Posts

Marathon Long Runs: Part 1

The marathon long run should seemingly be simple, right? Just go out and run a long way because our race is going to be over 26 miles! In its simplest form, yes, that’s about all there is to it. However, the marathon is a simple event on the outside, but when factoring in all the things that make running a successful one possible, we see there’s a lot more to it. Like fueling, central fatigue, pace, effort, the goal of the race, goal of the run, and on and on. For a lot of years, even today, runners are all about the 20+ milers. How many can we fit into our training plan? Ok, that’s fine but what else are we doing during the rest of the week? Doesn’t that matter too? I know we have discussed this before, so I won’t keep at it. The truth is, that we tend to compartmentalize our lives and our training. Everything is in our own little bubble and nothing else affects anything outside that bubble. The truth is, it’s all lumped together. It’s runny and intertwining. So, what I want to do today is explore the different variations of marathon long runs, where they would fit, and who should consider these.

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

However, first, I want to just touch on why the HMM method has worked for so many people. I won’t dive deep into it again. If you want a full discussion, please consider the book, or for a nutshell discussion, this blog post. However, the basic assumption is that training should be kept in balance so that all aspects needed can be trained. For most people and the mileage they are running,  16 miles works well. It’s about 25-30% of the weekly total and takes anywhere from 1:45:00 to 3:00:00 for most abilities. So, it’s a good middle ground. Now, going beyond that, or outside the long run bubble, it fits extremely well, because you are doing a marathon tempo on Thursday, an easy day Friday, then a longer 60-80 minute run on Saturday, finishing with a long run on Sunday. Not only that, but you come back and run easily on Monday and do a more intense workout on Tuesday. So, as you can see, there’s not any downtime before or after. That catches a lot of first timers off guard. I get a lot of emails from folks who said they’ve done a lot of 20 milers and are going to keep doing them during their first go-round with HMM. I urge you to reconsider that idea. If you haven’t done a plan that does what HMM does during the week, I’d really think about keeping that long run pretty basic. You will already be pushing up against that fine line of training hard and overtraining. The last thing you want to do is blow right past that line. Now, after saying all that, there’s a lot of different ways to adjust your long run depending on your ability or what your goal is.

Long Slow Distance

This is your traditional “easy” long run. The most basic development we are trying to build with this is our basic endurance. For a lot of people, it’s simply about being able to know that they can cover the distance, correct? This is why a lot of people tell me that they mentally need the 20 miler, so that they can feel confident that they can even cover the full distance. With this run, we are building the foundation of endurance performance through the same adaptations we would build with an easy run. We also prepare our muscles, tendons, and bones to be able to handle the demands of running that far.

Who is it for?

This is the foundation of long runs and is for all levels of runners. From introductions to long runs, to the elite, the nice easy long run should be a staple. From this run everything else builds. For instance, it’s an easy transition from this type of long run, to say, a fasted or fueled long run. As we get into the other types of long runs, we see a lot of options. An LSD type of long run might easily be pushed aside, but I encourage you to come back from it every now and then. It is the perfect way to get something in above and beyond a regular easy day, but still, allow yourself to be able to recover from a previously hard week or be ready to rock an upcoming hard week.

The timing of LSD runs:

For the beginner, this type of run might be all that you focus on. There might be a lot of trial and error with these, too. There is a lot of temptation to start out a little quick, only to find yourself fading the last several miles. Initially, I think that’s fine because it can teach some valuable lessons about patience, dealing with discomfort, and encourage you to develop pacing strategy. As you become more fit and endurance improves, focus on running these even or negative split. Try not to get in the habit of going out even harder and fading.

For everyone else, the LSD run is probably what you’ll start off with. If you are starting off down time or a shorter race segment where the long runs were shorter and not a priority, then this is the initial long run I would start using. As I mentioned, it’s also a long run to come back to every few weeks.. If you have a “down” week, this is a great way to get a long run in, but keep the stress of it down and allow the body to recover.

 

Luke Humphrey Personal Coaching!

The Moderate/Steady Long Run

This is the next logical step in progression and you might even drift into these types of long runs without even trying. Ideally, it’s picking up your pace as the run progresses, but I see a lot of runners start out moderate and fade to the slower end of their pace range. If you have read our books or used our training pace calculator, you’ll see Easy (sometimes A and B), Moderate, and then Long run pace. Many times people will view that as hard lined zones that they have to stay in for an entire run. The truth is, that it is a spectrum. For beginners, they may start out at the slower end of the easy range and put their focus on just being able to cover the distance. That’s perfect. That’s all we are looking for. As they improve and covering the distance is no longer the issue, we can pursue running these faster. A more experienced runner may still start out in the easy range of the zone, but as they warm up and get into it, they will gradually pick up the pace and be well into the moderate zone. By definition, it’s still a pretty comfortable run from a breathing standpoint and we aren’t necessarily testing any thresholds, but we have shifted away from that LSD type of run.

Who is it for and when should I do it?

This might be the goal of the newer marathoner or newer runner. They may want to be able to shift away from general endurance building to specific endurance building by the end of their training segment. For more experienced runners, it might be where they start out at in the beginning of their training, or consider it a maintenance type of long run. The beginner might have this as their “Big Test”  a few weeks out from their race. The veteran runner might use this as a long run to begin their taper.

Fasted/Depleted long runs

I want to talk about this next because the next logical step in long runs is whether, or not, you are fueling before and during these. These are also the simplest factors to manipulate during a long run. The fasted long run has really caught a lot of buzz over the last few years, but I think it is a bit misconstrued. So, let’s first discuss what it actually is.

The fasted long run is just as it sounds. It is a long run where we run fasted. These are also sometimes referenced as depletion runs. However, to me, depletion would mean something different. It would mean that you deplete your stores on your run, but didn’t necessarily fast before the long run. Despite that difference, I found it hard to find any research on those differences. So, for sake of ease, depletion and fasted are the same. The glycogen stores are and/or continue to be depleted throughout the run.

The reason people are doing fasted runs is to try and to get the body “fat adapted.” By that, I simply mean that you have two primary sources of fuel. The combination of fat and carbohydrate represent about 95% of our fuel sources for exercise. The problem is, we have limited stores of carbohydrate and we can “burn” through our stores relatively quickly. Under the idea of the fasted run, if we have low stores of carbohydrate to begin with and let the body use up the majority of the rest, then we can trigger certain adaptations to help avoid the problem in the future. One adaptation is that we will trigger the muscle to store more glycogen to try and avoid that situation again. The second is that we can train the body to utilize more fat across the pace spectrum.

Should you try fasted runs?

I did a quick google search and there’s a ton of articles regarding the fasted run. There’s lots of talk about potential benefits and timing of these runs, but I think you really have to be careful with these. For one, the depletion of fuel sources won’t do anything if you don’t replace that fuel as fast as you can after the run. In other words, you have to recover really well from these runs in order to reap the benefit. Another risk you run is a compromised immune system. Given that, I think the level of runner and the timing of the run are really important.

For the beginner, I am hesitant to prescribe these types of long runs for a few reasons. The first is that if this is their first marathon or are used to pretty low weekly volume and low intensity, then they are already going to make really great strides with the adaptations we talked about through the increased training. There is no need to add another source of stress to the body and risk running well past the point of hard training and into overtraining. The second is that the beginner runner needs to make sure that their general endurance is there before they are worried about eeking out a couple more percentage points in potential performance. The risk just isn’t the reward. Furthermore, the beginner runner needs to practice with fueling, dealing with contents in their stomach, and having the fuel to cover the distance.

The more advanced runner may utilize this run, but I think the timing has to be right. Some people like to do these later in a training cycle, but I tend to disagree. I actually think that these make more sense in the earlier part of the segment. I will discuss other types of faster long runs in another post, but the basic premise of any training is to be doing the most specific work during the last stage of your training cycle. To me, that means we transition from general training to specific training. In this case, that means from doing long runs at a slower pace that would occur with fasted runs, to being fueled and covering the long runs faster (even down to MP for significant portions of time). When you do the early long runs in a fasted state, I feel you set yourself up better. One, the long runs are shorter. This means that they are long enough to deplete your glycogen stores, but not so much that you greatly increase the risk of illness. Don’t take that as a reason not to fuel up after the run! Remember, the fuel afterwards is what allows the body to adapt. If you want to try these, I say early on is ok. Anything in the last 6-8 weeks of a marathon cycle should be fueled and performance based. Again, we’ll discuss those options in the next post.

One final point I wanted to make about these types of runs is the idea of doing these types of runs without even trying. What I mean is that how many of you go to sleep, wake up, and head out the door to get your run in without having food? A lot of us do. Say the last thing you ate was at 9 PM, then you got up at 6 am to go run. I know, a lot of you are laughing and wishing you could sleep in until 6 am! But, that would 9 hours without eating. Then you go for a 60 minute run. That’s a minimum of 10 hours before you get something to eat. For some of you, that might be over 12 hours. The point is, that you are already depleted, then deplete even further during your run. While it may not be to the extreme that a long run would be, it’s still enough of a trigger to stimulate the training adaptations. It might not be at the dose that a long run would be, but if you do that 3-5 times per week, the overall stimulus is pretty high. So, consider that as you look into mapping out how you want your long runs may look. Even the beginner runner will probably be providing the same stimulus that an advanced runner is even though they aren’t purposely running long runs at a fasted state.

The Fueled Long Run

Now, I feel like this really deserves its own section because it is often overlooked. A fueled long run is simply that, running the long run fueled. To me, that also includes practicing the fueling during the long run. I think that all levels need these in their schedule, even if it is simply to become accustomed to taking in fuel during your runs, which will play huge dividends on race day. It has been shown that the stomach can adapt to handling fuel if it is consistently exposed to having fuel during exercise. With that, if you are a beginner or haven’t really practiced with fueling, then I recommend starting at the beginning of your training segment and staying consistent with practicing. If you are doing some of the more intense long runs we’ll be discussing, then fueling before and during will be crucial to the success of those long runs.

There’s a couple of other benefits to these long runs that I’d like to mention. The first is that I am a big believer in replacing what you’ve lost during training. In this case, it’s glycogen that we are worried about. By fueling a little before and during the long run, you limit the amount of carbohydrate that you have to make up for during the rest of the day. This can go a long way in giving your body the right amount of fuel that is needed for optimal recovery. When I recommend carbohydrate requirements for workout days, they often balk at the idea of eating that much. If you make a dent in that number before and during the long run, you take away a pretty decent amount from what you then have to make up for from doing the long run. That number then seems to be a lot more manageable. For instance, if I tell a person they need 500 grams of carbohydrate on a long run day, they often say that’s too much. However, if they took in 50 grams before and then another 50-100 grams during the long run, that’s 100-150 grams off from that total of 500 for the day. That makes a big difference. Then, if you can get them to be on point with recovery, they will actually take in over half of that total of 250 grams within an hour or two of waking up and completing the long run. Workout nutrition can go a long way in making sure you are getting in what you need to replace.

What we’ve talked about today are the first four long runs you should really have mastered. In the next discussion, I will go into more advanced long runs that you can build into as you increase your training expertise.

As always, thank you so much for your support! If you need a training plan, please check out our hundreds of options from 5k to 100 Miles.  If you need support from a coach, take a look at the Online Run Club.

Marathon Long Runs: Part 1

The marathon long run should seemingly be simple, right? Just go out and run a long way because our race is going to be over 26 miles! In its simplest form, yes, that’s about all there is to it. However, the marathon is a simple event on the outside, but when factoring in all the things that make running a successful one possible, we see there’s a lot more to it. Like fueling, central fatigue, pace, effort, the goal of the race, goal of the run, and on and on. For a lot of years, even today, runners are all about the 20+ milers. How many can we fit into our training plan? Ok, that’s fine but what else are we doing during the rest of the week? Doesn’t that matter too? I know we have discussed this before, so I won’t keep at it. The truth is, that we tend to compartmentalize our lives and our training. Everything is in our own little bubble and nothing else affects anything outside that bubble. The truth is, it’s all lumped together. It’s runny and intertwining. So, what I want to do today is explore the different variations of marathon long runs, where they would fit, and who should consider these.

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

However, first, I want to just touch on why the HMM method has worked for so many people. I won’t dive deep into it again. If you want a full discussion, please consider the book, or for a nutshell discussion, this blog post. However, the basic assumption is that training should be kept in balance so that all aspects needed can be trained. For most people and the mileage they are running,  16 miles works well. It’s about 25-30% of the weekly total and takes anywhere from 1:45:00 to 3:00:00 for most abilities. So, it’s a good middle ground. Now, going beyond that, or outside the long run bubble, it fits extremely well, because you are doing a marathon tempo on Thursday, an easy day Friday, then a longer 60-80 minute run on Saturday, finishing with a long run on Sunday. Not only that, but you come back and run easily on Monday and do a more intense workout on Tuesday. So, as you can see, there’s not any downtime before or after. That catches a lot of first timers off guard. I get a lot of emails from folks who said they’ve done a lot of 20 milers and are going to keep doing them during their first go-round with HMM. I urge you to reconsider that idea. If you haven’t done a plan that does what HMM does during the week, I’d really think about keeping that long run pretty basic. You will already be pushing up against that fine line of training hard and overtraining. The last thing you want to do is blow right past that line. Now, after saying all that, there’s a lot of different ways to adjust your long run depending on your ability or what your goal is.

Long Slow Distance

This is your traditional “easy” long run. The most basic development we are trying to build with this is our basic endurance. For a lot of people, it’s simply about being able to know that they can cover the distance, correct? This is why a lot of people tell me that they mentally need the 20 miler, so that they can feel confident that they can even cover the full distance. With this run, we are building the foundation of endurance performance through the same adaptations we would build with an easy run. We also prepare our muscles, tendons, and bones to be able to handle the demands of running that far.

Who is it for?

This is the foundation of long runs and is for all levels of runners. From introductions to long runs, to the elite, the nice easy long run should be a staple. From this run everything else builds. For instance, it’s an easy transition from this type of long run, to say, a fasted or fueled long run. As we get into the other types of long runs, we see a lot of options. An LSD type of long run might easily be pushed aside, but I encourage you to come back from it every now and then. It is the perfect way to get something in above and beyond a regular easy day, but still, allow yourself to be able to recover from a previously hard week or be ready to rock an upcoming hard week.

The timing of LSD runs:

For the beginner, this type of run might be all that you focus on. There might be a lot of trial and error with these, too. There is a lot of temptation to start out a little quick, only to find yourself fading the last several miles. Initially, I think that’s fine because it can teach some valuable lessons about patience, dealing with discomfort, and encourage you to develop pacing strategy. As you become more fit and endurance improves, focus on running these even or negative split. Try not to get in the habit of going out even harder and fading.

For everyone else, the LSD run is probably what you’ll start off with. If you are starting off down time or a shorter race segment where the long runs were shorter and not a priority, then this is the initial long run I would start using. As I mentioned, it’s also a long run to come back to every few weeks.. If you have a “down” week, this is a great way to get a long run in, but keep the stress of it down and allow the body to recover.

 

Luke Humphrey Personal Coaching!

The Moderate/Steady Long Run

This is the next logical step in progression and you might even drift into these types of long runs without even trying. Ideally, it’s picking up your pace as the run progresses, but I see a lot of runners start out moderate and fade to the slower end of their pace range. If you have read our books or used our training pace calculator, you’ll see Easy (sometimes A and B), Moderate, and then Long run pace. Many times people will view that as hard lined zones that they have to stay in for an entire run. The truth is, that it is a spectrum. For beginners, they may start out at the slower end of the easy range and put their focus on just being able to cover the distance. That’s perfect. That’s all we are looking for. As they improve and covering the distance is no longer the issue, we can pursue running these faster. A more experienced runner may still start out in the easy range of the zone, but as they warm up and get into it, they will gradually pick up the pace and be well into the moderate zone. By definition, it’s still a pretty comfortable run from a breathing standpoint and we aren’t necessarily testing any thresholds, but we have shifted away from that LSD type of run.

Who is it for and when should I do it?

This might be the goal of the newer marathoner or newer runner. They may want to be able to shift away from general endurance building to specific endurance building by the end of their training segment. For more experienced runners, it might be where they start out at in the beginning of their training, or consider it a maintenance type of long run. The beginner might have this as their “Big Test”  a few weeks out from their race. The veteran runner might use this as a long run to begin their taper.

Fasted/Depleted long runs

I want to talk about this next because the next logical step in long runs is whether, or not, you are fueling before and during these. These are also the simplest factors to manipulate during a long run. The fasted long run has really caught a lot of buzz over the last few years, but I think it is a bit misconstrued. So, let’s first discuss what it actually is.

The fasted long run is just as it sounds. It is a long run where we run fasted. These are also sometimes referenced as depletion runs. However, to me, depletion would mean something different. It would mean that you deplete your stores on your run, but didn’t necessarily fast before the long run. Despite that difference, I found it hard to find any research on those differences. So, for sake of ease, depletion and fasted are the same. The glycogen stores are and/or continue to be depleted throughout the run.

The reason people are doing fasted runs is to try and to get the body “fat adapted.” By that, I simply mean that you have two primary sources of fuel. The combination of fat and carbohydrate represent about 95% of our fuel sources for exercise. The problem is, we have limited stores of carbohydrate and we can “burn” through our stores relatively quickly. Under the idea of the fasted run, if we have low stores of carbohydrate to begin with and let the body use up the majority of the rest, then we can trigger certain adaptations to help avoid the problem in the future. One adaptation is that we will trigger the muscle to store more glycogen to try and avoid that situation again. The second is that we can train the body to utilize more fat across the pace spectrum.

Should you try fasted runs?

I did a quick google search and there’s a ton of articles regarding the fasted run. There’s lots of talk about potential benefits and timing of these runs, but I think you really have to be careful with these. For one, the depletion of fuel sources won’t do anything if you don’t replace that fuel as fast as you can after the run. In other words, you have to recover really well from these runs in order to reap the benefit. Another risk you run is a compromised immune system. Given that, I think the level of runner and the timing of the run are really important.

For the beginner, I am hesitant to prescribe these types of long runs for a few reasons. The first is that if this is their first marathon or are used to pretty low weekly volume and low intensity, then they are already going to make really great strides with the adaptations we talked about through the increased training. There is no need to add another source of stress to the body and risk running well past the point of hard training and into overtraining. The second is that the beginner runner needs to make sure that their general endurance is there before they are worried about eeking out a couple more percentage points in potential performance. The risk just isn’t the reward. Furthermore, the beginner runner needs to practice with fueling, dealing with contents in their stomach, and having the fuel to cover the distance.

The more advanced runner may utilize this run, but I think the timing has to be right. Some people like to do these later in a training cycle, but I tend to disagree. I actually think that these make more sense in the earlier part of the segment. I will discuss other types of faster long runs in another post, but the basic premise of any training is to be doing the most specific work during the last stage of your training cycle. To me, that means we transition from general training to specific training. In this case, that means from doing long runs at a slower pace that would occur with fasted runs, to being fueled and covering the long runs faster (even down to MP for significant portions of time). When you do the early long runs in a fasted state, I feel you set yourself up better. One, the long runs are shorter. This means that they are long enough to deplete your glycogen stores, but not so much that you greatly increase the risk of illness. Don’t take that as a reason not to fuel up after the run! Remember, the fuel afterwards is what allows the body to adapt. If you want to try these, I say early on is ok. Anything in the last 6-8 weeks of a marathon cycle should be fueled and performance based. Again, we’ll discuss those options in the next post.

One final point I wanted to make about these types of runs is the idea of doing these types of runs without even trying. What I mean is that how many of you go to sleep, wake up, and head out the door to get your run in without having food? A lot of us do. Say the last thing you ate was at 9 PM, then you got up at 6 am to go run. I know, a lot of you are laughing and wishing you could sleep in until 6 am! But, that would 9 hours without eating. Then you go for a 60 minute run. That’s a minimum of 10 hours before you get something to eat. For some of you, that might be over 12 hours. The point is, that you are already depleted, then deplete even further during your run. While it may not be to the extreme that a long run would be, it’s still enough of a trigger to stimulate the training adaptations. It might not be at the dose that a long run would be, but if you do that 3-5 times per week, the overall stimulus is pretty high. So, consider that as you look into mapping out how you want your long runs may look. Even the beginner runner will probably be providing the same stimulus that an advanced runner is even though they aren’t purposely running long runs at a fasted state.

The Fueled Long Run

Now, I feel like this really deserves its own section because it is often overlooked. A fueled long run is simply that, running the long run fueled. To me, that also includes practicing the fueling during the long run. I think that all levels need these in their schedule, even if it is simply to become accustomed to taking in fuel during your runs, which will play huge dividends on race day. It has been shown that the stomach can adapt to handling fuel if it is consistently exposed to having fuel during exercise. With that, if you are a beginner or haven’t really practiced with fueling, then I recommend starting at the beginning of your training segment and staying consistent with practicing. If you are doing some of the more intense long runs we’ll be discussing, then fueling before and during will be crucial to the success of those long runs.

There’s a couple of other benefits to these long runs that I’d like to mention. The first is that I am a big believer in replacing what you’ve lost during training. In this case, it’s glycogen that we are worried about. By fueling a little before and during the long run, you limit the amount of carbohydrate that you have to make up for during the rest of the day. This can go a long way in giving your body the right amount of fuel that is needed for optimal recovery. When I recommend carbohydrate requirements for workout days, they often balk at the idea of eating that much. If you make a dent in that number before and during the long run, you take away a pretty decent amount from what you then have to make up for from doing the long run. That number then seems to be a lot more manageable. For instance, if I tell a person they need 500 grams of carbohydrate on a long run day, they often say that’s too much. However, if they took in 50 grams before and then another 50-100 grams during the long run, that’s 100-150 grams off from that total of 500 for the day. That makes a big difference. Then, if you can get them to be on point with recovery, they will actually take in over half of that total of 250 grams within an hour or two of waking up and completing the long run. Workout nutrition can go a long way in making sure you are getting in what you need to replace.

What we’ve talked about today are the first four long runs you should really have mastered. In the next discussion, I will go into more advanced long runs that you can build into as you increase your training expertise.

As always, thank you so much for your support! If you need a training plan, please check out our hundreds of options from 5k to 100 Miles.  If you need support from a coach, take a look at the Online Run Club.

Marathon Long Run

PlayPlay

In this episode, we discuss the long run, as it pertains to the marathon. We touch upon why the long run for the general schedules is 16 miles and how to adjust accordingly to your own training level.

If you’d like to follow along, I have the presentation in PDF form: Marathon Long Run

Thanks for listening! Please email us with any training topics that you’d like discussed at [email protected]

The Marathon Long Run: Part Two

This post is looong overdue (pun somewhat intended). There is a blog post from quite a ways back explaining why the traditional Hanson’s schedules used 16 miles as the longest long run. While, I don’t really want to revisit that debate at the moment, I do want to make good on a promise. That promise was to explain the paces that a runner should be looking to complete their long runs at.

We all have different needs in our training. A beginner may be simply looking to cover the ground and if they can do so without hitting the wall, then that is just a bonus. Meanwhile, someone who is competitive, may find themselves in a race and need to finish as strongly as possible. If our goals are different, then how we approach certain runs should probably be different as well. So, let’s look at what some of these variables may look like.

The biggest question, after “Why only 16 miles?” is “How fast should I run these?” As I mentioned, it depends.

For the Beginner:

The beginner runner has very basic needs, and that is to improve endurance by covering ground. Their biggest obstacle will be the mileage itself, so with this group, my concerns are simple: As slow as you need to in order to run the entire distance. That may be two minutes per mile slower than marathon pace itself. That’s fine, I don’t care. I only care that you run conservatively enough that you can cover the distance. The more improved your fitness becomes, the faster these runs will naturally improve.

Don’t make the first couple long runs on your schedule more difficult than need be. I see so many newbies go out and just start running marathon pace for their long run and end up cutting the run short. The common rationale is that, “If I can’t run it on a regular long run, then how will I do it for the race.” Well, simply, you shouldn’t because you are already fatigued from the rest of the week’s training. Also, physically what you can’t accomplish now, doesn’t mean you can’t in 2-3 months. You just have to be patient!

For the more Advanced (Intermediate):

This group is probably more concerned with performance, or know how much the late stages of a marathon can affect your overall time and want to avoid it! I work with many runners in this group and it can be tricky to balance the long run distance and paces. The mileage of the of the long runs in this group won’t vary much from the beginner, but the overall mileage is a little bit more and there is more structure. This group wants to improve, but is either still new to the event and/or limited in their amount of time to train.

So, if we can’t increase the volume they are training, then we must adjust a different variable in the equation to show positive results. That variable would then be intensity. While I might have a beginner run 2:00/mile slower than goal marathon pace, the next step would be to drop that pace down to 1:00/mile slower. Why does this help this group? Well, as we mentioned, they are already running about what they can handle for mileage, but their is still room for performance improvement. So, a long run at 1:00/mile slower than pace will provide a new stimulus to develop aerobic capacities. Before the stimulus was the actual mileage, now it is the intensity. The mitochondria and associated aerobic mechanisms are now stressed due to the pace- and they are at just enough of a rate where it is a struggle to keep up, but it is manageable. This means that fat metabolism improves, mitochondrial growth occurs, the density of the mitochondria and the enzymes improve. Also, neuromuscular connections improve, along with muscle fiber stimulation. The point here is that adaptation would occur if the runner could improve more, but if the mileage has to be limited (but still an experienced runner), then the adaptions must occur through a different mechanism and this is where pace provides that source of adaptation.

The Advanced and Elite runners

These two groups have similar issues with mileage, except they have spent years maximizing the mileage that they can safely handle. In these two groups, you have to consider that they have truly reached as high as they can on the VO2max scale. I use myself as an example- My VO2max has been between 75 and 77 ml/kg/O2 since I was about 20 or 21 years old. I am now almost 31, so that’s a long time of not improving. BUT I HAVE IMPROVED! Just because your ceiling has been put in place, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve. If the shear volume is maxed, then you maximize how fast you can run with those numbers. You are now asking, “What in the world is he talking about?” Well, we talk about lactate threshold and to a lesser extent, aerobic threshold in runners. Most of us have a fairly good idea of what the lactate threshold is, but the aerobic is the point at which fat/carb contributions for running is about 50/50. The faster you go, the more reliance you have on carbohydrates. Any marathon runner knows that carbohydrates are a precious commodity.

Side Note: This is why I am rarely concerned with what a person’s VO2max is. I want to know VO2max, aerobic, and anaerobic thresholds. More importantly, I want to know the paces run at these thresholds. This way, I can give you practical training advice.

With these two groups I need to build those thresholds. I need to build their mental toughness and convince them that they can in fact run hard even though they are tired.

The fast finish:

The fast finish is a long run that is done mostly at a comfortable easy pace (1-2 minutes/mile slower than goal marathon pace). The only difference is, that the last 2-4 miles are done pretty hard. For first timers, it can be as simple as faster than what you were running. So if you were doing your run at 7 min/mile, then finish the last few at 6:45’s. It’s just a harder effort than what you were putting in.

For more experienced runners, it can be the last 3 at goal marathon pace. Sometimes it can be the last two as hard as you can go (Not so hard you blow a hammie, but a few seconds under goal marathon pace is a good effort). The idea is to teach your body that it can maintain goal pace when things get hard. Your legs can react and you can get through the wall. I feel like this run has more to do with mental toughness than physiological gains. It also shouldn’t be done every week. It can really take a toll on your muscles. I would save it for a couple long runs in the middle to late stages of a training segment.

The depletion run:

The depletion run is simple- you run depleted. No carbs before or during the long run. As with the fast finish, I wouldn’t do this all the time. I do it in two different places- the beginning of the segment and the last long run. I do it her because pace is not nearly important as building endurance is. Also, the distances of these long runs will be considerably shorter than the long runs in the heart of the schedule- making them less dangerous to putting us past the point of no return. Here, pace is not incredibly important, other than you will want to keep yourself in check and not run too fast.

Physiologically, what happens is that our glycogen stores will be put under serious distress. When we finish, there won’t be much left. The key here is the recovery part. As soon as you are done, your muscles want to replace, they want to replenish. So, you have to have the fuel ready. As soon as you are done, start taking in the carbs and a little bit of protein. I am talking recovery drinks, sports bars, fruit, whatever you can tolerate and get in. If you cna do this, your muscles will adapt and be aable to not only replace what was lost, but more than it could before. The advantage of this is more glycogen storage. This means you can run farther at a faster speed before hitting the wall. It may meant the difference from being on pace until 23 miles, and being on pace the whole way!

The “hard” long run:

This run I save for few. It’s actually something that I have just adopted into my own training. The hard long run is something that is built into, like an increasing tempo run. I guess hard may be a little strong, but it is certainly a run that takes a conscious effort for an extended period of time. An example 20 miler that I have done would look like this: First 1-2 miles @ 6:00, then 5:50, 5:40, 5:30, and a steady diet of 5:20-5:35/mile for the rest of the run. Now, if my marathon pace is 5:00/mile, then I am spending 14-16 miles @ 15-25 seconds slower per mile than marathon pace. That may seem ridiculous, and it may as well be. However, here is the rationale behind it: We already talked about the aerobic threshold in above sections. Well, the more trained a person is, the higher this threshold becomes. A new runner may experience this at 50% of VO2max, while an elite marathoner may be closer to 60%. What I am saying is that the window of physiological adaptations becomes smaller and smaller. A new runner may run a 5k at 8 minute miles, but a marathon in 11 minute miles. An elite runner may run a 5k in 4:20/mile and a marathon at 5:00/mile. You see? Everything gets more bunched up as you get faster- you won’t have big differences between different paces anymore. So, for me to run a long run 20-30 secconds slower per mile than goal pace is fast, but it is necessary to keep improving these thresholds.

I wouldn’t start out at big percentage of the run being that fast. Again, I would slowly over not only one segment, but several increase your tolerance for these long runs. I reserve these for the middle of the training segment when my long run mileage is at it’s peak.  A vital thing to keep in mind is that I train on a nine day cyccle so I have 2 easy days before my next quality run. I also have the ability to take a nap, access to massage and chiropractic care, as well. I would be very careful when attempting these things. I would certainly time my long runs as much as my other quality runs for the training segment.

Example progression for a training segment of an advanced runner:

Long run 1: nice and easy, 2:00/slower per mile, depletion

Long run 2: moderate: 1-2:00/slower per mile

Long run 3: moderate: 1:00/mile slower

Long run 4: “hard”, down to :30/mile slower for 6-8 miles

Long run 5: fast finish: last 3 miles at goal pace. Majority of run about 1:00/mile slower

Long run 6: :hard: 0:30/mile slower for 10-14

Long run 7: fast finish, last 3-4 hard

Long run 8: hard for most of run

Long run 9: depletion, just put time on my feet

Taper.

The only other variance I might throw in would be for those running traditionally hilly courses- Boston, for example. Here I may alternate overly hilly loops with faster type runs.

Ok, so, hopefully, this will help you decide on your long run paces. As typical, I do not have an easy answer. If it were easy, then we’d all have it figured out! Best of luck with your training.