For the past four weeks or so, I’ve been in training mode preparing for the Boston Marathon in April. Seems I’m always in-training these days, though I did have a few weeks off last November. No matter, the important thing is to get it in to be up and ready when the big day comes. To this end, I’ve been paying mind to the necessary components of a good training plan, particularly the long run aspect. I should stress that all parts of a plan are important; however the long-run, for me, is of great significance because of two things, the opportunity to develop strength and endurance and, in the latter phase of training, the opportunity it presents to simulate your race day strategy.
Developing strength and endurance happens over time, it involves steadily increasing mileage and alternating workouts to encompass building speed, endurance and running efficiency. Any good training plan, for the average runner concerned with running a marathon goal time, will include interval training, some hill work, tempo runs, long runs and rest days. The long run develops over time, building slowly over weeks (between 16-22 weeks) of training until two weeks before race day. During this period, the focus is on building endurance through getting the body accustomed to running for longer periods each week, gradually increasing mileage to the point where one can confidently and comfortably complete 20-22 miles. For example, in my training, my long runs may start at around week 8 with 12-13 miles (which is really a bit of a medium-long run) to which I will add-on a couple of miles each week.
From early on, it’s important to plan these days and decide on which works best for you. Turns out Saturdays are ideal for my long runs as I’m mostly off from work and I can choose to either rest longer in the am ( during winter anyhow) and run later in the day or get it in early and have the rest of the day off. Usually, I try to get to bed at a decent hour the night before so I’ll wake up rested and ready to go. Also, I try to eat my carbs and hydrate well leading up to Saturday; this is all to make sure I’m in the best place to accomplish my mileage without killing myself. Most times it works out great, I clear my schedule and leave my day open for running and I’m able to do just that.
As it gets closer to crunch time – by then I will have racked up the necessary mileage and developed the level of endurance I need – I’m able to use my remaining long runs to simulate race day. On these runs, the focus is on running efficiency: pace, hydration and strategy. The idea is to perfect a plan based on the above in as near to similar conditions as race day to help project performance on that day; this will help to build confidence and race preparedness. I’m under no illusion that mastering the long-run will ensure stellar performance on race day. On the contrary, there are no guarantees in running as so much is particular to that run and that day. What your training long-runs do is give you the ability to control what you can and give you the confidence – ammunition if you will – to go out there on race day and do the best you can.