I'm training for my first marathon and have heard that adding race simulation long runs to my plan will help. What is the difference between a long, slow run and a race simulation run? Should both be part of my training? — Jake
Welcome to the wonderful world of marathoning, Jake. This is a wise question, because these two types of long runs affect your body in very different ways.
The long, slow run is the bread and butter for distance runners. It builds endurance and teaches you how to spend lots of time on your feet comfortably. You know you're at the optimal long, slow run pace if you can talk in full sentences. When you can chat about life on the run, you're training in the aerobic zone and utilizing fat as a primary fuel source.
Race simulation long runs vary greatly based on the coach, and include mileage at both your long, slow pace as well as your marathon pace. For example, instead of running 10 miles at a long, slow effort, you might run the last half at close to your planned marathon effort or pace. The idea is to practice running longer distances at target marathon effort to learn how to pace at race effort and develop the fitness to do so.
Running both longer and harder in one workout can be effective for training, but it also has consequences: You will need more time to recover, which can affect your workout performance for a few days afterward. Race simulation long runs also require a solid foundation of running endurance, which you're establishing this season. Running too many of these can lead to injury, burnout, and disappointing race performances.
First-time marathoners like yourself are best to focus on long, slow runs and develop the endurance to run longer distances safely. Every long run is a personal record and a challenge all on its own. When you add more stress via race simulation runs, it can greatly increase your risk for injury. Save the harder-effort running for your mid-week sessions this season.