Marathon Long Runs: How Long and How Fast?

When it comes to marathon training, there’s no doubt that the most important workout is the long run.

Marathon Long Run

Yes: tempo runs and high mileage are important. And of course, strength work, strides, and even some “speedwork” sessions will make you a faster (and more confident) marathoner.

But there’s no better run than the long run.

Why?

One reason: it’s the most specific to the race itself. In other words, a long run most closely resembles a marathon so it will give you the best fitness adaptations, mental toughness, and preparedness for racing 26.2 miles.

But even with this single run, there’s a lot of confusion over how long this run should be. I’m sure you’ve had questions about it, like:

If the marathon is 26.2 miles, why don’t I run even close to that during training?

Do I need to run 20 miles before the race?

Some books say 16 miles is enough… but then I read that a lot of runners go up to 23 miles!

Confused yet?

Don’t worry – there are many approaches to structuring the ideal long run for the marathon. But each approach is best suited for different types of runners.

For example, if you’ve only been running for a year or two, a 22-mile run is likely too advanced for you. If you have 10 years of experience, then 22 miles shouldn’t be a problem.

There’s a lot of nuance and grey area here so I want to make sure you make the right decision when planning your marathon training.

The latest episode of Q&A with Coach goes into a lot more detail on long runs:

  • What if your marathon pace is the same as your easy pace?
  • What type of long run is best for advanced marathoners?
  • Should you limit the distance of your long runs?

Plus, I’ll talk more about marathon long runs specifically for beginners so be sure you don’t miss this episode.

“How long should my long runs be before a marathon?”

As we gear up for our free marathon presentation soon, I want to help you plan your best marathon season ever.

And just in time as marathon season starts soon!

Show Notes:
0:50 – “Is 16 miles long enough as the longest run before a marathon?”
1:30 – Thoughts on the Hansons Marathon Method long run
2:05 – If marathon pace = easy pace…
2:35 – What should beginners do for their long run?
3:10 – Getting across the finish line at 26.2
3:50 – Ideal long runs for more advanced marathoners
5:30 – Risk of running over 22 miles in training

Are Long Runs Really The Most Important Thing? (NO)

I know you might be thinking, “Ok, long runs are important… but that’s not even the hardest part of marathon training!”

And I get it. The hardest part of marathon training is consistently putting in the long runs, workouts, and mileage.

Every day.

Every week.

For months. And months…

The sheer mental will that it takes to complete a difficult marathon season is ridiculous.

I joke with my friends that when I train for a marathon, I become a monk for three months before the race:

  • I barely go out
  • I go to bed at the same time as my 3-year old
  • I watch less TV… so I can do more training
  • I dial in everything from my diet, sleep, strength work, and even foam rolling

It’s mentally exhausting to go through the rigor of marathon training. But big goals require big commitments.

And if you want to see how well you can run 26.2 miles, you can’t half-ass your running. Or your commitment. Or the supporting training that makes running 26.2 miles possible.

While knowing what type of long runs are most beneficial is very helpful, it’s not the whole story. It’s just one piece of the marathon puzzle.

Indeed, the hardest part of marathon training is staying motivated enough to consistently train.

And this Wednesday, I’m giving away more pieces to the puzzle.

Matt Frazier (the host of the No Meat Athlete podcast and a Boston Qualifier) and I are hosting a live training called How to Run Your Fastest Marathon.

And you’re invited!

Join us here – we’ll be covering many more details of how to finally break through your performance plateau and take your marathoning to the next level.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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Comments

  1. Thank you for clarifying the long run distance. I am a slow marathoner (5:40) and I was looking at the Hanson’s training plan for my next marathon in March. 16 miles is not long enough. Thank you !
    I love to run and your blog is my favourite running resource.

  2. Hey, Jason,
    Are you sure about the Hanson’s running MP for most of the miles in their long runs? It is my understanding that long MP long run was (mainly) done only once, about 4-5 weeks from the race (read a great story re: Des Linden). The simulator was for 26.2 KM and was followed within a week by a 12 mile run with 10 minute rest in the middle and a tempo run. Hanson’s system – from my understanding and experience – is based on accumulated fatigue. Running bigger milage on tired legs helps to make your long runs seem more similar to running the final miles in a marathon.

    • From my understanding, yes. If not, then that’s even worse. A max-distance 16-mile LR with no GMP is begging for a painful, slow marathon… That runner will make it to 18-20 miles and then crash.

    • There are a lot of problems there that I’ve discussed in this post/video.

      I also do not accept the “it worked for me” rationale for reasons I discuss here: http://strengthrunning.com/2013/05/crossfit-endurance-revisited/

      • I’m not trying to challenge or “troll” you, Jason. But, the article you cite above is your attack on CFE (crossfit), not Hanson’s method. In fact, you mention:
        “Just see the training outlined in the books of great coaches:

        Brad Hudson’s Run Faster
        Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training
        Bryon Powell’s Relentless Forward Progress
        Mark Wetmore’s university cross country team workouts in Running with the Buffaloes”

        The first one you cite and presumably endorse is Hanson’s book, which apparently you no longer endorse “method wise.” I’m no expert, I’ve only run 25 marathons -much slower than you – but I love the science and I think you’re off base with your criticism of Hanson method.

  3. Ken from Philly says:

    Thanks for posting the Q&A video above. I run with a faster group in general on weekends, occasional Tues night intervals. Routes range from 5 – 14 miles, and when others are marathon training, they combine two routes back to back, to get it to 18-20 long run. But they take several long breaks during/between loops (a good 5-10 min) for water, etc. I’m experienced enough (several half marathons, around 70% age graded) but thanks to some traumatic injuries limiting my training, and a wife and children who discourage my taking that plunge, I haven’t tried training for and running a marathon yet. My burning question is, whether “the” marathon prep long run should be relatively non-stop, just like if I was running a marathon, How close to race simulation should I be? I assume I would be running close to marathon pace with nothing exotic, just get the system acclimated to the distance at the pace. Thanks!

    • We’re going to talk a lot more about this during Wednesday’s webinar. I hope you can make it!

    • This is a great question! I’ve been wanting to know if I take a break in the middle if that affects my “readiness” for the marathon. Looking forward to hearing the answer on Wednesday!

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