Long Run Variations

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If you are not experienced in the marathon, coming up from low mileage, or just looking to finish your marathon then your first focus should be to cover the long run distance. This means to simply focus on covering the ground at an easy pace until you have built your general endurance sufficiently. We may say this a lot, but maximize your developments/adaptations before moving up the training variables.

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Ok, so you’ve done long runs forever. you have used the system before. How do I change things up? There are a number of things you can adjust within the system to make sure you are continually challenged.

If you are running more mileage, then adjust accordingly based on your volume and duration.

The fast finish long run:

These are simply long runs where you run your last 2-4 miles at your goal marathon pace. The pace for the first miles remains comfortable. I wouldn’t do these early in the training segment, but rather after several weeks of training- a few weeks of SOS workouts and your mileage is pretty close to peak (within 85-90% of your peak mileage)

The steady state long run:

I will prescribe these a couple ways. First, the pace is between a prescribed easy pace and marathon pace. So, if you have a goal pace of 8 min/mile, then your fast end of your easy range is probably around 8:30 min/mile. So, I will prescribe these to be in the 8:15-8:30 min/mile OR 15-30 seconds slower per mile than goal MP. I like these because it really puts you into an area of training that you aren’t accustomed to. It’s a pace that is technically “easy” but probably doesn’t feel easy after a number of miles. It really maximizes the body’s ability to learn to burn fat and save carbohydrate. The second component to this is that I usually do not prescribe these with the longest long runs, but during the in between weeks. For instance if you are alternating between 16 mile long runs and and then 14 mile long runs the week after, then I would prescribe the steady state long run for the week that you have 14. I just like it because it gives you something different than a traditional long run and for those who think they need to do that long run every week, this can be a good compromise.

The long run tempo:

I don’t prescribe these a lot, but in the case that someone cannot do a tempo run during the week, I will give them a tempo run during the week. Let’s say they are to do a 14 mile long run and missed their 8 mile tempo. Then I will suggest that they combine the two by running easy for a few miles, doing the tempo in the middle, then cooling down a few miles.

Another way to do this is to run the first half of the long run easy and then at goal marathon pace over the second half of the long run.

Either way, I would save this for weeks that you maybe cannot get in your tempo during the week. Or, I would use it as a supplement to a week that you can only get a short tempo run in during the week. This will provide you with another goal pace stimulus during the week.

The depletion long run:

Many times the depletion long run will be saved for your later long runs. I agree with this, but I would not do it on my really important long runs- like my longest distance long runs or a long run that is coupling as a tempo run. I would save it for a long run where the goal was to be to simply cover distance. You can do once or twice over the last 4-6 weeks.

How these work is very simple. If you run your long run in the am, then pretty much don’t take in any calories until after your run. If it’s later, give yourself a few hours of not eating and again, don’t take in any calories until after the run. However, after the run- load up on carbohydrate. Also, continue eating carbohydrate over several intervals throughout the day. Keep the intake up so that you can top off stores. When you deplete your carbohydrate stores, your body wants to store everything that comes in, which is good for you! Let your body increase those stores, so you have more for race day!

The long run fartlek:

I really like this long run for a couple reasons. If you are struggling with marathon goal pace, then this is a great way to learn it over several shorter intervals, rather than big chunks (like tempo runs). With that said, you can adjust the number of “fartleks” that you do during your long run, depending on where you are at in your training. Early in the training segment, start with 6×2 minutes at goal marathon pace (with 2:00-3:00 easy in between) and build to 10×2-3:00 at goal marathon pace with 2-3:00 easy in between. These can be inserted into any long run that would originally be a standard long run.

Progression long run:

I love getting people to learn how to run negative splits and this is a great way to do that. This run is very simple, in theory, to execute. In reality, sometimes people get a little over zealous in the first half.

To do this run, simply start out easy, maybe 90 seconds/mile slower than goal marathon pace. Do this for the first 1/3 of run. For the second third, run 60 seconds/mile slower. For the last 3rd of run be 30 seconds/mile slower.

This a great way to practice running faster throughout the race and a great confidence builder. Since by definition it is at easy paces, this can be done for about any long run.

Sample of weekly long run progression

Week # Long Run Focus


General Endurance: Easy


General Endurance: Easy


General Endurance: Easy


General Endurance: Easy


Medium Distance: Steady State


General Endurance: Easy to Moderate Pace


Medium Distance: Fast Finish


Long Run w/ Fartlek


Medium Distance: Steady State


Long Run w/ Fartlek


Medium Distance: Fast Finish


Long Run Progression


Medium Distance: Steady State


Progression Long Run


Medium Distance w/ Fartlek


Long Run w/ Fast Finish


Medium Long Run w/ Depletion



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