Many Ironman athletes, training plans and coaches schedule the weekly long run on Sunday, after a long bike on Saturday. The reason often given is: "You need to practice running long on tired legs."
This is NOT a good idea and here's why:
- A long run on tired legs is just another opportunity to practice running slowly on tired legs versus running more quickly on fresh legs. The best way to become a faster runner is to create opportunities in your training week for you to run faster, not slog through a run on wooden legs.
- The recovery cost of a long run done on Sunday, after a long Saturday bike, is much greater than that same run done mid-week. The net is that Monday, often Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday's workouts begin to become compromised, especially as that weekend volume gets up to a four-to-six-hour bike ride on Saturday and two-and-a-half-to-three-hour run.
- Any long run in training will have at least an hour or more where your legs feel OK. That is, they feel like you're starting a long run after a long bike the day before. Contrast this to Ironman race day, where you're coming right off a 112-mile bike after a 2.4-mile swim. After you get your legs back, around mile six or seven, your legs will feel, at best, like they do around mile 15 of your best long run...then it just gets harder. My point is that your tired legs on Sunday long run isn't even close to what it's going to feel like on race day, so why bother?
I made the switch with my athletes to a mid-week (Tuesday or Thursday) long run about eight years ago and never looked back.
Some benefits of running long during the week are:
- The long run can now accommodate some get-faster work.
- You can separate the long run from the long bike with a no-legs day on Friday.
- You can weight the cycling to the weekend. A three-hour semi-long ride on Sunday has a MUCH lower recovery cost than a hard two-and-a-half hour Sunday run. This mean a much lower chance that it, and it's combination with the Saturday ride, will affect your early week workouts the following week.
- Finally, it may create a social opportunity for you on the bike on Sunday--a Sunday ride with friends. Riding with other athletes, especially those stronger than you, is a very, very valuable opportunity that we encourage our athletes to seek out.
I've been fighting this fight for years and it's a clear line that separates old from new school. It clearly identifies coaches and self-coached athletes who get it versus those who don't have enough experience, haven't done it themselves, and/or haven't stepped back to think things through more critically.