can be slid elsewhere in the week as needed, and because the workouts need to be done in order, it’s entirely possible that speedwork and a tempo run might be back to back.

Of course, most plans won’t dare schedule a back to back for the reasons stated. That said, they are not taboo. If schedule adjustments force the possibility, or you’re crafting your own training plan where you may need to book back to backs, there is a smart way to do it.

So here is how you should approach the possibility of scheduling a back to back:

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Building hill workouts for your goal races

It’s nice when a goal race is on flat, normal terrain. A place like Chicago or New York City makes it easy, since all their races are on mostly flat ground.

Along with creating prime conditions for fast times (… well, weather permitting), training for the races is straightforward. Work on aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, work on tempo and speed, recover and feed yourself well, and you can crush it.

If a race has elevation shifts, things get a bit more complicated. We already see how weather and temperature impact races: If you train in clear and mild conditions, but then race in windy, hot/cold conditions, you’re not going to be trained to deal with the latter. Even when trained for warmer conditions, suitably hot races can negatively impact performance no matter what.

Likewise, if you train on flat ground, then try to run a race with hills (whether uphills or downhills or both), your performance and body will suffer as you likely have not trained at any length to handle hilly conditions. The longer the race, the greater the impact.

Runners who live in hilly locales face challenges with training speed, tempo or maximizing mileage because of the hills impacting speed. But this becomes an advantage when they run races featuring hills. Their bodies are well-trained to deal with the big elevation shifts. American runners in Seattle, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and mountainous regions like Colorado and Utah are better equipped to handle hills than runners in Chicago, Florida or New York City. (Plus, that never minds thinner air in higher altitude, also a key factor and a separate subject)

So, as a Chicago runner, I have to be mindful when I blow town for a race in a locale with hills. Vancouver is a clear example, with not only big elevation shifts early in the Vancouver Marathon course, but even the smaller elevation shifts later in the race are mountainous compared to the elevation changes in flatter Chicago.

One key reason these hills didn’t destroy me is that on multiple occasions I ran special workouts at nearby Cricket Hill. While Cricket Hill isn’t exactly a big hill (with only a 45 foot elevation climb), it does rise at a tough grade and when run on right, it can prepare you for running up and down hills.

So, how?

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Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

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