Running over 20 miles in 1st marathon training

I'm on to 15miles so far for my long runs and have 4months to the race. Would it be advantageous to run over 20 miles (say even up to race distance) in preparation? No training schedules recommend over 20miles, in fact recommendations seem to be to run 20miles a few times rather than continuing to increase distance. Also I have been to a training course where it was mentioned not to run for over 3.5hours for LSRs so all things indicate to not go over 20miles ... but doing an additional 6miles for the first time on the day seems massive. I'm aiming for 4hr race time.



  • Hi Vicky

    its about learning to spend time on your feet, and getting used to fatigue, getting used to physcological thinking and mental grit and stamina building

    learning self control - as in an event, one can get over excited, and get going too quick, - or think ( i'm not thirsty yet ) all are big mistakes

    if things go wrong on route it can take an expereinced runner to survive - dont go thinking - ohh its VLM, the crowd will pull me through - tired ( yes they will ) deliarious - NO

    15 miles leaves a huge 11 - and regardless of where the race is, no one knows what will happen on the day ( or on route ) 20 is a good distance to have in the bag, ( say x4 )but that still leaves 6.2 -

    in between those long runs to keep your body and mind in shape, you need to do regular short runs, to keep you sharp and ( in the mood )

    preparation is also vital - up to a month before to find out those likes and dislikes

    correct footwear - correct ( if needed ) anti chaffer - correct fluids ( if any ) outside of water - correct foods nutrician -

    on the day and up to a week before its advised to stick to what you know

    a strong and relaxed mind can physically produce a lot

  • Most programs I have seen include several practice runs of 20-24 miles.  I have heard of one, featured in a RW article a six or more months ago, though that had 16 miles as its longest run.

  • I always go up to 24 miles at least  - it just helps me when I'm lagging.  I say to myself that I know I can do it as I did it a few weeks ago or if I get to the 24 and am still lagging I tell myself it's only 2 miles more than I did a few weeks ago and I know I can run 2 miles - it's just my own version of mind games image

  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    For my first marathon, I was also aiming sub 4. I did 3 20 milers and my last long run 3 weeks before was 23. I knew that if I could do 23 then it's only a 5 k til the end. It worked for me as I finished strongly and ended up with a 3.38.

    In my second marathon, due to injury, I only managed 2 20 milers with 20 being my longest run. In that race the last 5 miles were like hell.
  • Good to hear. For me pyschologically I'm sure having the extra few miles will be important. Thank you! 

  • Vicky, I deliberately trained for and ran a 50K before my first marathon and the psychological advantage of having already reached (and passed) 26 miles was huge on the day - horrible weather (greater Manchester) and I finished in 3.47 (aimed for under 3.45).

    You've got the time, so yes, why not build up to long runs of over 20 miles. But remember to keep the long runs SLOW. If, for example, you've reached 23 miles in LSR, then on the day, when you reach that point, you can think "it's only a parkrun from here, I can do a parkrun..." My experience was that the first time moving from 15 to 17 miles, those last two miles were hard... the next long run, 19 miles, miles 15-17 were okay but the last two miles were hard - etc.

    (There does come a point where trying to reach race distance in training doesn't work, but in my opinion that's not until you reach ultra territory - I did a 30-mile race as my longest run in training for my first 50-miler).

  • Some plans don't reach 20m, some plans do n x 20m, some plans go over 20. It's all opinion and schedules based on experience, sport science and witchcraft developed for the average person who is at a certain standard

    Do what is right for you. If you will recover quickly so you can continue on with the midweek training, and phychologically you will benefit from this, then do it. I would imagine the physiological benefits are minimal after you go past 20. I did a 24 last time, and also a 31, but the 31 was accidental!

    Are you running to a plan, or will you be starting one shortly. If it your 1st marathon, have a look for something to suit you. Its not just about increasing the runs. You need weeks where you cut back on the mileage to aid recovery
  • Hi Vicky,

    I ran my first marathon in October and it was around the 18-20 mile mark that the mental fatigue set in.

    Because I'd run up to 22 miles in training I kept telling myself "Keep running, you've already run further than this in training!" ... and by the time I got past the 22 mile point there was only 4 miles to go and I wasn't stopping then! image

  • I'd definitely not go up to race distance for a first marathon. Unless you have superhuman powers of recovery it will take too much out of you.

    Most plans say 20. Don't forget you are running the long run on tired legs after a week of training and taking it slower do it's probably quite close to your goal marathon time anyway. Running the full distance would probably tire you for a week or more - when you could be back training.
  • I've read around this a lot... and I see most plans peak at 20 miles.. with a few up to 22.

    I'm with cougie. Your full marathon will be done after  a full week or two's preparations (tapering off  and carb building).  Presumably, your idea of a 26 mile training run would not include this 2 week period.  This sounds like a potential injury to me... and even if not, it sounds like a likely bad experience.

    One thing you say...  6 miles on top of the first 20 is indeed (potentially) massive.  And you need to remember that that will deplete your legs, and entire system of all nutrient, and indeed deplete it of life!!  As a first-timer, you will not be able to run distances (without risk of injury) for two, probably 3 weeks afterwards.

    I think it is well accepted that you are far far better ot use those 3 weeks to get some other long slow runs in, along with your other normal weekly schedule.

    I've been through my first marathon experience this year.... and before it, there is so much uncertainty and concern... possibly lack of confidence.   I guess that's what you're fighting with now... searching around for info.  But IMO, you should be assured that  the reason why the vast majority of training plans (not just for first-timers) don't have you doing 24-26 mile training runs... is because that is what is best for you.

    There will be exceptions.... and you might be one of them... but I suggest you play the odds and don't go above 22 at the very most.

  • There's an important difference between running a marathon and running a 20+ mile training run. The training run is much slower, and might even include walking breaks. This means you recover from it much faster than you recover from actually running a marathon at race pace, particularly if you keep topping up your fuel during your training run - I like fig rolls and malt loaf for that, with Kendal mint cake for rapid energy (much cheaper than gels!). If you don't go too fast, and get your fueling right, you should be able to have a recovery day, then a nice easy run, and go straight back into your training (I've actually incorporated 26+ mile runs with a 10-mile run the next day, in ultra training, but not while also doing speedwork). Take an extra day or two to recover if you need to, after the long runs.

  • So many people seem to run their 20 milers at race pace and then wonder why they miss their targets. You really can't repeat this enough - slow the long runs down.

    (I'd still not advise a first timer to run much more than 20 in training though. )
  • I did my first marathon after only doing one 20 mile run, that was it. I didn't use any gels/fuel on the day (I didn't even know what gels were lol). I didn't run out of energy, I didn't hit the wall, I followed the Hal Higdon plan I was on to the letter, every run, and had confidence it would work. It did. You don't need to run 5x 20 miles, you don't need to run over 20 in training, you just need to be stubborn and pig headed! 

    Now I find running a reasonable distance, say 8 to 10 miles at either an easy or marathon pace the day before a long run the most beneficial, it's not the long run distance as any distance isn't that difficult on fresh legs at an easy pace, it's the running on tired legs that gives you the endurance training effect.

  • I hadn't been over 16 miles for my first marathon - in fact I hadn't run over 2 hours which I'd done twice so quite possibly they were more like 14-15 milers than 16 as I didn't have a gps back then.    Marathon went pretty well with a 3.20.20 (White Peak Mara).   Personally I think total cumulative mileage is more important than the length of your long run - one 26 mile training run wont make a significant improvement in your running but it will take a lot out of you and possibly leave you with an injury - my advice would be don't do it - that's from personal experience training for other marathons.  

    There is a place for long training runs - for  people who are doing lots of miles a week and have a solid background of long distance running.    If you really want to run 20 then do it but don't flog yourself to finish it if you feel really tired and if you feel any niggles at all coming stop.

  • I think the P&D program goes up to 24 for its longest run? Though am at work and cannot confirm at moment.

    Some of the ultra programs I have read include runs of near marathon length.
  • trying to find a link to P&D programs .... anyone have it?

  • lardarse - had you run more 20 milers - you may have done a faster time ?

    Impossible to say for sure anyway - and it just shows that there are so many different methods - and not one definitive plan. 


    Thats an excellent debut Pops - do you think your cycling helped ?

  • Being a 1st marathon runner( VLM 2013) I've enjoyed reading the advise posted in this thread. Could someone advise me when doing the LSR is it best to run for the distance you can run for then stop and gradually build it up that way or run the distance you can then walk some then try run some again and get the distance up but obviously slower? Hope you understand what I mean and would appreciate your advice.
  • I think its best to plan the breaks beforehand. When I do my 20 milers - I plan on running for 5 miles before having some jelly beans or something and walking for a minute, and then setting off.

    Running to exhaustion and then walking means you're running too far. 

  • Just to put the cat among the pigeons! I ran the full 26.2 in training before my first marathon and have done it every year since.

    Cougie - why would you want to plan your stops on a 20 miler or any training run? If you have to stop you are clearly running beyond your capability and shouldn't be doing that distance at that point in your training - surely?

    When I do it, it is just part of a normal weeks training but I do do it a long time before the race. For London this is usually early Feb.

    My "golden rule" is if you let it affect the rest of the weeks training then you shouldn't be doing it, but if you can just soak it up as part of the  normal training why not? On your first marathon how do you know what time to aim for. Doing this gives you a good idea and is a massive boost to the confidence.

    Disclaimer : Of course I am not recommending this to anyone and I don't know any schedule/expert who does recommend it.

  • OG - it's not a stop - more a fast walking break. Let's me get some food on board - in races I will use gels - but in training I use cheaper sweets. Which are fine but jar to eat and run at the same time.

    I believe the thinking is that it lets your heart rate drop slightly and the recovery from the long run is quicker. It seems to be anyway.

    It's working for me anyway - I've pb'd this year with that as part of my strategy.

    As to what time to go for in the marathon - use a half marathon as a guide. Double that plus 20 mins won't be massively out ?
  • OG - I see you peak in the 60s for mileage - I suspect thats why you can take a full marathon in your stride in training.
  • cougie - weirdly there has only ever been about 4 to 6 mins difference between my half and marathon times - not sure what that says but hence my forum name!!!

  • One Gear - Jeff Galloways beginner plan includes one 26 - so your thinking is in line with at least one published schedule! and the target based plans includes a 30 miler for those so inclined.  Galloway is keen on walk breaks on long runs, so with one gear (and I remember your gearing being high) you might want to miss those bits!

    Galloways reasoning for walk breaks is that it speeds recovery as Coughie was finding. I've not tried that before. More food for thought.

    I have 2 types of long run. The one where I go out and run slow for a long time hopefully training for more efficient fat burning, and a long run that gets progressively faster, incorporating some marthon pace work. I never do the later type of run over 20 miles (too knackering and longer recovery). But the slow run, I will happily go out for longer than my estimated race time. For the slow run, I eat nothing, for the faster run its more a simulation of racing for short periods, and may have a gel or two


  • Also-ran -  you mention marathon pace in training and a lot of people seem to do this. But is this your marathon race pace? There is no way I could say include 10 miles at marathon pace (6:45 m/m) in a twenty miler if that is the case. I usually do one track session a week - which is much faster than marathon pace - but other than that the only time I run at marathon pace is on the day. However, I am looking for something different in my training this year so am intersted to know.

    As an example this year my 26.2 training run came in at 03:13:xx and that delivered a 02:57:xx on the day but not a mile of that training run was at "marathon pace". To me that 26.2 in training is my "rite of passage" - if I run it all the way I have earnt "the rite" to do the race.

    Intersting how we all end up in pretty much the same place but from many different directions!

  • OG, I picked this up from Pfitzinger & Douglas. E.g week 2 of their 55m-70m plan has an 18 mile run with 10 @ mp. I will run this close to my last marathon - around 6:50 min / m. If it proves too hard because of loss of endurance, I will at least attempt to keep my heart rate at the right intensity. I won't decide on my planned marathon pace until early in the year.

    Mcmillan also as some ideas on running the 'fast finish' long run a handful of times.
  • cougie wrote (see)

    lardarse - had you run more 20 milers - you may have done a faster time ?

    Impossible to say for sure anyway - and it just shows that there are so many different methods - and not one definitive plan. 


    Thats an excellent debut Pops - do you think your cycling helped ?

    Yes i totally agree I may have, but it was my first one and was following Hals beginner schedule that only had one long run of 20 miles, so that's what I did just saying it's fine, to get around you don't need to to train as much as people think, I did 4:17 for my first marathon at 30 BMI, had I been 3.5 st lighter I think that would've made me far quicker than 4 more 20 milers!

    Surrey Runner wrote (see)
    I think the P&D program goes up to 24 for its longest run? Though am at work and cannot confirm at moment.
    Some of the ultra programs I have read include runs of near marathon length.

    For my last ultra the longest training run I did was 38 miles.

  • Interesting reading back furthest I have ran in training is 23 miles this also had 6 miles at -10 seconds sub marathon pace. Up until two years ago I never included any MP into my long runs but found that it really helped. If you are up to 15 miles now, why not also include a midweek medium to long run to a max of 13/15 miles. The more 20+ mile runs you can fit in the better but don't do MP in them all or you can wipe the rest of your weeks traing out but every other week would be ok. But to be honest I don't see any need to go past 23 miles.
  • Running my fourth marathon (VLM) on 21 April .... however due to injuries, weather etc. training hasn't been going too well, probably about 3 weeks behind my schedule. I've done one 20 miler (Ashby 20) two weeks ago, still got niggly injuries but able to run, however don't think I'll be able to fit in another 20 miler.


    Do you think one 20 miler is enough? and also being two weeks ago is it too far away from marathon (five weeks). I usually aim for at least 2x 20 miles. thanks


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  • I've only managed 19 miles as my max 2 weeks ago. Slight knee niggle made me cut my planned 21 last week to 14. Not been running since sat, but lots of cycling. What do people recommend for last 3 weeks of training, should I attempt a 21 mile LSR this weekend or focus on shorter distances?
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