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The marathon myth

February 23, 2011

I’ve been thinking about marathon training a lot recently. Partly because I’m in training for the Virgin London Marathon, but also partly because of a little project I’m working on. (More information on that to come in the next couple of months. Cryptic, huh?)

The other day I was talking to a colleague about marathon training, a day after stretching my Sunday long run up to 24 miles. ‘But of course,’ she said, ‘you don’t run the full marathon distance in training.’

And no, generally people don’t run 26.2 miles until race day. You hear all sorts of advice bandied around – don’t go more than 22 miles, never run for more than three hours in training, etc. Listen to all the received wisdom of these ‘thou shalt not’ testaments and you’d assume marathon runners are like Gremlins fed after dark.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has decided to go from a sedentary lifestyle to running a marathon (as tends to happen, particularly at big events like London) would be well advised to hold off running the full distance until race day to avoid injury. But surely experience counts for something in marathon training?

Say you’ve been running regularly for years on end. Maybe you’ve run a marathon before. Maybe not. Perhaps you’ve run several half-marathons. Perhaps you’ve completed more 10km races than most people have had runs. Either way, if you’re fit, you know what your body is capable of, and you’re interested in completing the marathon in a specific time, surely there’s a big psychological and physiological advantage to going up to – and beyond – marathon distance in preparation for race day?

Professional, world-class marathon runners will often go beyond race distance. While they may measure their long runs in time rather than distance, the prospect of someone managing a 2:06 marathon and then covering less than 26.2 miles in a three-hour easy run seems somewhat absurd.

Last year I ran beyond marathon distance in training for the Paris Marathon. This year I had planned on taking a different approach. However, having had four 22-mile long runs before the recent 24-mile long run (all a good month and a half before race day), I’m feeling the benefits of going long. If I want to push the pace on race day, I feel like I have to make race day psychologically and physiologically easier by having done far harder things in training. Personally, I’d say that marathon running is very much about getting out what you put in.

Does this tally with your experience? Any other nuggets of wisdom that are taken as universal truths, but are more relevant to new-comers than those more experienced?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 27, 2011 12:19 pm

    I’ve never attempted a full marathon but a few weeks prior to a half marathon, I will always run the full distance or slightly further. I find it gives me added confidence come race day and also allows me to gauge my run – can I go faster, am I dehydrated, etc.

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