Finish Strong in the Marathon Part 2: The Long Run

If you missed part 1, read it first!

Long run progression is important to finish strong in a marathon.  Long run progression is simply how many long runs you do with each long run a bit further than the last.  For most runners, long runs are done every other week and generally on the weekends.  It’s great to pick a day and designate it your long run day, as you’ll be more apt to follow through in your training plan.

Here are some finish strong strategies based on how experienced you are in the marathon.  These strategies assume that you’re incorporating the long runs into a full training plan. Each of the numbers in the list are in miles, so: 14, 16, 18 would mean runs of 14, 16, and 18 miles.

Beginner (0-2 marathons completed):

10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 (biweekly long runs, 10 long runs in 20 weeks)

Intermediate (3-8 marathons completed):

10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 (biweekly long runs, 10 long runs in 20 weeks)

Advanced (9+ marathons completed):

13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 (biweekly long runs, 12 long runs in 24 weeks)

Elite Advanced (for the very accomplished and fast marathoner):

13, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 25, 26, 26, 26, 28, 30, 30, 30, 30 (weekly long runs with some rest weeks, 18 long runs in 24 weeks)

Most runners will fit in the Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced levels.  The Elite Advanced is to show how one of the more elite marathoners (depending on age and gender, but someone who can finish well under 3 hours) would train to not fade in the later miles of the race.

The Beginner and Intermediate long run progressions depend on a 20 week training plan.  You may need some pre-training weeks just to get up to the initial distance of the long run. The Advanced progression depends on a 24 week plan. 

These progression runs are designed to get you physically and mentally adapted to the 26.2 mile distance of a full marathon.  Each run builds on the last run, and the level of effort to complete each long run should be moderately high.  The key focus of the long run is to simply run for a long time, it does not mean to run fast.  Long runs should be 30 seconds to 1 min slower per mile than your marathon pace.  Running faster will increase your recovery time and may impede your ability to complete your other training runs.

Once you begin to hit the 18+ mile long run, you’ll need to be extra diligent about recovery.  These long runs will significantly deplete your glycogen reserves.  Quickly replacing those reserves after the run is crucial to maintaining a stable training plan.  This means eating well, primarily healthy carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  You should also add lean animal or vegetable-based protein to your menu to help rebuild muscle that can break down during these extra long runs.

Your last long run in the progression should be 2 weeks before the marathon.  Doing a long run any closer to the marathon may give inadequate running time.

By following one of these long run progression plans (depending on your experience), you’ll increase your ability to perform well in the later stages of the marathon.  The other component to consider is total weekly miles, which also is important for endurance in the sport.

What’s the best plan for total weekly miles? Read on in our next section.