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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Long Run + "Comatose State" = Too Long

My friend Betsy, Suzanne, and I were talking over Monday early morning coffee about time-constrained training, training partnerships and - not surprisingly - the role of the long run in marathon training.

Suzanne marveled that a group of people would meet each weekend at 5:20 in the morning to train.  Naturally, we understand that during certain times of the year - like months which don't have an "R" somewhere in them - early morning training runs are not just a good idea, but sane behavior.  She also liked the fact that the group would take time to socialize over breakfast something we've encouraged with our training partners.

Betsy mentioned that 5:20 was the latest the group left in the morning; a runner doing a longer effort would start their run as early as 3:00.  In the case of runners who want to finish and have breakfast with the rest of the group, doing two hours or less, it makes perfect sense.  

However, a four-hour marathon training jaunt only benefits mentally.  To do at least one four-hour (or longer) run in the preparation for 26.2(1876) miles - the four-hour run can help the runner to get their head around the thought of running four-to-five hours at a stretch - is one thing.  Otherwise, especially in the physiological sense, the recreational runner who does more than one four-hour training run when prepping for the marathon has got to be mental.

There's a point of diminishing returns - physiologically, emotionally and socially - once the run goes beyond two-and-a-half-hours.  It's more difficult to recover, and even do a run the following day, when more than 150 minutes of good running has been "deposited in the bank."  And 150 minutes at a stretch is the (recommended) 25-percent long run portion of the maximum sane week (10 hours) of training.  There are highly esteemed coaches (of Olympic marathoners) who would rather have their athletes spread the training volume across the week rather than do 50-60% of it in one long slog.

Frankly, all I wanted to do after 16-mile training runs (in a sliver over two hours) was take a long hot shower, pull on compression tights and sweats, put my legs up on the couch and watch football all afternoon.  Unless you have a VERY understanding spouse, kids or significant other, the prospect of a (beyond-healthy) chunk of YOUR Saturday (or Sunday) morning out spent on the roads doing 18, 20, or 22 miles in close to four hours, followed by "Occupy the Couch" means a large portion of THEIR weekend is pretty much shot to hell.

If you absolutely have to do the 18-to-22 mile run more than one time in the marathon preparation, schedule it so it comes before a "cut-back" week, where the mileage, time or intensity (or all of the above) is intentionally decreased to let the body (and mind) recover.

A physiologically or emotionally-viable alternative for the runner who feels the compulsion to do the "really long run" part of marathon training more than one time can include the option of splitting it into two.

There are several ways the "typical" weekend can be broken up:
1 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Friday afternoon, then do the remaining miles on Saturday morning.  Sunday morning can either be a rest day, Saturday's run, or a run of 30-to-60 minutes focusing on form and turnover.
2 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Saturday morning, with the remaining miles late Saturday afternoon.  Sunday morning can either be a rest day or a shorter run of 30-to-60 minutes focusing on form and turnover.
3 - Run the first two-and-a-half hours on Saturday evening, with the remaining miles early Sunday morning.  Then do a very short run run of 30 minutes focusing on form and turnover that afternoon.

I don't like the idea of splitting the long run between Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.  There's always something to do with loved ones; taking any more time than what is absolutely necessary away from family is not a decision which will make for successful running.

There are varying schools of thought about what needs to be the maximum long run distance for marathon training.  The 30-kilometer recommendation of European coaches and the 20-mile number bandied about by coaches here in the States are nice round "one-size-fits-somebody" numbers.  The best maximum distance for marathon training is the one which does not go too far beyond the physiological tipping point, one which allows the runner to get up and do a little something the following day, or at least do a little something with family that day.

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