The Nitty Gritties–The Long Run

This is another post in my marathon training series…hope it’s useful!

One of the key parts of marathon training is the long run. It’s pretty much what differentiates marathon training from other more conventional races, like half marathons and 10ks (I say more conventional races as there are some crazy races like ultras and obstacle races as a whole different ball game when it comes to training of which I have next to no experience with).

**Again, I will stress that all the below is my own opinion. I have no qualifications in this area, just my own experience and what works well for me.**

The Distance

With half marathons you don’t really need to go above 12 miles during training, some plans don’t even go above 10. If you’re quite experienced you might go over the distance, say 14 miles, but higher than that isn’t really necessary. But for marathons you’re looking at 16 miles becoming a medium run and potentially 24 miles as your longest. Personally I’m happy if I can hit 18 miles three times. I might venture up to 20 or above if I’ve got a race I can use but I wouldn’t ordinarily just go out on my own for 20 miles.

It’s really your personal preference. If your new to marathons and you’re scared you won’t make it, then doing a 20 miler might help squash some doubts and give you confidence. If, like me, you’re a bit injury-prone, then doing many 18 miles and above long runs might be tempting fate a bit too much. I would always recommend doing your last and longest run three weeks before your marathon – just before you taper. That way you give your body three weeks to recover from that run and become nice and fresh for the race.

In those three weeks you’re not dropping the ball though and doing nothing. Your mileage should decrease but the intensity should remain fairly similar. For example, if you always do an interval session on a Tuesday night, just because you’re tapering doesn’t mean you can’t still do it. During tapering your runs shouldn’t all be easy plods of minimal distance. For me I find doing a long run of 14-16 miles two weeks out and then 10-12 the week before the race works nicely. It keeps my body ticking over but not exhausting it. My other runs during the week stay the same.

Obviously when you begin marathon training you don’t suddenly bash out an 18 miler though, it’ll take a fair few weeks. And you may find you run 14 miles and wonder how the hell you could possibly run further. But you will, you’re body adapts as you increase the mileage slowly. Next week you might do 15 and it feels similar, but you’ve just run one more mile than last week.


I still get nervous the night before a long run. It’s silly because it’s just running. But there is something quite nerve racking about running a long way, especially if you’re venturing into a distance you’ve never run before. A way to help reduce those nerves is to plan well. Get your route sorted, organise what clothes you’re going to wear (what’s the weather going to be like?), make sure you’ve had enough to eat and enough sleep the night before, sort your fuel out (are you taking gels? Are you having breakfast?) and hydrate well the day before. To calm myself I tend to run the route in my head. For some reason it helps chill me out.

The Route

I will always plan my route for a long run. I hate going out and not knowing where I’m going or only having a vague sense of the mileage. I like to set off on a predefined route and shut my mind off from it, let my legs do the running and just relax into it.

I tend to use RunKeeper to plan out a route. There are lots of other sites and apps you can use (MapMyRun for example) but I like RunKeeper.


I click ‘Create your own’ and just plan it out from there.


You can follow the roads easily by clicking on them and it’ll tot up the distance for you as you go. The advantage of MapMyRun is that you can have a look at the elevation whereas RunKeeper doesn’t. But for most of my long runs I run them around the same area so I’m familiar with the hills.


I’m very lucky in that I love running on my own. I have no issues with running all my long runs solo. The advantage for that is at the end of the day I will be running my own marathon. I won’t have someone to chat to or help battle through the miles with on the big day. I’ll be running with other people in the race but that’s different. I also have full control over the pace I want to run, where I want to go and what time I leave.

I do of course enjoy running with other people but for most of my long runs I like to be in control. If I stop it’s because I need to stop, not because someone else does. It’s highly selfish I know but at the end of the day I run marathons for me and no one else and being so injury-prone (and a self-confessed paranoid runner) it helps me relax a lot more to know it’s only me I’m letting down if for some reason I can’t carry on the run or that the pace isn’t right.

That said, so many people in my club run on a Sunday together for their long runs and love it. And the long runs I’ve been on with other people have been a lot of fun with good banter and the miles fly by. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with running with others if you find it helps you. But for me personally when I have a marathon I really want to do I know I need to be sensible and keep my head in my own game. I also need to ride that pain train on my own, because on marathon day I’ll be on my own and I need to know I can cope.

This is different though when I decide to run a race as part of a long run. Not necessarily to race it but to help break the monotony of solo long runs and to also have a nice catered long run (aid stations and cheering are always welcome!). And you get a medal… Last year I ran 12 miles and then finished it with a local 10k race, I also ran 5 miles to a half marathon. It does require a fair bit of time management to get it right though!

The Pace

It’s advised that the pace you should run your long runs should be a minute to a minute and a half slower than your goal marathon pace. This is to avoid knackering your body out, especially if that pace is quite a tricky pace to maintain. As you continue training that pace will become easier, but initially you need to slow it down. It’s about time on your feet, not how quickly you can do it.

I struggle a little with this (and when I say a little I mean I kind of don’t follow it at all). I think this is mainly because my marathon pace is generally a pace I can readily achieve in normal life anyway. When I’m running regularly my marathon pace tends to be an easy pace for me (it’s anywhere from 7.45min/miles to 8.30min/miles depending on what shape I’m in). On long runs I don’t look at my watch that often and just run how I feel. Perhaps I should force myself to slow down but so far it’s worked fine. For getting my PB last year at Liverpool I ran most of my long runs around 8 min/miles and then ran the marathon around 7.45min/miles. The marathon itself was comfortable for 80%, where the last 20% was tough but doable.

I would hate to run all my long runs at 9min/miles and then suddenly expect my body to hit 8min/miles on the day. But that’s just ME. I don’t run a huge amount of miles during the week (30ish) and I don’t do a whole lot of speed work. It just works for me. You need to work out what works for you. If you find you’re absolutely broken and exhausted for the following week after a long run then perhaps you do need to slow it down. But if you feel comfortable fatigued (that lovely post-long run haziness that doesn’t hugely impact your day-to-day) then you’re fine.

The Nutrition

Like I said in a previous post, it’s not rocket science but you do need to think about it. I became a little reckless and carefree last year the night before a trail marathon and had an Indian curry that I’ve never had before. I’ve had Indian food before long runs quite a lot but this was a spicy curry I wasn’t familiar with and I thought I would be absolutely fine. “Stomach of steel” I laughed as I chowed down my second portion.

During the marathon I had to stop twice for an upset tummy. It wasn’t pleasant and I learnt my lesson in a big way. Always respect the marathon. Marathon training is hard work and you do have to sacrifice things (going out for dinner or a late night at pub before an 18 miler isn’t always a great idea). Don’t suddenly try something different the night before a long run. Obviously you do need to test different things out but don’t be silly about it. If you know pizza works nicely, eat pizza. I generally have an Indian takeaway most Saturday nights before a long run. I adore Indian food and I love getting a takeaway as I cook all week. It’s a nice treat I budget in for and fits my lifestyle (sad, lonely woman – joke!). But I know exactly what to have from my Indian – mainly chicken, no thick sauces, poppadums and salad. Nothing crazy but I love it and I run well on it.

And you need to work out if you need to take fuel with you on the run – whether that’s gels, sweets or ‘real’ food like dried fruit or cereal bars (questionably ‘real’ food). I don’t take anything with me but I generally have three gels during a marathon (that way I get the maximum boost on race day as my body has trained without them). I already know what gels work with my system so I don’t need to test them out on a long run, but if you’re unsure you should always try before the big day. Some people’s stomachs can’t handle gels. And also you need to work out how you’re going to carry them: in a belt, in your hands, have someone pass them to you or depend on what the marathon has to offer. Most marathons will state if they’re providing fuel and what that fuel will be so you can train accordingly.


Don’t fret and panic. Long runs are a dress rehearsal not the main event. If you struggle and have problems during these runs than that’s ideal as you can solve them before the big day. Better to get your problems and worries done early so the actual marathon is just a celebration of the hard work you’ve put into it. And if you miss a long run because of illness, injury or holiday, you’re not going to fail. It’s not an exact science and as long as you’ve gotten in some solid mileage during the entire process you’ll be fine to miss a few runs here or there. No training cycle is perfect.

How do you prepare for your long runs?

Do you pre-plan your route?

What meal do you have the night before a long run?

15 Replies to “The Nitty Gritties–The Long Run”

  1. Great post – fab no nonsense advice! I love my long runs and echo a lot of what you wrote. I’ll try run keeper as I tend to use a map and guesstimate my distance pre-run. One further point I would add is try and replicate the surface / conditions of your race. So for me that is trying to run off road and hilly – always a challenge in coastal Hampshire

  2. I should have read this last week before my accidental 15 miles! I think I learnt so much from my first marathon that I used for my second- I really found the long runs, even up to 20 miles – OK, but in the race I really struggled (and some of that was due to being ill), but I felt I needed to do some longer runs of a little over 20 miles, to get my body used to it so the final few miles weren’t such a struggle. I read so much about training to time versus distance, and the length of long runs. I think you know that you are going to be fine going up to “just” 18 miles, but partly I think that is because you are faster, so you will only be running for less than an hour more (?), whereas for me I would need to run up to 20 miles to be still having over an hour of running left. Does that make sense?
    Last year I did all of my long runs on my own, mainly because the girls from the club were gearing up for London which was later, so the distances didn’t match. This year a few of us are doing the same half, so on some weeks I have run with other club mates which has been nice. I still like my long runs on my own to catch up on podcasts!
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Happy half term!My Profile

    1. Yes I completely agree about the distance and time thing. It really depends on your own running. I think 3 hours worth of running for me would be enough – which I think translates into about 18 miles.
      I’m so behind on my podcasts purely from not being doing solo long runs for a bit – need to catch up!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #27My Profile

  3. Great post. I’m training for my first marathon (Milton Keynes in May). Like you I like do my long runs by myself. It’s my pace and my route. I use but they can be inaccurate compared to my Garmin, if I’m a bit behind I just run around my estate again. I’ve only run a half marathon distance so far but I am hoping to get to 22-24 miles in training. If I can do more then I might.

    Fuelling is one thing I am really worried about. I’m still trying things out to find what I really like and what suits me. It’s so complicated to work out what I’ll really need and how much race day adrenaline will help!

    1. I think what could help is doing a longer race (like a 20 mile race) and doing exactly what you plan to do for marathon day. That way it’s kind of a similar setting? But it’s tough finding a well placed, suitable 20 miler! Alternatively you could do a normal race, like a 10k or half, then extend it. It is tough though finding out what works. But just make sure you have a few backup plans just in case on race day (like different gels or, if you’re travelling, different breakfasts in case your stomach acts up in the morning).
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #27My Profile

  4. Very interesting stuff about solo vs social long runs. I ran all of my long training runs last year with company and then I found it really hard in the race because as you say it’s your own race, no one else’s. I’ve been trying to do more long runs alone this time round and it’s definitely making a difference already.
    Helen recently posted…Running latelyMy Profile

    1. It’s really tough. If you’re club are all doing the same marathon then it can work out nicely, but then you might end up running the race with someone who’s faster or slower and your own goals take a back seat. I truly believe that for some marathons you need to be selfish and just think what do I want to achieve.
      Glad to hear your training’s going well!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #27My Profile

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed running my long runs with the LA Running Club when I trained for the LA marathon. On race day, even though the group split up, my partner and I (who I met through the group) stayed with each other throughout. It made sense as we’d had almost identical training and capability. The finish was that much sweeter to share with my newfound friend for life.

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