Rules of the Long Run: How to Build for Marathon Training

It has been a hot summer in Fort Worth, and my running endurance has diminished. I have been participating in a run streak (at least one mile a day), but without the streak, I'm not sure I would be running much at all. I love running outdoors, which proves challenging when the temperatures soar into the triple digits for weeks on end. 

It rained last weekend, and the temperatures dropped into the seventies. Hallelujah. I decided to go on a "long run" and made it about three and a half miles before I was exhausted. Endurance is a 'use it or lose it' sport. I ran a half marathon PR (personal record) in February, an easy 13.1 at Disney in April and here I struggled to slog out three and a half miles in August. 

I've been focusing on strength this summer, and running at a minimum to keep up with the run streak, and to survive these summer temperatures. Last weekend's run has me looking forward to autumn training season. I am ready to ramp up my the miles again to run strong this winter.

As I was thinking about how to structure my long run training for the upcoming race season, I thought I'd share some of the rules of building mileage. If you are training for a race without the guidance of a coach, you can't always blindly trust the training plans you find for free on the internet. If you can't afford a coach or if you have the knowledge to do it on your own, make sure you are following these tried and true principles to train safely and appropriately for your fitness level. 

 rules of the long run: how to build for marathon training. Save to your favorite running Pinterest board for later.

rules of the long run: how to build for marathon training. Save to your favorite running Pinterest board for later.

1. START WITH A SOLID RUNNING BASE

I don't believe in a couch to half marathon or a couch to marathon training plan. If you are currently on the couch and want to participate in a half marathon, that is fantastic, but let's take it one step at a time. The prerequisite for half marathon training is a running base. 

Build a base by running un at least three times per week consistently for six to nine weeks. Slowly increase your weekly mileage until you can run five miles comfortably. After six to nine weeks, and with a comfortable five-miler under your belt, you are ready to start training for a half marathon. It will be a more pleasant experience, and you'll reduce the chance of an injury. You want to build the foundation before you start piling on the miles.

Can you train from zero miles to 13.1 in a few months with no experience? It's possible, but I don't recommend it. You will increase your chances of injury, burnout and overtraining. I want you to love running and cramming miles in a short period is not the path. 

2. INCREASE MILAGE BY NO MORE THAN 10% EACH WEEK

As you start to build your long runs to reach your goal race distance, the rule of thumb is to increase your total weekly mileage by 10% each week. Generally speaking, this means it's safe to add a mile to your long run each week but keep in mind the volume of running the other days of the week. If you increase your training load (too many miles) too quickly, you'll increase the chances of developing an injury. 

3. NEVER INCREASE INTENSITY (SPEED) AND VOLUME (DISTANCE) IN THE SAME WEEK

When planning your training week, you either need to add miles or add intensity, never both in the same week. When you are adding miles to your long run, avoid increasing the speed of other training runs that same week. 

4. STEP BACK THE LONG RUN DISTANCE EVERY FOUR WEEKS

A big mistake I see in training plans is that they increase the long run mileage by one mile per week until they hit their goal distance. The problem with this strategy is that it doesn't allow your body enough time to recover and adapt to the change in mileage before adding more. A more appropriate plan is to increase the long run by one mile each week (or every two weeks) and every fourth week reduce the long run by 30%-50%. This method is an essential part of the training plan. Schedule three long runs each month. 

5. TRAIN LONG RUNS AT CONVERSATIONAL PACE

Conversational pace means you could have a conversation with your running partner without taking large gasps of air between words or sentences. My running partner doesn't talk back, but that doesn't stop me from trying.

Long run training pace should be considerably slower than your 5K pace, by at least a minute or two. Start slower than you think you need to sustain the distance. If you go out too fast, you risk burning out before you complete the run, and you may compromise recovery and raise your injury risk. Even if you feel like you could go faster, it's usually best to slow down. 

6. BUILD IN REST DAYS

You adapt to exercise (get stronger and faster) during the rest period after the workout, not during the workout itself. It may seem counterintuitive to rest when you are training for a big race, but rest is part of the training plan. If you don't allow the rest and recovery your body needs, you won't see the full benefits of your hard work, and you could risk injury. 

As you increase your training load, quality sleep becomes even more critical. Most of your body's recovery processes happen while you are sleeping. Aim for eight or nine hours of quality sleep for optimal recovery and performance. 

So there you have it, follow these rules of the long run and avoid some of the mistakes that both new and experienced runners often make.

Learn to listen to your body, honor the feedback that it gives you, and get out there to enjoy your run.

Questions? I'd love to help! 

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