Boston Training Week Four – Long Run Strategy

Posted: January 17, 2010 in Training

Sunday Long Run

As of this morning there are 91 days left to go before Hopkinton, MA – and the start of the Boston Marathon.  The star-spangled banner, an air force flyover, 25,000 marathoners and yours truly taking on the most storied marathon course in the land.  It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime for sure, but there remains a lot of hard work between now and then.  Today represented a big step toward racing and racing well at Boston and Pittsburgh 13 days later.

This morning was the first “long-run” of my training schedule since coming back from shin splint issues in December.  Now, you may look back on previous posts and think that I’ve had plenty of “long runs” over the past few weeks, but in training for a marathon the long-run typically is defined as any run that covers more than 10 miles or takes longer than 90 minutes. 

The long run is considered to be the most important component of your marathon training  as it teaches the body to both mentally and physically tackle the challenges presented in covering the 26 mile 385 yard distance. Physiologically, the body must learn to tap into and utilize energy reserves from fat storage sites after the glycogen (fuel stores in the muscles, converted over from carbohydrate food sources) have been depleted.  Over the course of training your weekly long runs help improve your body’s capacity to store more glycogen within the muscles.   An increase in glycogen stores translates into the ability to maintain your pace during the marathon and delay the onset of fatigue.

Brushy Creek Trail - Training Ground

For me today’s long run was as important mentally as anything that was going on physically.  Questions that had remained unanswered, and quite honestly will remain unanswered until Boston – but has my shin recovered to full strength?  Did I lose my cardiovascular fitness level with my three-week absence from running in December?  If so, how much?  I was looking for answers this morning as I prepare for next weekend’s 3M Half-Marathon and another test along the way.

So much of the marathon experience is mental – I tell those who ask me about the experience that after the required fitness level is acquired during training – the demands of the marathon are much more mentally challenging than physically.  This benefit from your weekly long runs cannot be overstated.  Knowing that you can cover 11, 13, 15, 18 or 20 miles becomes a great source of internal strength.  Strength that you can tap into during the race as you KNOW that you can cover that 20 mile distance as you have done it before – all that looms is a little 10K “weekday run” that you have covered countless times before.  There is great power in that, great confidence and great accomplishment.  I try to look at my Sunday long-runs as true practice sessions.  I practice my pace, my on-the-move nutrition and hydration strategy (and skill), and my mental strength as I push through fatigue to stay on my target pace and splits.

Today’s goal was to take on a very hilly route and come as close to my pace goal of 7:37/mile as I could.  Because I would be going through many elevation changes over the course of the run trying to mimic sections of the Boston course I focused on “even effort” not “even time”.  I tried to run the “ups” with the same effort as the “flats” and the “downs”.  Over time I have found that focusing on “even effort” instead of looking at my Garmin and fixating on my last mile and making adjustments to my pace helps me stay on target.

Brushy Creek Dam - Top of Hill

In the past if I finished an individual mile at say 15 seconds behind my target pace I would then self-consciously speed up my leg turnover to make up time.  This may be fine strategy in a 5K or 10K road race – but for a marathon this is asking for trouble.  Even effort, even exertion is the key to success in trying to cover 26.2 miles as efficiently as possible – as that for me is the key to being able to hold on to my pace in the latter portions of the race.

So how did we do today?  I was very happy with the results.  Number one, I exited the run feeling strong and pain-free – which was a huge accomplishment.  I stuck to my strategy of keeping even effort throughout the run and even during mile 8 which takes me 4/10 of a mile uphill over the Brushy Creek Dam I did not try to overcompensate and allowed my time to creep up to 8:00/mile for that section of the run.  The benefit to that strategy was that I felt fresh at the top of the crest and could put together solid closing miles from 9 through 11.  Overall a great run and I feel very ready for next weekend’s Half-Marathon.

On deck for this week – 13 miles on the running trails, 40 miles on the bike, 3 strength training sessions and a race on Sunday, bring it on.

  1. tbrush3 says:

    On your long runs how much slower do you generally try to run than your goal race pace?

  2. joerunfordom says:

    Trey – thanks for the message – I try to stay around :30-:40 slower than my race pace although most coaches and websites say :45-:90. For me in trying to get down to a Boston time I wanted to be running at least 50% of my long-run somewhere “near” my goal pace as I just wasn’t confident I could run 7:29’s for a long period of time without having ever done it.

    So typically I will start slow over the first 2-3 miles, increase my pace during the middle miles to get a bit closer to race pace and then back-off again for the final 2 miles. I may only run 4-5 miles within :15 of my race pace – but that gave me enough stamina at that level and enough confidence mostly – that come race day I could get it done.

    Hope that helps!

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