Long Runs and Cross Training

I was asked to answer questions about training for marathons and how to implement cross training into a running plan. You can find the original article here.

Aubrie asked “Why do most marathon training programs only 
include a 20 mile long run…why not run a full 26 miles 
before the race?”

Most marathon programs only offer 20 mile long runs because anything over that distance is “over-kill”. The body can only withstand so many efforts or bouts of such long distances before it starts to break down. The marathon distance itself is very long and attempting to do training runs at that distance is not logical or good for the body. I understand the need to be prepared for the distance, but there’s a fine line between being prepared and being injured or fatigued from doing too much in one go. There’s a reason why many runners only run 1-2 marathons a year – because the distance takes so much from the body.

How to Predict Marathon Pace
How to Predict Marathon Pace

Also, the really long runs – more than 18-20 – tends to take too long to recover from. So if you’re only running a moderate amount of miles in the week, you are sacrificing the rest of the week’s mileage for the mileage in one run. It’s almost better to spread the long run out over 2 days and still be able to run during the week.

Typically the long run should be no more than 25-30% of your weekly total. When it becomes much more than that, it makes it increasingly hard for you to do the other work necessary to run a marathon well.

Smart Running Strategies
Smart Running Strategies

Remember these 4 strategies to have the best possible long run you can:

  1. Get the proper amount of sleep
  2. Eat a nutritious dinner and pre-run meal
  3. Be aware of your nutrition during the long run, and
  4. Afterward, make sure to refuel, stretch and massage.

Margaret asked about cross training and its benefits. She also
wanted to know what she can do to avoid over training on 
the “running side” of training for the marathon. Is it possible
for her to equate a hard tennis game with a certain amount of
running mileage?

Having a coach is a great way to oversee your training and to make sure you aren’t going overboard, as you said you did in your last marathon build up. Doing non-running activities is a great way to build cardiovascular strength, but keep in mind, you’re running a marathon…and to be at your best for the marathon, you have to run. If you feel you are unable to get in the appropriate mileage that the marathon requires, I would suggest dropping down to a half marathon – it’s significantly less stressful on the body and you can still train at a really high level and get just as much satisfaction from the half as you can from the full.

Finding the Right Running Coach For You

If you build your mileage slowly and smartly and take rest as seriously as your running, you should be fine. I don’t think it’s completely necessary for you to be doubling and tripling to “get everything in”. If you plan in advance, I think you can eliminate most of the extra workouts you’re doing. I do believe, however, that swimming, biking, using the elliptical, etc., is a great way to supplement your running. This is where having a coach can greatly help create and maintain a schedule that works for you.

As far as what can I say a 50-minute tennis match is worth in running miles? My rule of thumb is this: If you’re a 10 minute/mile runner, then every 10 minutes of cross training (swimming, hard biking, elliptical, vigorous hiking, etc.) is worth 1 “running mile”. I keep track of my running miles and my cross training mileage differently. I note that I ran 30 miles this week + I cross trained for 10 miles.

Cross Training Examples

Below are great examples of ways to cross train while training for any race.  Remember, when attempting to run a race, the most beneficial workout will be running, but with these cross training methods, you’ll keep your legs fresher, work on different muscle groups, and build overall body strength that running cannot provide.

  1. Swimming
  2. Biking
  3. Yoga
  4. Elliptical

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