By Brian Shrader, Saucony Athlete
There might not be a more important part of marathon training than the long run. Throughout the week, most training runs are actually meant to recover or get ready for the next workout. But the long run is a bit more focused and intense - trying to get the body and mind accustomed to working for the duration of the marathon. There are countless very important physical benefits from the long run, but I’m going to focus on the psychological importance of this weekly ritual.
No matter who the person is, we all look at 26.2 miles as an incredibly daunting task at the beginning of the training plan. We simply do not know how our bodies are going to react when we attempt to push our physical limits for hours on end. This is one of the biggest lessons we are able to learn through the long run. We buildup so that eventually we are running the duration, or longer than the duration, of our goal race time. No, we aren’t running race pace, but our body and mind now know that they are capable of staying engaged for the time required. And knowledge is power.
We can then use this power to tackle the distance at race pace as well. It can start with running quicker at the end of the long run, putting a fartlek* into the run, then eventually putting tempos into the long run. All of this is now teaching our body and mind that we are capable of running the distance at the actual goal pace. What once seemed like a daunting task is now becoming more obtainable through breaking apart the training into pieces and putting them together.
In terms of fueling, use the long runs as run-throughs for the actual race. Use different fueling strategies to figure out what will be best during the race. Try drinking water on the go, carbs on the go, and figuring out how many carbs/calories you’re able to handle throughout the duration of the race. All of this obviously benefits us physically, but we are also now able to go into the race much calmer, having the knowledge of what exactly our bodies need in order to tackle the marathon distance.
So, how come during the weeks leading into the race, why are we still so nervous and perhaps even unsure that we are going to be able to accomplish the task? This is where trust in the training comes in. We trust that what we have been doing for the past months has been working. We trust that once we taper, we will have more energy for the race. We trust that when we put our singlet and bib number on, when we are running down the streets with thousands of other runners and spectators, that we are given our super-human abilities. Things will get very hard, but with the body and mind prepared at an all-time high, we’ll all lean on each other and finally get our moment to put all of the pieces together for one last glorious long run. This time with much more celebrating at the finish!
*Fartlek: Swedish for “speed play,” this type of workout calls for harder efforts in the middle of your run. Remember to have fun with this one as it's a bit more unstructured than a track workout or tempo run!