Monday, October 1, 2012

Is The 20-Mile Long Run Really Important?

Is a 20-mile long run really the answer?


Did someone miss their long runs on the weekends?

Having a new baby in my life has been awesome. Little HG is incredible. Life was pretty good before, but now it is great. But as any parent who has tried to combine training and learning the ropes of being a first time parent knows, it's tough. And if you have not been consistent enough with your training leading up to that, it is even harder.

That is where I was. My longest long run was 12 miles before she was born. And my other training had been inconsistent at best. When I came back and ran Bix 7 in July, I was realistic with my effort and ran what I would normally consider a disaster for me. But it was where my fitness was at the time. I actually felt proud of the race though. I ran the race that I had that day, and it was strangely motivating to be in tune with my body that way. Which is a departure from my usual go for broke for style. Which has cost me many a good marathon times.

Coming out of Bix, I got back on my training. It was about this time I began training for a triathlon (there's another post in itself). Each run got a little better. Overtraining became less of a concern, and my body felt less beat up. And my pace during each run got better.

To train for the triathlon, there just was not room to mash in a long run of any substance. There was no way hit the bike or pool hard if I was spending one or two weeks recovering from a 20-mile death march. So each run became a trial to see if I could marathon pace for at least a few miles. And then a week out of the triathlon, I took a shot at a longer marathon pace run. 8 miles later, and my confidence soared. I hit goal pace, my heart rate remained steady, and I finished my run with plenty in the tank. In the few weeks since, my endurance, and confidence, has just gotten stronger.

On that note, I made the decision to not force my long runs. I was ready to run 16 miles at a slower pace than I would like. By doing a harder, "shorter" run (8 miles at goal pace) 36 hours prior, the hypothesis was than my glycogen would be closer to "E" than usual. And that would feed the training effect of the relatively shorter long run.

My pacing strategy for the Des Moines Marathon, as of today, is to start slow - my first mile is almost always one full minute below goal pace - and just hold pace 30 seconds above goal pace through the early miles (the race profile is very hilly through the first 7 miles and flattens out from there). Work each mile down a few seconds per mile and floor it at the halfway point. The idea is run the first half around 8:30/mile, and the second half at 8:00/mile. Dramatically different races. But when you run 26.2, that is the way it works. I've run races where it felt like there were three, four or five courses within the course.

That means my longest run going into the marathon will be 16 miles. I'm an experienced marathoner. I've attempted every pacing strategy from even to negative splits, sticking with pace groups, and starting REALLY REALLY slow, and have been at many places on the continuum of fitness. And I think that I may be more prepared for the marathon now than I have been with 24 and 26 mile long runs.

For one, I am not as dog tired despite the fact I am logging the same amount of time training at high intensity. A typical week from May to June, and then July to now, has averaged from four, to five, to now six or even eight hours of training at high intensity. And my energy, which is normally very low around this point in my training, is higher than ever. And that is with two hours less sleep per night taking care of a newborn. And an ultra busy work schedule (whose isn't though).

So is a 20-mile long run necessary? Probably not. But we will find out. I think I am pretty fit. I think I can go out and run close to a PR (not even going to try to get down to 3:35 - which it would take to PR).

So this week, three runs all over 10 miles with "back-to-back" 12-milers Thursday night and early Saturday morning. I know it is really back -to-back, but Thursday will be around race pace (8:15-8:00) and Saturday will be as hard as I can get with 36 hours recovery.

And then - taper time.

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