In this second part of Marathon Training: Re-Thinking the Long Run, we'll discuss pacing, picking your long-run route and some recovery tips.
The last thing you want to do is to leave your race on the training course, yet so many runners flirt with disaster when they do their long run. Repeat after me: Do not run your long run at your goal marathon pace! This is too much strain on your body and will result in deep fatigue that could persist until race day.
A better plan is to hold a comfortable long run pace (goal marathon pace plus 45 seconds to a minute slower) for three-fourths of the way. The last one-fourth of the run, increase the effort/pace to match goal marathon levels. If you can nail the last 25 percent of the run at your goal pace, then you are in good shape!
Putting this key element at the end of your long run will give you a sense of how your pacing will affect your body on race day, and if you've picked the right pace without compromising your training.
Long Run Logistics
A large part of doing your long run revolves around creating ideal conditions for the effort. Don't sell those months of marathon training short by picking the wrong course or messing up your nutrition.
Most runners should consider a rolling course. "Rolling" means that you know that you are going up and down, but the work isn't putting your body into overdrive. Slower runners will want to stick with a flat course to get more miles in for their allotted training time.
If the marathon you're planning to run is hilly (most are pretty flat), you won't gain any material benefits from punishing yourself on a similar course for this long run, especially when it will take you days--maybe even a week--to recover.
If you're truly concerned about the hills, be sure to include hill work in your weekly regimen. Advanced runners might consider a long run that starts out rolling but ends up in the hills to prepare for race day.
Do the long run at the same time of day as the race. There's a lot more to marathon day than just running, and learning how your body reacts to the early alarm, light breakfast and warm-up is key. Do your best to minimize the number of surprises come race day. Even if your "A" race is in another time zone, you can benefit from putting your race-day plan into action.
Plan on carrying your food and fluids with you (e.g. use a Fuel Belt). If you're opposed to this, either plan on a quick pit stop at a convenience store or pre-arrange a bottle drop. Hopefully by this point in your training you have already developed an understanding of what type--and how much--fuel you need on your longer runs.
A quick rule of thumb in training is to practice drinking at every mile split so you'll be accustomed to drinking at the intervals provided on the marathon course (that's every eight minutes for an 8:00/mile hopeful). It's also recommended that you take in some form of calories--most runners use energy gels--during your event. Don't rely on the course to get you what you need; consider taking a gel (or some calories) at 45- to 60-minute intervals.
Long Run Recovery Protocol
Wash your face and get out of your wet clothes into dry ones.
Get some liquid calories. This can be a homemade shake or recovery drink, and must be consumed in the first 15 minutes after finishing and should contain a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
Take a shower.
Lie down on the floor and put your legs up one minute for every 15 minutes run.
Get up and make a meal. Be sure to include protein!
Sit down to eat with legs up. Consider a nap if you have time.
After the Long Run
Your work is mostly done at this point. You have three or maybe four more weeks to go until race day. Your first priority is to make sure that you have recovered well from your long effort. I usually don't run for three days afterwards (preferring to cross-train) and I usually get a light massage as well. Only a few key tempo sessions are left to keep the legs sharp, and then it's marathon day.
Remember, there is no single defining run that will make your marathon training right--including the long run. At the end of the day, it's the miles covered on the way to this long training run--and the marathon--that truly count. Get out there, have fun, and be smart!