How Long Should Your Longest Run Be?
May 29,2012 12:00 PM
Runners preparing for full marathons, or even ultras, have long struggled with how many miles they should log for their longest long run. Various coaches recommend different mileages and a number of factors can affect how successful a marathoner or ultra marathoner will be when following different training plans.
For example, Jeff Galloway marathon training plans have runners train up to 26 miles four weeks before the marathon. Hal Higdon marathon training plans have runners train up to 20 miles for their longest run. Other popular, proven running programs have marathoners run an 18-miler as their last long run. Experts are divided on ultra training as well. While some recommend that runners log two back-to-back long runs, others recommend one extra long run at about six hours, per week. So, which one will work for you? Here are some basic guidelines to follow.
Experienced runners: If you have already run a marathon before and are generally an experienced runner, tackling a 23 or 26-miler about four weeks before the marathon can be an excellent way to set yourself up for a PR. Most beginners may not want to attempt this length of a long run, because the potential for injury and for slow recovery are high. However, if you are following a Jeff Galloway plan, your weekly mileage is moderate enough and you will be incorporating a run/walk ratio that will make the 26-miler not quite so taxing. Experienced runners can also run four to six 20 mile runs in order to be extra prepared; while many learn that two or three is all they need.
Beginners: Your best bet is to log three to four 18 to 20 mile runs. How do you know which distance is better? Run your 18 one week, take a rest week, and then if you are able to push through to a 20-miler, go for it. If not, stick to 18. Your ability to finish the marathon is not determined by whether or not you run an 18 or a 20 mile run as your longest distance.
For ultras, you are going to have to put in a significant amount of time on your feet. Generally, your longest run should be between four hours and six hours and if you are able to do two on back to back days, that is ideal. This may sound very daunting, but is the best way to prepare for your ultra marathon. Note: Ultras are generally not for someone who has never run a marathon. Tackle a 26.2 mile race and then do an ultra.
Many ultra runners prefer to do one very long run per week at about six hours or so, and then run the next day for a couple of hours. This way, they are not taking up so much of their time by having to log two long runs a weekend.
Regardless of the distance that you are training for, you need to ensure that you are as healthy as possible when race day comes around. Coaches recommend that you run as little as needed to be trained, yet not injured. This may be easier said than done, so your best option is to listen to your body and pay attention for signs of fatigue and injury.