Why Long Runs will boost your Marathon Success

The Long Run is a weekend staple for many runners, even those running shorter distances tend to have a longish run waiting for them at the weekend.

So what are the advantages of running long and how should you do it?  So many of you have asked this question on facebook and twitter I decided to write this blog to answer as many of your Long Run related questions as possible.


In this blog I’m going to be focusing in on marathon long runs, but some of the tips can be easily applied to other distances too!

See  here for my steps to 10K success focusedperformance.co.uk/my-3-steps-to-an-awesome-10k/

And here for how to complete a 5K on 3 workouts a week focusedperformance.co.uk/how-to-run-a-fast-5k-on-3-workouts-a-week/

What will we cover?

How to get your mental attitude right before heading out of your door



Are there varieties of Long Run?

All or nothing?

How to decide on a pacing strategy


How to get your mental attitude right before heading out of the door

Ok, so sitting there thinking about going out for a 10 or 20 mile run, depending on how far you are into your training plan can be mentally daunting.  You know it’s a fairly natural response to worry about a distance not yet run, it doesn’t matter how far that is.

So how do you tackle the unknown?  You start with the known.

You already know how to run your current longest distance.  Think about how you used to feel about that, remember the nerves, they’re the same ones, it’s just your brain has attached specific significance to a particular number.  So it’s a case of forgetting the target number, and instead going out for a run.  The same action you’ve taken many times before.

If this is really worrying, then take the pace easy, fuel up for a couple of days before, and take fuel with you.  This way you’ve taken positive steps to reduce those factors which could detract from your run.

I’ve also had success when I broke a longer run down into smaller sections, so I focused on each 4 miles for example, rather than the whole run.  It made it easier to think of it in shorter, more achievable pieces.

There’s are a lot of persoanl stories out there about how people have overcome adversity in life and in running, here’s a really personal one from Alicia, where she shows how running can help overcoming http://focusedperformance.co.uk/plans-friends-perseverance-50-miles/

One final point on the mental side, when you run a long run you have a distance in mind and that’s what you’re aiming for.  But what happens in a marathon?

In a marathon you’re there to race, perhaps to achieve a time, a goal which is often absent from our long training runs.

In the section below where I ask ‘Are there varieties of Long Run I’ll give you a couple of ideas to turn your long runs into runs that feel a little more like the marathon race itself.



When it comes to races questions abound on social media about which gels to take, what alternatives there are etc.

But by the time you get to race day it’s too late, I encourage all my athletes to trial anything they are thinking of using in a race during several training runs.  Otherwise, if it turns out that a gel doesn’t agree with you, you could end up suffering for the duration of the event, assuming you last that long!

How much to eat will vary too, depending on distance.  However it’s certainly beneficial to carb load prior to setting out on your training run.  Generally the earlier you can do this, the better, if possible an hour or two beforehand.  Then as you get close, top up with a sports drink.  I choose only to do this during a small number of my training runs, to test how things will go on the day of my race, as I don’t want my body to get used to the effect of my sports drink.  However the carb rich breakfast is a great one for all your training runs.

One other point here, electrolyte drinks are really useful, but like gels different brands work best for different people, do your research, and test in training. [tweet this]



There is a lot of guidance about the perfect amount of water to drink during a long run.  The right amount however is really easy to determine, all you have to do is listen to your body.  I’m not suggesting you wait for dehydration to crop up, instead I’m saying listen to what your body indicates to you.  You know when water is required so drink.

This mechanism is natural, and has served us well – so it makes sense that is it attuned to our body’s requirements.

Some people prefer to carry water in bottles in one hand, I’d suggest that this actually could contribute to imbalances whilst running, after all a 500ml bottle is virtually the same as a half kilo weight in your hand.  Try a bladder in a pack (that fits well and moves very little) or purchase a bottle part way round and drink at that point, maybe making your route into a circuit so you could leave the bottle in a location to be used later?


Are there varieties of Long Run?

We’ll talk below about the option for slowing your long runs down, but there are also other choices when it comes to getting some variety in.

I’ve found that variety in harder workouts often helps to get through the tough stuff, and somehow these sessions seem to go much quicker.

So, here are some options you can try, depending on how far into your training year (and therefore how close you are to your peak race).

Try a slow warm up mile (on top of your standard warm up) and then move into a faster pace than your marathon pace, how much faster will in part depend on how your speed sessions have been going as they will give you some feedback on your progress.  Do this for a significant part of your long run, so if you run is 16 miles, try to do 15 at this pace.

Another alternative is to split your long run into two equal halves, running the first section at marathon pace, then move up to a faster pace, perhaps 30 seconds a mile faster if this is achievable for the remainder of your run.

One other tip which I find really useful is to imagine a training run is a race, prepare for it in all the ways you would for your marathon, fuel and hydrate as closely as you can to the real event too.  All this will help simulate your event, and it has the benefit of testing your plan and fuelling choices out.

All or nothing?

Slow is very often the way to speed.  Sounds counterintuitive right?

The thing is that many elites run their long runs at a slow pace, one slow enough for them easily to hold a conversation while they run.

In other words they’re running aerobically, and there is scientific research to back up this training methodology, slow can be better.

Of course, balance is key, slow on its own isn’t enough, you need to sprinkle in some speed /intensity work, but this should be a smaller percentage compared with slow runs.  Do this and your speed will increase.

You can therefore concentrate on increasing the distance covered, gradually.

I do this by adding in a mile to each weekly long run.  (Bear in mind that these are easy runs and so despite the distance will be at a lower intensity).


How to decide on a pacing strategy

So how do you pick your pace?

When I’m working with an athlete we review their most important race, the one race that is the target for their training year.  Once we have this noted we think about what time they want to run it in, and take into account their recent performances.

Bringing this together will give you a good feel for what sort of minute/mile (or minute/kilometre) pace you should identify for your race pace.  Long runs should be a little slower than this, to give you time to train up to it.

However one of the simplest ways that every runner can easily tailor to their own particular level of fitness is to run at a speed which allows them to comfortably hold a conversation.  If you can talk out loud without being out of breath, or having to stop to recover before starting to talk again, then this is the right pace for your long run.


Injury avoidance

Injuries can develop from a myriad of causes.  Long runs cause significant adaptations, the increase in distance and the associated impact upon the body is going to have an effect.

So how do you make sure the risk of injury is reduced?  Recovery.

I suggest the day after a long run is followed by a rest day, that’s one that doesn’t have any running in it, unless you’re an experienced runner following a particular plan designed for you.

As your long runs increase in distance this becomes ever more important as you are expecting ever greater changes from your body, and this is also one of the reasons why many marathon training plans don’t ask you to train at the 26.2 mile distance.

Check out my ebook on running without injury here www.focusedperformance.co.uk/injuryfreerunning runners too often accept injury as an unavoidable part of the training process.

Overtraining is also often misunderstood by runners, we enjoy our sport and love to get out and run, but I can’t tell you how super important it is to recover, over training is a really tricky thing to diagnose given it has a lot of presenting conditions, but if you are suffering from a couple of these, it’s time to dial back a little:

– You’re starting to feel fatigue at the start of almost every workout

– Are you getting sick more often?  Do you keep falling ill with the same problem? 

– How’s your sleep?  Are you getting enough or are you struggling to sleep? 

– You might feel stressed more than usual, perhaps irritable

– Not feeling motivated to run

– You feel fantastic on some runs, yet on others you can barely keep going                     

Overtraining can set you back or keep you from running for a long time, don’t let it take hold!
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One thought on “Why Long Runs will boost your Marathon Success

  • You have to realize that long run is the foundation of your marathon success. It will keep your body conditioned with what you are passionate to do. So make sure that you keep a regular long run daily for your marathon journey.

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