Going long. Doing the distance

Fact: A marathon is 26.2 miles.
Fact: You’re running the Virgin Money London Marathon on April 24th 2016 (and going to finish!)
Fact: 26.2 miles is a long way!

Ok, so we’re all in agreement that 26.2miles is a long way to run. But, here’s the inside scoop, by teaching your body what it feels like to ‘go long’ in training when you stand on the start line in Greenwich to tackle the marathon distance you’ll feel so much more confident, relaxed and ready. Long runs are the money miles that build your stamina and endurance.


In terms of running physiology long runs help establish economical and efficient running by developing slow twitch muscle fibres, improving oxygen utilization and enhancing your body’s ability to store and use glycogen and fat as fuel. Long runs help strengthen bones, tendons and ligaments and develop your cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory systems. Psychologically knowing that you have the physical stamina and strength to keep going (and going and going) gives you the confidence to know you’ve got the miles covered.

You (yes, you) are running a marathon and so your training needs to be geared towards hitting the start line confident you can cover the distance of 26.2miles. Long runs matter as miles. You can’t shirk from a long run. You’ve simply got to nail them.

How long is long?

Building up your long runs in training teaches how to suffer when you feel you want to stop. But at the same time, long runs are not about punching above your weight in the early stages. They’re about learning to stay on the ropes for a sustained amount of time. You’ve got to take the many punches that a long run throws at you. It’s normal for runners to experience a few ups and downs as their long runs progress, especially at this time in a marathon build up. Sometimes it’s going to really hurt, and get messy, but you need to find ways to get back up and keep moving. Ultimately you’ll come through strong, fit, focused and ready for your Virgin Money London Marathon challenge.

What constitutes a long run depends on your level of fitness, phase of running training programme and marathon aspirations. For some new runners 6 miles will seem like a long run, whereas for an experienced marathon campaigner regular runs of 18-20 miles are fairly standard.

Look to gradually build up the time / distance you are able to run for over many weeks to train your body to cope with the marathon distance and give you the confidence that you can achieve your goal.

One ‘long’ run a week is about the right frequency. Long slow runs are usually done at controlled and manageable pace (perhaps 45 to 60 seconds slower per mile than target marathon pace). Start your long run feeling totally in control and conversational. On a long run it is the fatigue of the duration that you are training your body to handle. What feels controlled at the outset will get harder to maintain as the run progresses. Not slowing down is your game plan!

Throughout January you should have been focussing on increasing the time on your feet rather than worrying about distance covered. Right now, at the end of February if your longest weekly run is around the 10-12mile (perhaps 2 to 2.5 hours) mark with 8 weeks to go until race day then you’re bang on track. You should be looking to carefully and appropriately build up your long runs from now on to reach a distance of 18-20/22 miles (perhaps 3 to 3.5hours) in a single run 3 to 4 weeks before race day.

Long runs also give you the chance to practice your race day hydration and fuelling strategies and your pacing. Remember, this will be very individual depending on personal preference and marathon goals so do your thing.

3 ways to improve your long run.

Long runs more often - Achieve greater marathon success by including more long runs more often. Start your long run build up earlier and include 4 or more long runs of 18-22miles in duration. Stringing together blocks of long runs really helps boost your specific marathon endurance. A word of caution however – remember the importance of balance and recovery when you structure your plan and in particular your long runs.

Long runs faster – instead of going through the motions of a long slow distance run, pick up the pace of your long run! You can try doing this in different ways, for example, running the entire duration of the long run at a faster pace, including sections (eg 3 or 6 miles) of your long run at your target marathon pace (or faster!), or a ‘fast finish’ long run where you pick the pace up throughout the duration of the long run so that you finish at or faster than target marathon pace for the final few miles. Another word of caution, don’t try and run the full 26.2 miles in training at your target marathon pace. Sections of it yes, all of it, no!

Long runs differently – Think of your long runs as your most important weekly run. They’ll probably be one of the hardest of the week. Run on roads to get your legs accustomed to repeated pounding and intensity of a hard surface. Run some of your long runs solo. Running without the company of others or music teaches you to focus your mind fully on the task at hand. Use your long runs to dial into your effort and lock on to marathon pace during different sections of your long run. A long run (20miles) completed with the final 8miles at bang on target marathon pace will give you bags of confidence that training is working and you are close to hitting your marathon goal.