As we are 4 weeks away from QCM race weekend, some of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a coach are:
1. How far should I be able to run at this point?
2. Do I need to have completed the distance before race weekend?
Below I will address these questions from the perspective of the marathon, half marathon, and 10km and less.
When considering the ideal distance to complete prior to race day for your long run, it’s most important to consider what you have done in your training up to this point in your preparation. It’s ideal to have completed a few half marathons before attempting a full marathon. However, if your program is designed appropriately for your ability, your first marathon can be done in the same calendar year. I believe to have a good experience, your first marathon should only be about finishing, and not about trying for a specific time unless you are an experienced runner and/or are a seasoned racer.
Generally, being able to run 32km in training will get you to the finish line, but I like to get people closer to 37km, more for confidence rather than for fitness purposes. There are multiple ways of doing this, and some find frequent long sessions difficult, so completing successive runs is also an option.
For example, if your long run calls for 34km, you can run 24km in the morning, and another 10km a few hours later or later in the day. It's about time on your feet, so you will still reap the benefits even if the run isn't all at once. This option provides a similar conditioning benefit without the same stress/impact on your body.
If you are completing a marathon, generally your longest run should be about 3-4 weeks prior to race day to ensure proper recovery time before the event, then you can start gradually reducing your mileage for a taper. It is better to be rested than to cram in training and become over-trained, or injured. Experienced marathoners can sometimes do a 2-week taper depending on race goals, and their level of experience. Also important to note here, your long run distance should not increase more then about 10% from week to week. So, if your longest run to this point is 27km, I would not suggest bumping it up to 35km the next week, rather 30km would be a better option.
It’s also important to use these long runs to simulate what you plan to do in a race. Specifically, practice your nutrition and hydration you will use during the race. Consider drinking when you feel thirsty rather than drinking at set intervals. Treat these long runs as practice race days. Eat the same pre-race supper, go to bed at the same time, have the same race morning meal you plan on having prior to the race, perform your pre-race warm up before starting your long run, and do your run at the same time as the race. After each long run evaluate. Ask yourself, “How did my choices work for me?” Then you can adjust your strategy as needed.
For a half marathon, you should be able to run at least 16-18km three weeks out from the event. I generally take people beyond the distance, because most people are able to handle the demands of training for a half marathon if done properly and will gain confidence by running up to 22km.
If you are completing a half marathon generally your longest run should be about 2-3 weeks prior to race day to ensure proper rest before the event. As suggested in the marathon section, it’s better to be rested than to cram in training and become over-trained, or injured.
As suggested for the marathon your half marathon long run distance should not increase more then about 10% from week to week. So if your longest run to this point is 17km, I would not suggest bumping it up to 22km the next week, rather 20km would be a better option. Also, important to use these long runs to practice your pre-race warm up, nutrition and hydration you will use prior to and during the race. After each long run evaluate. Ask yourself “How did my choices work for me?” Then you can adjust your strategy as needed.
10km or Shorter
When preparing for a 10km and shorter race distance, typically the longest run can occur 7-10 days prior to the event. This long run can be up to 50% longer than the race distance (i.e., for a 10km race can run up to 15km). Again, long run distance should not increase more then about 10% from week to week. Nutrition and hydration during a run of this distance is simple - drink water and drink when you feel thirsty.
Remember: The longer the distance the longer the taper!
Coming Up. Part 2 – Considerations for racing in the heat or cold.
Jen Ruland is a coach with Endurance Journey Coaching. She is available to help you improve your performance here.