After posting “The 20 Mile Run, all hype or necessary?” I received a lot of questions about how to break up the 20 mile training run, how to fuel for that run and whether back-to-back days were as effective as two-a-days. Since I have access to some pretty awesome experts, I thought I would tap into the knowledge of Lorraine Moller and Nobuya “Nobby” Hashizume of the Lydiard Foundation, my instructors for the coaching certification I attended. In addition to being accomplished athletes and coaches, they are the founders of the Lydiard Foundation and were both students of the late Arthur Lydiard. Most of today’s great coaches use Lydiard’s philosophies. You can get a nice summary of what Lydiard’s training is all about in this Running Times article by Lorraine.
LORRAINE: How to do the Long Run has been a key question for many marathon runners and one that Lydiard training addresses effectively.
Every workout invokes an adaptation. When a runner does the workout they need to know what development they are asking their body to make in response. Becoming efficient at metabolizing free fatty acids (slow burning fuel) so you don’t hit the wall, stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis, developing greater capillarization, and thus better blood supply to the working muscles, and the strengthening of the musculoskeletal system are all reasons for doing long runs.
NOBBY: Everybody wants a formula and I’m one of those people who don’t like a formula. But I guess to say “no longer than 3 hours” is a kind of a formula too… Jack Daniels said it very convincingly, that if it takes a slower runner to run 20-miles in 3 hours as opposed to 2 hours for a faster runner, then the slower runner would most likely take 50% more STEPS. His quote: “It is the number of steps that wears you down…”
POR: So, we aren’t really talking about speed here so much as considering the number of steps, or the wear and tear on the body?
NOBBY: I believe people can train for a marathon even if they can barely reach 15-miles within 3 hours. Of course, it gets to the point where, if someone can barely run 11 miles in 3 hours, well, then he/she might want to rethink the idea of trying a marathon.
LORRAINE: The long run like any other workout can be constructive or destructive depending on how and when it is done. There is an optimal distance for each runner depending on fitness level. If the run is too long or too fast for the capability of the runner it will cause tissue depletion and breakdown and can have longtime ill-health effects if done repeatedly, not to mention will detract from any performance.
POR: How would you recommend adapting a training plan to get the best training effect? Building endurance is key, so we wouldn’t want to go overboard on dividing runs.
NOBBY: Right. You wouldn’t want to divide a 3-hour run into 2 days. Naturally, a back-to-back 1:30 run is not ideal. As you can see in the Running Wizard plan, we would recommend a 2:30 hour run, however many miles it may be, the day after the 1:30 Out and Back run, however many miles it may be. For someone who might run 10-minute-mile pace, that would be 3:20 for 20-miler. In that case, do a 1:30 Out and Back run (say, 10-mile) followed by 2:30 (15-mile the following day); that’s more effective than, say, 8 and 12 (total 20).
POR: That’s a great way to safely build endurance. If they trained that way, they reduce the chance on injury, but does that help them get used to running in a glycogen depleted state? Is there a fueling strategy that you’d recommend for when a runner splits the runs in that way so they get a feel for the glycogen depleted state they will experience at the end of their race?
NOBBY: Remember, physiological effects occur in duration, not distance. In other words, our body wouldn’t know if it’s running 12-miles in 2 hours or 20-miles in 2 hours. Some physiological developments, such as capillary beds development or mitochondria development, depend on duration of the exercise, not intensity. As long as you continue exercising 2 hours, or 3 hours or whatever, you will gain the physiological benefits. On the flip side of it, some people (many young people today) try to go out and do less mileage faster, so they go out and blast through an hour a day… they’ll never get these physiological changes.
Now that said, glycogen depletion is slightly different. As you know, the body starts to use fat first and then, as the intensity goes up, starts to use glycogen more and more. In other words, if you walk casually for 2 hours, you may never even tap into glycogen. Here’s another tricky situation. Many (I’d say most) recreational runners doing a marathon today–particularly those who are doing run/walk–would most likely NEVER reach this level of glycogen depletion. So they continue burning fat and, worse yet, especially those who continue to take energy gel DURING the run would never even tap into their stored glycogen!! With the combination that we have in Running Wizard, you’ll do faster a O&B run the day before long jog. This way, you’ll more likely use up glycogen on the first day and then you’ll go on for an easy long jog more or less on empty–that’s what we want.
As you know, fat takes more oxygen to burn, and sugar (glycogen) is a quick energy source. So it’s easier if we can feed our body with it (and that’s why we do that during the race) but, if we do that during the training run, we’ll never teach our body to use fat, or even stored glycogen, effectively. That’s more of an ultra situation–and those who run 5, 6, 7 hour marathons would get into that range. Their issue should more be hydration and fueling DURING the race, not during the training (except for exercising taking it).
LORRAINE: Here are a few pointers for healthy long runs:
- Run by time not distance. Up to 3 hours is plenty to get the developments that you need. If you can’t comfortably run long then a marathon goal might be too ambitious for you at this time.
- Make your long runs at least 2 hours if you are marathon training because somewhere in the 2 -3 hour bracket is where the compensations kick in that you are looking for from the workout.
- Smell the roses. Make it enjoyable and don’t measure your pace, because while you develop endurance, speed is not the point and can wreck your workout and you. This is one workout to leave the Garmin at home!
- Do not replace carbs on the way if you want to teach your body to burn fat.
- Do not do too many long runs prior to the race. Rather go into your race rested. The secret is to learn to peak so that your race is way more then the sum of your training sessions.
POR: Thank you, Nobby and Lorraine! This has been very insightful and helpful!
You can get more information on the Lydiard Foundation here. Their next coaching certification course is November 3 in Boulder.
*Just to clarify: I believe you can do anything you set your mind to, no matter your current pace or experience level. I would never tell anyone they are not capable of greatness! These articles are not meant to discourage anyone. The goal is to get to race day safely and in top form. You can’t do that if you spend the majority of your training time beating up your body! Train smart and you will experience performance gains and you will probably find that you also enjoy the training much more too! Love to you all! Train smart and have fun!