I am running my first marathon in September. I am not sure whether I should run the full 42.2 km as a long run in training before the real thing and if so how many times? What do you advise?
You don't have to go the entire marathon distance to complete a long run--in fact, as a beginning marathoner, it's not recommended. Once you reach 16 miles, you're in long-run territory - That's the point where the psychological and physiological changes kick in. But beyond 20-22 miles, you'll be running into dangerous territory with no appreciable training benefits, but more risk of injury or overtraining your muscles.
Since you're a first-time marathoner, you should probably only do one long run of up to 20-22 miles. Nearly every beginning training program gradually builds runners up to that distance, rests them for two to four weeks, and sends them off to the starting line--and it works. Most runners who faithfully follow their marathon training programs jump from a 20-22 mile training run to the 26.2-mile distance fairly easily. The excitement of the marathon, coupled with several weeks rest before the big event, helps them bridge the gap. First-timers are often surprised to discover that running the marathon is easier than training for it.
Your time goal for the long run should approximate the length of time you expect to run the marathon itself, at a a slower pace, and without worrying about distance or speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is 3 hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to 3 hours. The exception: If you're a first-timer with a goal of 4 hours or slower, you shouldn't do a long run of that length. It's too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least 3 hours, but no more than 3:30.
- Erin Kandel
Erin is a member of the MarathonGuide.com staff, writing articles, answering questions and generally helping to maintain this website.