Marathon training: how long for your longest run?

I'm about to embark on training for a marathon (my first for a number of years and after an extended period of very little running).

Trying to choose a training schedule.  Previously I've done schedules which build up week by week to a long run of about 20 miles then taper.  

I'm now looking at a schedule which is appealing other than the long run never goes above 16 miles - instead building up harder sessions the day before the long run in order to simulate the fatigue of a marathon.

Has anyone done followed a similar programme?  Would you recommend it?

As much as anything else I'm worried that psychologically I won't feel prepared without a 20 miler in the bank.



  • I'd say no. 16 miles is a long way off 26.

    If you want to have a decent crack at a marathon you want to be happy running 20+ miles - several times. Preferably 5 or 6.

    Topping out at 16 seems more suited to a Half marathon than a full one and will leave you in a world of pain for those last 10 miles.
  • tricialitttricialitt ✭✭✭

    I have done a marathon off max 16 miles (due to injury) it is do-able, but not pretty! It is probably OK if all you want to do is get round, but not going to give you the best shot at it. Better to go with decent mileage if you can without damaging yourself.

  • You'd run 20 miles 5 or 6 times?!  Over what timeframe?  That seems a lot!  I don't know what you mean by 'decent crack' Cougie but I'm just hoping to plod round in about 4:30, if that makes any difference.

    I should say that this "no more than 16 miles" idea is a schedule devised by a professional, not just something I've cooked up myself - it's what you get as the beginners marathon schedule as a download from Runkeeper.  There's a load of technical explanation about fueling and fatigue which sounds plausible, but I'm not totally convinced.


  • I'd be doing 20 miles every two weeks or so with shorter runs in between.

    That's pretty standard training If you want to do your best time.

    The idea of the 20 milers is that they are done on tired legs so as close as you'd get to a marathon run Without jeopardising the rest of the weeks runs.

    It depends what you want to do - scrape round and struggle on the day or do the hard stuff in training and race easy.

    I know which I prefer to do - but I'm sure you'd get round on a long run of 16 miles.
  • MadbeeMadbee ✭✭✭

    I have just run my first ever 20 miler... and there is no way I could have done another 6 on top.  I may have been able to walk/crawl the last six, but doing one 20 miler and then continuing to run in a marathon for another six miles sounds implausible to me at the moment! I am (obviously) no expert, but if I'd built up and got my body used to 16 miles at the most, the thought of doing another 10 during the race just sounds completely impossible.  If you want to run to 16 and walk/run the rest I'm sure you'd pootle round but would you be satisfied with that?  I'm pretty sure it would hurt!

  • MB - I'm guessing you've done the 20 as part of a normal week ? Don't forget the taper will have you starting on fresh legs and raring to go.

    (and the first 20miler is always the hardest !)
  • MadbeeMadbee ✭✭✭

    Thanks cougie, yes, you're right.  I still have plenty of time to do another 3 or 4 so I'm happy with how training's going - I just cannot see myself managing 26 at this stage in training, so can't imagine how anyone could be happy to go in after a longest run of 16...

  • McFloozeMcFlooze ✭✭✭

    I agree with Cougie.  I've only run one marathon so far but I did 1x18, 3 x20 and 1x22 miler.  Gave me loads of confidence I would be ok on the day and allowed me to put in a reasonable time (3.45).  The first time I ran 20 miles it was f'ing horrendous, the second still bad but a tiny bit easier, the third easier still and by the last it felt kind of ok.  Progressing like that means you can cope with the distance without it being a massive ordeal.  I know which approach I'd rather take!  

    I'm Half marathon training at the moment and ran 16 this morning - it's def a Half marathon trianing kind of distance!  

    There are far too many schedules out there, purporting to be written by "experts" that are of the "Get you round" ilk and have woefully inadequate mileage for the task in hand.  Yes, you will probably do it through sheer force of will but it won't be pleasant and you will probably end up injured.  If you're doing it, why not do it properly.  

    Would be a good idea to join a club if you can so you can run with other people.  I find really long runs quite hard to do alone.  I can do them but feel much nicer when you can run and chat!


  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    I go with the old rule about your longest 5 runs should total 100 miles.

    I had a couple of injuries in 2010 and only managed one 20 miler. Those last 5 miles felt like hell. Its always good psychologically to know that it's only 10k more in the race.
  • literatinliteratin ✭✭✭

    What I don't really understand is if this programme is claiming the 16 mile run after a hard run the day before simulates the fatigue of running further, how is that meant to be better than just doing a 20-mile run? Other than perhaps for people who have enough time for two medium-long runs on the weekend but not enough for a long run on the Sunday?

    (I'm old-fashioned so I went with the 5x 20+ method when I did a marathon)

  • I'd definitely want to hit 22ish miles and a few 18-20s. Nothing like the confidence it gives you. Plus I always enjoyed my long runs, especially laps of Richmond Park.
  • Just did a 16 miler today - what an effort that was so I can understand at this point in time why 16 miles may be considered enough, besides I have new 5+10k PBs so was in my best running form going into this one. I thought it would be no big deal as I raced Brighton in April so second time around I thought it was going through the motions but not really. Struggled early doors after yesterday's parkrun x2 - simulating going out on tired legs for this morning. It took me ages to crack 9 minute mile barrier, fortunately did some MGP for 5 miles just after half way before slowing back down again which felt tortuous. Definitely felt harder than my 20 milers earlier this year.

    I would do the five longest runs to total at least 100 miles with marathon goal pace thrown in somewhere in the second half. This gives you a good idea of a pace you can handle and get used to the gels or other race day nutrition and wear race day kit to ensure you know you are going to be comfortable with it. First half slow conversation pace and then get to work for the second half. MGP best tried on a lap of similar course profile to your marathon though without too much traffic and people to slow you down.

    Very much agree with Millsy and McFlooze, laps of Richmond Park...I get so bored but useful for a hilly one I suppose. Vary the route and go and explore your surrounding area. It is a good way to uncover new routes and determine which routes are once is enough.

    Good luck with the training and the race.

  • Tommy2DTommy2D ✭✭✭

    I remember listening to an interview with ultra runner Sage Canaday who was part of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project which involved the longest long run of 16 miles and he did a 2.15ish marathon off it. They do have a beginner version as well as the elite programme

    More info here...

  • Ah-ha - I think the chap who devised this schedule was a coach with Hanson Brooks so that makes sense.  

    To be honest, even if it is effective, I don't know if it'd work for me because it relies on being able to reliably schedule a significant run the day before your long run. If life gets in the way and you can't get the two runs in on consecutive days, it totally messes you up.  

    so back to the tried-and-tested approach I think. still surprised by the number of 20+ milers people do though.

  • I did my first VLM this year after 5 long runs - 18 - 18 - 20 -22 and 22.  After the first 18 it felt as if there was no way I could do another 8 miles but each time it got better and by the first 22 I realised that yes -I could do the full 26 with the benefit of taper and crowd support.  Part of it I am sure is psychological - knowing you have done 22 in training makes that extra 4 miles do-able on the day. 

    Can't see that having done only 16 I could say to myself on the day - only 10 to go!  

    Having said that I also think that running on tired legs is an important part of training - so maybe doing a long run after a medium long run would work too.

  • Eggyh73Eggyh73 ✭✭✭

    I agree with those saying 16 is nothing like far enough for your longest training run. I also agree that the more 20(+) mile runs you do the better. I've always ran my best marathons in terns of time and feeling strong towards the end of the race on 5 or more 20 to 22 mile runs.

    The worst I've ever blown up in a marathon was coming in on only two 20 mile training runs after an injury lay off. That experience almost put me off ever entering another marathon.

  • I think as someone who tends to work up to a marathon from low/no mileage over about 4 months, there simply isn't time to do more than 1 or 2 20 mile runs without overdoing it by ramping up too quickly. 

    But I'm still very surprised by the consensus on running so many 20 mile runs, I thought the prevailing view was that too many long runs was counterproductive (increased injury risk etc).

  • Eggyh73Eggyh73 ✭✭✭

    Long runs have never been a source of injury for me. In fact most injuries I've heard of people getting have been when doing speedwork, not on long slow training runs.

    If you start with no/low running base then four months is really inadequate for marathon training. I should know, I did that for my first marathon.

    You probably should have at least that time again getting up to a decent running base before commencing the training and then 16/18/20 mile runs are nowhere near as intimidating as you've already been running regularly and doing reasonably long distances (10-13 miles) before starting your marathon training.

    With a zero to marathon attempt in just four months I'd expect at best to get around, but I'd also expect you'll walk a good section towards the end. I blew up at mile 18 when I tried it all those years ago and pretty much walked the rest. You can get around, but it won't be pretty and the final stretch will hurt far more than it normally does.

  • McFloozeMcFlooze ✭✭✭

    What's the furthest you can run comfortably now?  When is your marathon?  

  • I've done zero to marathon in 4 months before and had no issues with the distance on race day - in fact I picked up the pace about by about 1min per mile over the last 10k.  Not saying that would work for everyone (or would even necessarily work for me again, it was a few years ago now).  I don't mean zero as in 'never laced a pair of trainers', just not having a mileage base in the immediate period prior to starting training.

  • McFlooze wrote (see)

    What's the furthest you can run comfortably now?  When is your marathon?  

    I'm currently 16 weeks out (aiming for Valencia) and am currently doing 3-4 runs of between 5k and 10k per week, variable pace (9mm to 11mm).  Just trying to avoid shin splints at the moment having gone up from doing very little at all about a month ago.

  • Eggyh73Eggyh73 ✭✭✭

    If you've had shin splits I guess you need to be very careful. Thankfully an issue I've never suffered from myself.

    I guess your own experience tells you what you can do, which is always going to vary from person to person. To me starting at a very low mileage base into marathon training is more of an injury risk than starting with a good base and doing more lengthy runs.

    If your plan worked for you the last time then there's little reason why it won't work again.

  • I don't think long runs are a major cause of injury. I think speed work is a higher risk.
  • Depends on the nature of the injury doesn't it?

    This article is from the same folk who advocate the 16-mile max long runs, seem to think long runs are an injury risk:

    Anyway I'm just trying not to rush headlong into running too far or too fast, doing as much as I can on soft ground etc.  Only had problems with shin splints once in the past when I very first started running and didn't have decent trainers, but better safe than sorry.

  • literatinliteratin ✭✭✭

    I suppose that makes more sense, as he is making a clear distinction between people planning to finish in over 3:45 and elite runners (though doesn't say much about anyone in between!). Also if you are building up from very little mileage it wouldn't make sense to start doing very long runs while they would still represent most of your weekly mileage. I imagine the people advocating 5 x 20+ are probably already running reasonably high mileage and/or are doing it faster.

  • Not sure why you use shin splints as an excuse if you only had then when you started running and didn't have the correct footwear,,..........

    I agree that more likely to get injury from sped work than from a built up long slow run.....

    but seems like you have decided what you are going to can do a marathon on no training at all.isn't fun or quick....

  • SlowkoalaSlowkoala ✭✭✭

    I did my first marathon this year having previously only run distances of up to 10 miles (and only been running for 2 years). I think the long run is probably the most important session of the week and looking back at my training log, I did two runs of 21-22 miles, four 20 mile runs and a couple of 18 mile runs. I finished in 3:29 and now have a GFA place for VLM for next year. When I start mara training again I'll try and do the same number of 20+ long runs. I agree re long slow runs not being risky re injuries. I only picked up an injury post marathon training when I started doing more speedy stuff.

    I know of some people who even do some runs of over 26 miles in training but I think this would wipe me out! I do think it's worth training over distance for HMs though.

  • Beginner, 50 this year, took up running October last year, immediately hooked, joined club, did a Marathon (Portsmouth coastal) with only 3 months training, max run 14 miles, max weekly total 25 miles, came in just under 4 hours....hated it! last hour was hell and although pleased/elated to finish, didn't really want to ever consider repeating the experience. 

    Not sure why but got caught up in all the hype about spring marathons and decided to enter another marathon in April this year (North Dorset village)...wanted to get some long training runs in, could completely see that there was good evidence that your cumulative 5 longest training runs should be at least 80 to 100 miles and that this distance strongly correlates (inversely!) with your marathon time, but like Bbug, lots of other commitments and once again only managed one long run of 16 miles...however the difference this time was that I did manage to get my weekly running distance up to 40 miles and managed to do this for several weeks without getting injuried...managed 3:21 and the race felt great....if anything I went off too slowly and found the last 10 K relatively easy. 

    In summary anyone can run a marathon with little training but its going to hurt and be very tough mentally. If u can put the miles in and get 4 or 5 proper long runs, then I'm sure that's the right thing to do but if u can't, then aim to slowly crank up the weekly mileage and that will certainly help. If u want to see what the elites do, have a look at Steve Way's blog...his weekly and daily mileage is frightening!!!

  • did you do any other sports creech,,,,,,,,,,as to start running at nearly 50 and virtually straight away be able to run sub 20 5k's and 71 min 10 milers is not the normal beginer runner.

    You have either being doing another sport at a high level or are very naturally talented......

    to do 3:21 of only one run of 16 miles is amazing at your age and if you could commit to train then it would be interesting to see what you could achieve,,

    But it is very unlikely that there would be many men out that could do what you have done.

    go on admit it.which sport were you doing previously that made you so fitimage

  • I would also compare the fact that you 17 min 5k now should indicate a much faster marathon time if you put some miles hubby hasn't broken 20 mins in a 5k but has a faster marathon time than you and is a bit older...... isn't it tempting for you to actually train and run a marathon properely image


Sign In or Register to comment.