The long run – 5 different ways to maximise your training.
Each element of your training is important in a training plan, but with no doubt, when it comes to maximising your training for a half or full marathon, the long run is the most crucial element to practice the physical, mental, tactical and nutritional challenges of the long distance events. Here are 5 ways on how to mix in some variety to maximise your long run training over the different phases of your event preparation.
1. Start slow and easy; marathon running consists of 99% aerobic energy supply with only 1% being anaerobic endurance, hence the need to build a solid aerobic endurance base through slow long runs. This phase might take anything from 1 to 3 months, but make sure to mix in some trails and hilly long runs for strength and variety. The physiological adaptations the body makes when running at a slower pace are very important for marathon runners, so you don’t want to miss out on those (e.g. increased capillarization of muscle fibers and number and size of mitochondria, adaptations to heart and cardio-vascular system). Increase your long run distance by maximum 10-15% on a weekly basis and make sure to have recovery weeks with a “short” long run to recuperate at the end of each training block. You may build these runs up from 15k to 38k over a few months. 3 hours should be the longest run as anything above that can have negative effects on your muscular-skeletal system. You may start these runs on an empty stomach to increase fat metabolism and only take on energy during the run if you need to.
2. Include some race pace efforts; once you have built a solid base, start including some efforts towards the end of your long runs. This can be uphill surges on trails or for more road running specific training, start running some race pace efforts between 3k and 10k at goal race pace. Training for a flat road marathon requires getting your body used to run on bitumen/ concrete and work on a good rhythm, both important for race day.
3. For experienced and faster marathon runners (sub 3h30min); the most beneficial intensity range is 85-90% of your goal marathon pace, but this pace might be too slow for slower marathon runners! I had to do this type of long run with the Swiss national marathon team last year, where we did 1km warm up, 30km at 3:25 – 3:45 pace, followed by 3-6km at marathon goal pace of 3:15 – 3:20, and 1k cool down. These are the hardest long runs I have ever done. However, they would not have been possible without the years of marathon training and many months of slow aerobic endurance runs leading up to the training camp.
4. The marathon simulation run; a great way for distance runners of any level, is to simulate race conditions as closely as possible on a course similar to your goal event. The idea behind these long runs is to run on tired legs, practice race pacing, race course (surface, hills), race day nutrition as well as equipment (race shoes and clothes). These runs provide you with the physiological benefit at goal race pace as well as are a great confidence booster. Start these runs comfortably with a longer warm up of 5 to 10km to tire your legs slightly. Then run a large portion at half or full marathon race pace anything from 10 to 20km. Conclude with a good cool down run to extend your training to the time given in your training plan and add recovery.
It is important to practice race day strategies and most importantly race day nutrition and supplements. If you are planning to eat some breakfast before your race, practice this in training. Also practice the sport nutrition product and amounts you are taking for your goal event or that is offered by the marathon organiser on the course as you don’t want to try anything new on race day.
5. Recover quickly from a long run: Often I personally feel too exhausted to do any activity straight after a hard long run but these are the steps I take to recovery more quickly:
a) Rehydrate with water, sport electrolytes or some coconut water.
b) Eat a meal rich in carbohydrate and protein within half an hour. This can be 2 scrambled eggs with multigrain bread and salad/ veggies if at home or for a more convenient solution a protein shake, banana and muesli bar if away from home.
c) Cold shower and/ or ice bath to reduce inflammation in my muscles.
d) Stretching after every run is recommended. However, if I am too exhausted after a long run I make sure I do this yoga pose, which speeds recovery by draining fluids from my legs, stretching the hamstrings and relieving tired legs and feet. Take 10min to shift your world up-side down in this relaxing pose.
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
I. Sidle one hip as close as you can to a wall.
II. Swing both legs up the wall and shimmy your rear end as close to the wall as possible. If this hurts your hamstrings, slide a few inches away from the wall. Rest your arms on your belly, or stretch them away from you in a T, W, or V position. Use a pillow under your lower back to be more comfortable if necessary.
III. When you are done, bend your knees, roll to one side, and rest there, taking a few breaths before getting up.
IV. Make sure, you take your time to use the SSTM strategy (squeeze-stretch-trigger-move) later in the day or the next day for recovery and injury prevention.
Your running.COACH schedule uses all these principles. Try them out in your training!
Patrick Nispel is a 2:22 Swiss marathon runner and accredited running coach living in Brisbane. Pat is also the Australian coach for running.COACH.