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Can I Split Up My Long Run?

Posted by: on February, 18 2015

Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Jenny Hadfield

How to divide and conquer the long run in one day.

I’m training for my fourth marathon and a few half marathons this year. I’ve read about breaking up the long run into two segments in one day, and I wonder if that would work for me. I’m the mother of three, I work, and like all parents, I’m challenged with getting all my training in during a very hectic weekend. What are your thoughts? ~Kara

There are many ways to train for long distance running, but the key is to develop a schedule that fits into your lifestyle. The great news is marathon training allows for plenty of flexibility, and it can be fun to tailor a custom plan to you and your family.LongRun

The idea of breaking up a longer run into two segments over one or two days isn’t a new one. Ultrarunners commonly use this strategy of back-to-back long runs to simulate running on tired legs and to accumulate long run mileage over an extended period of time to allow for less stress to the body.

Splitting up your long run not only allows you to complete your mileage, but it can help you run with better form throughout the distance. We all have a fatigue threshold at which our endurance ability fades and our form starts to deteriorate. For instance, if you’re able to run 6-8 miles right now and went out to run 16 miles, you’ll likely begin to break down between 9-10 miles.

But just because we can do something because our mind lets us doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Pushing through while fatigued can cause aches, pains, and potentially injury when secondary muscles take over to compensate and keep us moving.

When you break your long run into two segments in a day, you have a recovery period that allows you to start up again with somewhat fresher form to finish the last 30- to 40-percent of the long run. To break up your run, complete about 60-percent (or so) in the morning, and then finish the rest in the afternoon or evening.

For the purpose of your marathon training plan, you could go with a few fun options. I say “fun” because anything that fits your life like a glove causes less resistance so you end up smiling a lot more and complaining a lot less.

First things first, your midweek miles–or anything that isn’t related to your long runs–can be optimized to two runs. Since you are a seasoned marathoner, you can plug in quality runs like intervals, tempos, or hills for two days per week and get in the quality rather than focusing on 3-4 runs during a busy week. Make the most of these days by pushing a little harder in intensity.

If you have more time for workouts during the week, add cross-training (cycling, swimming, elliptical, class at gym) and strength training (yoga, pilates, weight training). If you don’t have time for more workouts, incorporate a short, 15-minute strength and flexibility routine after your two core runs during the week. This will go a long way in keeping you healthy and balanced as you train.

For your long runs, I’d suggest planning a buffet of options within your season because it will optimize your time and preparation and give you the flexibility you’ll need to coordinate with your calendar.

Think of it as a rotational progression in long run mileage, where you run one longer run all at once, one broken into two segments in one day, and one cutback long run at a varied pace. Sound fun? It can be because every week is a new adventure, and more importantly, it trains the body in a multi-strategic fashion.

Here is how a typical 20-week marathon training plan could be created for a busy person’s schedule:

Week 1: 9 miles

Week 2: 10 miles (6 miles a.m. + 4 miles p.m.)

Week 3: Cutback race simulation (6 miles: 3 miles easy effort, 2 miles moderate effort, 1 mile hard)

Week 4: 11 miles

Week 5: 12 miles (7 miles a.m. + 5 miles p.m.)

Week 6: Cutback race simulation (7 miles: 4 miles easy effort, 2 miles moderate effort, 1 mile hard)

Week 7: 13 miles

Week 8: 14 miles (9 miles a.m. + 5 miles p.m.)

Week 9: Cutback race simulation (7 miles: 3 miles easy effort, 3 miles moderate effort, 1 mile hard)

Week 10: 15 miles

Week 11: 16 miles (10 miles a.m. + 6 miles p.m.)

Week 12: Cutback race simulation (8 miles: 4 miles easy effort, 3 miles moderate effort, 1 mile hard)

Week 13: 17 miles

Week 14: 18 miles (11 miles a.m. + 7 miles p.m.)

Week 15: Cutback race simulation (8 miles: 4 miles easy effort, 3 miles moderate effort, 1 miles hard)

Week 16: 19 miles

Week 17: 20 miles (12 miles a.m. + 8 miles p.m.)

Week 18: 10 miles

Week 19: Cutback race simulation (7 miles: 3 miles easy effort, 3 miles moderate effort, 1 mile hard)

Week 20: Marathon!

[Please note: This particular mileage progression is geared for a seasoned marathoner who has covered the distance and who is currently running 6-8 miles of their long run. It can also be modified for newbies, lower mileage, and advanced runners as well.]

I’m currently coaching a busy, married father of two who travels weekly and is training for one of the toughest ultra races in the world, the Comrades Marathon in Africa. I have him on two weekly quality runs (hills, tempo, or intervals), strength training, and a alternating long run progression that is challenging enough to prepare his body to race the distance competitively, yet flexible enough to fit his life schedule and not miss a beat with his wife and kids.

It works when it fits your life, and all it takes is a little creative planning and faith in something a little different than the average training plan. Make it yours, and you’ll conquer your marathon and amaze your kids!