WTF Is A Long Training Run, Anyway?

AC100 2014: Dead Man's Bench, Mile 79
"Running for time, not distance" is an eternal lure for distance training. However, races are still measured in distance. Time on feet is important, but ya gotta get somewhere before cut-off. Otherwise this training modality is a self-deluding feedback loop. 

I found this out in 1986 when I ran my 1st LA Marathon, training out of Ardy Friedburg's "How to Run Your First Marathon". Years later it appeared on Amazon, and I reviewed it, as follows:

"How to Run Your First Marathon" is a cruel hoax in a breezy, fun, gosh-its-gonna-be-fun style. I bought this book in 1985, when I was training for my first marathon, Los Angeles 1986. It promised a bunch of things, namely "don't worry too much about distance, run for time". That is perfect barney-bait.

By the time I was at 20 miles, I'd begun to hate the day I'd imagined that the author knew what he was talking about. OK, I finished--walked the last 2-1/2 miles to a 3:55. After I was able to think about marathons again, I found Joe Henderson's "Run Long" book. It had everything this breezy pamphlet did not. I trained out of Henderson's until 1992, then ran with Jim O'Brien's track club at Cal Tech.

Subsequently I went on to finish over 25 marathons, before getting into ultras [50k on up to 100-miles]. I cannot in all honesty or good conscience recommend this book to anyone, unless its for dilettante voyeurism. It is ornamental, and worthless.

Full review here

Having gotten *that* out of the way, may I suggest that if you're going to do 100s [for instance], then "long runs" need to be:
  1. *at least* 25mi, probably no longer than 40mi
  2. back to back on weekends
  3. on the course if possible
  4. start & stop at different points, to see what your splits start looking like
  5. in a variety of weather conditions
  6. run sections backwards to see what the climbs/drops start looking like
You'll start to get a sense of what's required for a successful execution. Again, this is an optimal scenario. Mike Morton won WS100 in '97 without having trained on the course, but put in ass-kicking mileage in MD due to his job requirements.

In conclusion: do your homework. The 1993 WSER100 racebook famously noted that you could run 15mi daily, 6 days per week to get the mileage necessary to complete a 100. But you'd be the best 15mi runner at the starting line.


Adam Haesler said…
Thanks for this reality check. I agree with all points. I often switch between running for distance and time on alternating weeks.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Denise Romero said…
Thanks for the tips!
Denise Romero said…
Thanks for the tips!

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