The long run not only builds the stamina for finishing a marathon, it can also help you run faster. After coaching marathoners for more than 30 years, I’ve come to believe that the long run is the essence of a marathon training program. It delivers the exact conditioning need for the task. Longer long runs help you hold your pace longer in the race itself.
Arriving home in December of my freshman year in college, the small but active runner’s gossip line reported that the first Atlanta Marathon would be held in about a week. I had just finished cross country season and had recently run my longest run ever: 15 miles. As a somewhat typical 18-year-old athlete, I knew that I could find a way to get through the last 11 miles. The hilly course looped around Chastain Park 10 times. I felt really good for 15 miles, but by 18, knew that I was in trouble and started to drop out. When I mentioned this thought, the race director pointed to the trophy. I had never won a trophy in a race and that kept me going for another two laps.
By 23 miles I was taking walk breaks for the first time because running more than a half mile made me dizzy. When I passed the director again, I told him that there was nothing he could say to me, to keep me in the race. He looked at his watch and informed me that I was 30 minutes ahead of the second place runner. Male ego, testosterone, and my first race trophy kept me going. But it hurt. And the hurt continued for weeks.
Since that cold day in 1963, I’ve been searching for a better way. In my running schools, retreats and training programs I outline the latest findings and get great feedback. The result: Long runs (up to at least 29 miles) have almost eliminated the pain, lingering recovery and wall hitting among my students—when they pace correctly with sufficient walk breaks from the beginning. The latest information can be found in GALLOWAY TRAINING PROGRAMS & A YEAR ROUND PLAN which are available from www.jeffgalloway.com, autographed.
In surveys, I’ve found that those who used to run 20 miles (as a longest long run), and bump the distance up to 26 miles, experience an average improvement of over 15 minutes. Going from 26mi to 29 mi bestows an additional 11 minutes, statistically.
More significant is the reduction in mental stress during the last 2 weeks, and right before the marathon. When one has “gone the distance” within 3-4 weeks before the race, your legitimate confidence reduces the anxiety messages from the left brain to almost nothing.
In my next blog I will detail how to set up the long run schedule, how to pace it, and how to adjust pace for heat.
Enjoy every run!