I have known for sometime that in order for me to race my best I need to have training runs longer than the race I am preparing for and this is not unique to me. Most people who want to compete in a race from the 5k to the half-marathon are aware of this and train like this. When I stepped into the world of marathoning however, I found that conventional wisdom and nearly all training plans have long runs capped anywhere from 16 to 22 miles with 20 being the common longest long run.
I was uncomfortable with this during my first training cycle for the 2012 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon but "they" all said that going longer than that wouldn't produce any benefit that would out way the negatives. "They" all said a run any longer would carry with it great risk of injury and would require too much recovery time. I am a big believer in knowing your body and understanding what it is capable of rather than letting conventional wisdom dictate your limits. For that reason, many aspects of my training and goals were less than orthodox and it served me well, I had a very successful marathon. Unfortunately, this is one area where I did abide by conventional wisdom.
If you follow my training on dailymile, or if you've ever talked to me specifically about my training plan you know I have a great deal of respect for it and it's author.The Pfitzinger 18/70 marathon training plan served me well. I followed it to a "T" for my first marathon and was very happy with the result. That is why I decided to use it again to prepare for the Carmel Marathon in April. I am making one adjustment this time though. I will be running long runs that are longer than the plan calls for. Sometimes much longer.
In the last marathon, my legs literally started coming undone with 2 miles to go. I don't think that it is a coincidence that my longest run had been 22 miles and my body didn't know what to do when I pushed it further than it had ever been pushed both in pace and in distance. In fact, I lost over a minute in the last two miles causing my finish time of 3:00:25 to be 25 seconds to slow to debut in the marathon distance with a sub three-hour performance. This was the only weakness in what was an otherwise very solid performance.
I toyed with the idea of going longer than 26 miles in the last cycle but I could not find one person who would agree that it was a good idea. That all changed with when I received the January/February issue of Marathon and Beyond and read the article One Step Beyond. A sure-fire technique where "going long" takes on a new meaning" By Ray Charbonneau. The article advocates an "extended" long run once a month and extending the distance of that run to well beyond the marathon distance. The trick is that you go slow and even take plenty of walk breaks. Even going slow and taking walk breaks you still get the benefit of being on your feet that long and the endurance that it builds. But approaching it this way reduces the necessity of extended recovery time and reduces the risk of injury. Again, these are the two reason nobody else advocates training runs of marathon distance or longer.
You should know that I am not a person who sways with the wind. I don't jump on board with every training philosophy or approach that I read in an article. In fact, most time I purposely avoid doing just that. In this case, the article was merely the voice I was looking for.
I started this past Friday. 4 weeks weeks into an 18 week cycle and the plan called for an 18 mile run. I pushed it to 21. That is 3 weeks ahead of schedule for a 20 + mile run. I took it very slow and took two five minute walk breaks. As I sit here the very next night I can tell you that I do not need an extended recovery, in fact, after a good night's sleep, a 5 mile recovery run, and a lazy day I am ready to go. In about a month I plan to push a run to 24 miles and the next month 28. Using the same approach of taking it slow and spending a little time walking instead of running. I will also be pushing some of the long runs that the plan has at 17 and 18 miles up to 20 without the walking breaks.
I believe this modification to my training regime will help build the muscular skeletal strength that seemed to be my only weakness in the last marathon. This would allow me to finish the marathon distance before my legs come undone and hold race pace even in the last 2 miles. Since my goal is to finish more than 5 minutes faster, holding pace the entire race will be absolutely necessary. Whichever way it goes I will no doubt post a full account of the race here.