The longest run I do all season is 2 hours. Very unconventional for marathon training. Last season many of my running buds were very concerned by my lack of 20-mile runs. But I totally trust The Coach who says that traditional long runs are unnecessary and possibly even counterproductive.
(My coach, Eric Rivas, who bases training in his extensive schooling and work in science and exercise physiology, ran the notoriously hot and hilly Big D marathon in 2:46 with no long runs over 15 miles).
Basically, this idea that we need to run 20 came from elites peaking long runs at about two hours, he says. For them, two hours is 20 miles. My training is rooted in the the study, Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome — for a little light reading, here it is. Hans was endocrinologist studying the hormonal response to stress, but the same principals are applied to exercise physiology, Eric says.
Essentially – the idea is simply to stress the body until it reaches fatigue and then the body adapts to the stress.
The 20-22 miler — especially that long run three weeks before the big race — has indeed become a ritual for marathon runners. So relied on is it that it probably provides psychological benefit, but that’s the extent of it. Physically, according to this theory, spreading the stress out across the bulk of training is the better way to adapt (get faster at long distances).
Importantly, not running the long run is by no means an easy way out, because I am adding those miles to every other day of the week. During the peak weeks of marathon training that’s about 80-90 miles a week. Before I do a “long run” of 90-120 minutes, I have 75+ miles on my legs so I am simulating a 20-miler with far less concentrated trauma to my muscles.
Here’s a bigger-picture post about this May 5 marathon training season.