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.


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
  • My bedtime is 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 may just be staying healthy enough to consistently train.

And in our free email series, I’m giving away more pieces to the puzzle.

I’m covering many more details of how to finally break through your performance plateau and take your marathoning to the next level with a focus on smart training, strength, and race-specificity.

Sign up here and let’s make your next marathon your best.

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