Your Body & The Cost of Running Longer than 2.5 Hours (Excerpt from Marathon Nation)
Inside Marathon Nation we don’t advocate long runs over 2.5 hours, although you can do runs up to about 3 hours if you are fit and able to dedicate time to recovery. We can do this since we incorporate a good amount of intensity in our training plans, even the long runs. This increased effort offsets the need to go longer at an easier pace, as we are earning the same training stress.
The longer you run over the 2.5 hour mark, the risk of getting injured and/or over-trained is significantly increased. Yet you aren’t gaining any additional fitness that couldn’t be achieved in shorter runs with better technique. In other words the costs of running longer significantly outweigh any potential benefits.
Aside from the increased risks, it’s important to note that once you have hit the two hour mark on a long run, your body is pretty much functioning a total marathon capacity. You are fueling up as your glycogen stores are dwindling and you are hydrating to offset water loss. Nothing else magical happens to you after your body has reached this point other than needing the mental strength to continue on to the finish line.
The Long Run and Race Day
One of the most convincing arguments about not splitting will come from anyone who followed a conservative running plan and then had a bad race experience. Somewhere around mile 16 to 20, things got really bad…must have been the lack of a long run, right? Wrong!
Most of the time poor race experiences are a function of poor race execution. This includes everything from poor pacing at the start to poor overall pace selection, from insufficient food to the fact that running 26.2 miles is hard. Really hard.
Don’t be deceived by these individual tales of doom. A solid program will get you fit and knowing how to execute makes a huge difference.
Holistic Training & Bigger Picture Goals
The most important thing to consider during your internal debate about splitting boils down to this: Can you accept that your marathon fitness — not your training — is the sum of countless hours of individual sessions compiled over weeks of working out. That speed work, hill work, skill work and yes, long runs, all combine to make you fitter and stronger during the training cycle.
If you can agree to this simple truth, then it follows that adjusting just 2-3 runs out of 100+ workouts will not undermine your ability to run to your potential. It will take some schedule juggling and focus during the training, but it will help insure that you meet your biggest goal: arriving at the starting line healthy and ready to go.
Benefits of Splitting Your Long Run
There are three primary benefits of splitting your long run; physical stress, mental stress and time requirements.
Physical Stress – Your long runs places a lot of repetitive stresses on your muscles and joints. The relentless pounding of mile after mile of running places a lot of demands on your body. Those demands are a two sided sword. On one hand, that stress is necessary if you are going to improve your endurance and strength. On the other hand, very long training runs place you more at risk of overuse injuries, over reaching and over training. Splitting your long run will help alleviate some of those stresses.
Mental Stress – Running very long distances can have two opposing affects on your mind. Some runners react very positively to very long distance runs. They take advantage of the time and physical effort involved to practice meditative skills and to become a more holistic runner. Other runners may react more negatively to the mental challenge of a very long run. Breaking the long efforts into separate runs can make long distance training psychologically easier.
Time Requirements – Typical marathon training long runs can range from 2 hours to well over 5 hours. Ultra distance long runs are usually even longer. If you have time challenges it can be difficult to find 3 or more consecutive hours to complete a long run. Splitting your long run into two shorter runs may be easier to schedule.