Would you run 20 miles more than once if it's your 1st marathon?

My situation is this:  I have shin splints but am managing them via my sports physio.  Some weeks they are very sore, but whilst I manage them, I can cope with my marathon training very well.

It's 7 weeks until the London Marathon.

Last week I ran 19 miles and I was planning on running the following LSR's:

20 miles, 13 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles, 12 miles, 8 miles, 2 miles.

I emailed Hal Higdon and he says I should do the following instead:

12 miles, 13 miles, 20 miles, 16 miles, 12 miles, 8 miles, 2 miles.

I know Hal has ran 111 marathons, so he knows what he's talking about.  I'm very interested to hear what others say.  Lots of other first marathon runners are running 20 miles several times and I know others who are running their second are saying the mistake they made in their race, was only running a 20 miler once.

If I run 20 miles even twice, will there be any physilogical benefits?  

I'm really keen to hear what you guys think?



  • If you're managing shin splints I guess you're aiming to get round as best you can rather than break records, so I'd go with Hal.  Yes, in an ideal world you'd have several 20+ milers under your belt before race day, but the main thing is to get yourself to race day in the best possible shape.  If those 3 20 mile runs you plan for the next 4 weeks are going to leave you sore on race day, then they're doing more harm than good.

  • +1 with CD there.
  • When I first started marathon running I don't think I did enough LSR's  so the last few miles   were always   a bit of a struggle.   Now that I train for longer ultras I find  marathon distance  much easier.

     So in my opinion the more 20 milers you can manage the better you will perform, just as long as they are not too close to race day.  You have to be very careful not too overdo it  especially during the last month.

  • I think if you've been given bespoke advice by an experienced coach you should probably follow it. I'm sure we'd all rather do as many 20 milers as possible, but if HH thinks that is how many are possible, I suspect he is right.

  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    If you are managing an injury and its your first marathon then I`d take the advice of Hal Higdon and the others and stick to 20. You may not set the world alight but it should give you the best compromise of getting you fit enough to run without aggrivating the injury too much.

    Once you have got this race out the way and the injury sorted you can then look at progressing on for your next event.
  • Agreed. 3 is too much. 20 would be be great if you could but one will be fine.

  • The general advice is that you won't get any physical benefit for running more than 2h40m. Current thinking is that 20miles is a hangover from the eighties when most marathoners were firmly around the 3hour time bracket.

    You may get psychological benefit. Eg know how to mentally push on when you're tired and how much it 'should' hurt.

    Your main issue is you are going to seriously injure yourself running that mileage, for 3:30+ at the pace you run at.

    If I had shin splints then there is no way I would be trying to run a marathon. I'd be looking at deferring to next year.
  • Thank you everyone.  I am going to air on the edge of caution and follow what Hal Higdon says.  It definitely seems the general consensus is that less is more.   Keeping injury free is my main priority, otherwise what's the point.

    Tim, thanks for your feedback, I definitely considered referring as I never thought I could train with shin splints.  My physio is running his 13th marathon and with his help, I am in a good place.   My training programme is adapted each week according to my injury and I have lowered my expectations.   Yes it's a bugger but I managing it the best I can, plus I ran 19 miles pain free last week.  I suppose it makes running over that finish line, even more special. Thanks again...good luck with your marathon this time....I hope you get the time you deserve!


  •  Pipska ,as it's your first marathon and you suffer from shin-splints I'd go easy on the long runs.

      I followed Hal's  plan for my first  50 or so marathons but by marathon 75  i seemed to be slowing down so I devised my own  plans from then on and managed to PB my  100th marathon.  

    Good luck for your marathon.


  • You have been managing injury and it is your first marathon. Two things there a) you do not want to make your injury any worse b) you want to start your marathon and get round.

    Two basic purposes of your 20 mile runs is 1) time on your feet and the associated psychology (confidence-still 6 more miles to go) 2) your body learning to utilise energy reserves efficiently. 

    Your own plan would be fine without the injury but you need to be realistic. I think Hal is leaving you too much to do on the day ( but humbly admit I may be wrong!). His solitary 20 mile is 5 weeks out from the race! I think that will count for nothing on race day. If you feel you are managing injury well  I would suggest

    12 miles 16 miles 14miles 20 miles 12 miles 20 miles 8 miles Race day

    Remember these runs should be slow. You can wear long compression socks and leave your watch at home. Each week the longer mile run is followed by shorter. You get 20 miles 4 weeks before the race and 20 miles 2 weeks before the race. This will boost confidence on the day and may just help your body to use fat reserves. 

    If you injury is not coping I would suggest keeping your solitary 20 miler to 2 weeks before the race ( essential that your body will remember what it feels like) and then just do what you can mileage wise for the next 14 days with rest being paramount.

    Whatever you do best of luck.

  • Can I raise my head above the parapit and ask a question -

    I have run 7 marathons in the distant past, the last being in 1998 when I crashed out to a poor time - But in the past I was a diiferent runner and did loads of 20 miles runs as part of my training which were generally done beween 2:05 and 2:10 - BUT 16 years on, my only goal is to get round (am just doing the Halstead Marathon to raise money fore a charity) I've done a 20 and (last Sunday a 21) the 21 took me 3:38 - do I actually need to be out that long given what I want to achieve?

  • Pip - I think we're both runnign similar speeds (10mm?) - so I think some of the advice that is bandied about is not really aimed at us but more at the faster runners.

    For me, I think anything over 17 seems to have the same training effect. And you've already done a 19. So as you have anpother 20 planned in using Hal's schedule, I'd stick with that personally. The key thing for you here is to arrive at the start line ready to go. While it's frustrating to have to sacrifice the sub4h30 goal, it'd be even more frustrating not to be able to finish?

    Hope it all goes well - you sound very determined and focused and those are qualities you need in spades on the day!

  • You had better trust Hal Higdon's advice Pipski since you are in Runner's World magazine telling everyone that it is fabulous.

  • Runners world magazine?  You sure, I had no idea?  I will check it out.  I've just got back from the gym, where a guy who has ran his 5th 20 miler is now injured....I think that's a small signal to me..!

    Gladrags, thanks for your advice...I'm going with the majority....

  • Oh yeah Pipski. You better get out there and buy a copy. You're in print now.

  • Grendel, you've been running long enough - if you genuinely just want to get round you could probably sit on your arse for the next six weeks and manage it.

  • 2Old2Old ✭✭✭

    Pipski- if you have shin splints you wont want to make them worse by running more 20s but if you recover try to get another at or somewhere near 20 done as slow as you like. My daughter did Paris last year having only one 20 mile LR in the bank and she hit the wall big time. I think the last 3 miles took her an hour! I did 5, 20s for my first marathon luckily recovered from the knee injury I suffered and came in under 3.30. Most important is to fix  the shin splints. Good luck

  • I think if you can get the miles in without injury then i would do them.....but not if it will put you back on the injury bench


    I struggled in my first few marathons near the end.but like someone else.after doing ultras off road for a couple of years I went back to a marathon and found it much easier and was running much faster....


  • Thanks Cheerful Dave, I won't,  but I am finding being out on a sunday morning for so long pretty depressing - especially as due to other commitments - I start at 5:30 on a sunday morning

  • Thanks guys.  I'm going to play it by ear.  My physio has advised to be careful on my long runs.  If my shins are pain free on the weekend I will try a very slow long run and see how far I get.  If I manage two 20 milers injury free then great, but my priority is to ensure my shins are good for the big race.  I've been managing these shin splints since January and I now know when to run and when not to.  Last Friday I attempted a 5 miler but turned back after 30 seconds as I knew they were too sore.  3 days later I ran 19 miles pain free.  Thanks for the advice, it's been an interesting debate!

  • Grendel, If you're not enjoying it then don't do it.  I wasn't entirely serious about doing nothing, but you could just do shorter runs and still get round.  You know it'll take a bit longer on the day but is that really a problem, weighed against those dark early morning starts?

    Why not limit yourself to 2 to 2:30 at most, however many miles that happens to be?

  • CD I suppose I need the confidence that I always found 20 milers gave me and whilst I have no real aspirations timewise I want to get round as comfortably as possible - After running 21 Sunday - cold I have done 26 miles yeah I could have done (and secretly I would like to get round within 2 hours of my best ever time (set 25 years ago this April)

  • ShazmoShazmo ✭✭✭

    Just a thought Pip - in addition to what you've been advised, have you tried calf guards -the super tight compression legging thingies? I had a shin issue a while a go and if I feel it coming it back I wear them when training and resting. They seem to hold everything nicely in place.

    Good luck with the rest of your training.

  • Agree with shazmo .. You know all about my compression socks pipski!!!
  • And if compression socks don't work you can try clicking your heals three times and saying "there's no place like the start line" Won't work any better but at least you won't be £40 worse off.

  • Philomena wrote (see)

    And if compression socks don't work you can try clicking your heals three times and saying "there's no place like the start line" Won't work any better but at least you won't be £40 worse off.

    You old cynic, you image

  • pip have you tried running on fields or country trails? may just help with the shin splints, it worked for me years ago when I struggled with them.

  • Thanks everyone.  I haven't tried compression socks but I may give them a go.  Taping seems to do the trick for now.    Yes I have tried running on fields, but I always feel more likely to injury myself due to it being on non even ground.  I'm pretty clumsy, so it doesn't take much for me to twist my ankle!  In fact, I slipped over this morning taking my son to school, so icing my shins now...see I'm a clux!

  • CD- I like the idea that for an experienced marathon runner, there isn't much point in doing loads of runs longer than 2:30- 3hrs. I'm slow ( 4:15-20), but have done a number of marathons where I do a lot of 11miles back -to back days ( running commute 11 miles home form work, then back the next day), and only a handful of runs over 3hrs, with very few 20milers. I've also done a couple of short ultras, I don't find it a big problem. The 5x20 milers are aimed at the faster end of the market, I'm sure!

    It is definitely useful to get to 20 miles before your first marathon, once or twice if you can, as it feels vaguely familiar on race day, but knackering your self will not help.

    Good luck.

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