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A Different Way To Look At Your Long Runs

What if we told you that you don't have to run 20 or more miles while training for a marathon? One coaching method does just that.

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Hansons Marathon Method
Hansons Marathon Method

Published with permission of VeloPress from Hansons Marathon Method, 2nd Ed. by Luke Humphrey.

In their recently released book, Hansons Marathon Method, 2nd Ed., the coaches of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project reveal their innovative marathon training approach. The Michigan-based running squad, which includes 2016 Summer Olympics marathon team member Desi Linden, gained notoriety with their misunderstood “16-mile long run”. In this story, the head coach of Hansons Coaching Services shows why 20-mile long runs are misguided and what runners should do instead.

Long-Run Guidelines

The Hansons Marathon Method long-run guidelines are based both on years of experience and on the research by Dr. Jack Daniels, Dr. Dave Martin, Dr. Joe Vigil, Dr. Tim Noakes, and Dr. David Costill. Instead of risking diminishing returns and prescribing an arbitrary 20-mile run, the Hansons Marathon Method looks at percentage of mileage and total time spent running. While 16 miles is often the suggested maximum run, we are more concerned with determining your long run based on your weekly total mileage and your pace.

The Hansons Marathon Method will call for a long run that does not exceed 25-30 percent of your weekly mileage. Breaking this cardinal rule risks too much: injury, overtraining, depleted muscle glycogen, and subpar workouts in the following days or even weeks.

Yet a typical beginning marathon training program might peak at 40–50 miles per week and then recommend a 20-mile long run. Although this epic journey is usually sandwiched between an easy day and a rest day, there is no getting around the fact that it accounts for around 50 percent of the runner’s weekly mileage.

It may sound unconventional, but you’ll find that the Hansons Marathon Method long run is firmly based in science with proven results.

Related: Here’s Why You Need To Stop Doing 20 Mile Long Runs

Risks of the 20+ Mile Long Run

  • Muscle damage
  • Long-lasting damage to mitochondria
  • Long-lasting damage to capillaries
  • Depleted muscle glycogen for up to a week

Let’s take a look at what science says about long-run mileage.

Long-Run Mileage Based on Weekly Training Volume

If you run, 40 miles/week, 10 miles is 25% of your weekly volume and 12 miles is 30%.

If you run, 50 miles/week, 12.5 miles is 25% of your weekly volume and 15 miles is 30%.

If you run, 60 miles/week, 15 miles is 25% of your weekly volume and 18 miles is 30%.

If you run, 70 miles/week, 17.5 miles is 25% of your weekly volume and 21 miles is 30%.                             

What do these numbers show us?

  • Marathon training is a significant undertaking and should not be approached with randomness or bravado.
  • They also make apparent the fact that many training programs miss the mark on the long run.
  • If you are a beginning or low-mileage runner, your long runs must be adjusted accordingly.
  • What is right for an 80-mile-a-week runner is not right for one who puts in 40 miles a week.
  • A Hansons 16-mile long run might be too short or too long for you. Before we make a conclusion, we must also consider your running pace.

Long-Run Duration Based on Pace

In addition to running the optimal number of miles on each long run, you must also adhere to a certain pace to get the most physiological benefit. Since we don’t all cover the same distance in the same amount of time, it makes sense to adjust a long run depending on how fast you’ll be traveling. The research tells us that 2:00–3:00 hours is the optimal window for development in terms of long runs. Beyond that, muscle breakdown begins to occur.

Look at the table below to see how long it takes to complete the 16- and 20-mile distances based on pace. The table demonstrates that a runner covering 16 miles at a 7-minute pace will finish in just under 2 hours, while a runner traveling at an 11-minute pace will take nearly 3 hours to finish that same distance. It then becomes clear that anyone planning on running slower than a 9-minute pace should avoid the 20-mile trek.

Related: The Best Long Run Playlist

Long-Run Durations Based on Pace

If you run 7:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 1 hr. 52 mins and 20 miles is done in 2 hrs. 20 mins.

If you run 8:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 2 hrs. 8 mins and 20 miles is done in 2 hrs. 40 mins.

If you run 9:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 2 hrs. 24 mins and 20 miles is done in 3 hrs.

If you run 10:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 2 hrs. 40 mins and 20 miles is done in 3 hrs. 20 mins.

If you run 11:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 2 hrs. 56 mins and 20 miles is done in 3 hrs. 40 mins.

If you run 12:00/mi., 16 miles is done in 3 hrs. 12 mins and 20 miles is done in 4 hrs.

This is where the Hansons 16-mile long run comes into play. Based on the mileage from the Hansons marathon programs, the 16-mile long run fits the bill on both percentage of weekly mileage and long-run total time.

So what does this mean for you? The science shows that a 20-mile long run might, in fact, be right for you, but only if your weekly mileage is around 65 miles per week and if your long run workout pace is faster than 9:00 minutes per mile.

Everyone else should consider the long run the Hansons way, by factoring in weekly mileage and pace.


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