Long, but not slow runs

Anyone who read the post on Renato Canova’s philosophy, or my summary of the Fundamental phase of my training for the 2017 London Marathon, may recall that a feature of this phase was ‘Long, but not slow runs’.

Canova’s athletes — who are at the top of the sport — will run their longest runs in the early stages of their training. This is different to many marathon training approaches, where the longest run typically comes three weeks before race day.

The thinking behind doing long runs early on is that they provide the aerobic base for the rest of the training. As the training plan progresses your key sessions should more closely reflect the specific demands of the race you’re training for.

Therefore, a marathoner should aim for their last hard session to be run at race pace for a distance close to the full distance. 13 days before the Seville Marathon in 2015 I ran 30km at race pace.

A long slow run is too different from the marathon itself to be of much use. The exception, of course, is first timers, for whom race pace and easy running pace are going to be roughly the same.

For athletes with a decent training history, who are looking to improve their marathon time, the culmination of their training plan should not be 3+ hours of jogging.

Indeed, that is of little use at any point in the training plan as it will not be challenging enough.

Instead, it is far better, in the Fundamental (or Base) phase to build up to long runs of similar duration to your expected marathon time, but at a pace equivalent to 80% of your target marathon pace. For me, this means three hour runs at less than 8'15/mile. This is definitely quicker than an easy jog, but what I aimed to do.

As an aside, Canova’s athletes might only do 1:45 to 2:15 hr long runs, as they are only expecting to be racing for a couple of hours.

This was my progression from 23 to 16 weeks before race day:

  • 120'44"/15.02 mi (8'02/mi)
  • 142'33"/18.15 mi (7'51/mi)
  • 165'06"/20.52 mi (8'02/mi)
  • 181'22"/22.71 mi (7'59/mi)
  • 185'32"/23.20 mi (7'59/mi)

For previous marathons my longest runs in the same period were:

  • 150'00"/17 mi (8'49/mi) before Sevilla 2015 (a 2:59 marathon)
  • 123'08"/15.1 mi (8'09/mi) before London 2013 (a 3:06 marathon)
  • 89'37"/13.1 mi (6'50/mi) at Gosport Marathon before Barcelona 2012 (3:07 marathon).

It is very reassuring to think that I have already got some good, decent-paced miles in my legs. The focus now will be on tempo and marathon pace runs, but I’ll try to pop in some long, but not slow runs if I feel my endurance is lagging as I get closer to race-day.

Will the new approach work? It’s hard to say until I’ve run the London Marathon in April, but my initial thoughts are that this is the way to go. I finished the Fundamental phase confident of my aerobic endurance, ability to withstand long runs, and not overly intimidated by the prospect of long, hard runs at race pace in a few weeks’ time.

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