Is Running 26.2 Miles Necessary Before Racing The Marathon?

The atmosphere at a marathon is electric and with all the likeminded runners around you, the miles can fly by in a way that's not easily replicated on a training run. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Find the balance between the optimal training schedule and getting the most enjoyment from your running.

Previously, I outlined how you can incorporate shorter, more “fun-oriented” races into your schedule while still keeping the integrity of your training plan intact. In the article, you may have noticed that I made no mention of how to integrate marathons into your schedule–should you be thinking of including an easy 26.2-mile run as either a long run or a fun run.

Believe it or not, it’s a question I receive often: “Would it be a good idea for me to run a marathon as a long run with my friends before my goal race?”

I can understand the sentiment behind the question. The atmosphere at a marathon is electric and with all the likeminded runners around you, the miles can fly by in a way that’s not easily replicated on a training run. Unfortunately, if you want to maximize your chances of a personal best at your next goal race, I don’t recommend running a marathon in training — either as a course-supported long run, or for the atmosphere and the camaraderie.

Here’s the short reason why: In addition to offering very little training benefit, the 26.2-mile distance is difficult to recover from (yes, even if you run easy) and you risk becoming derailed from your optimal training routine for 10-14 days. Don’t just take my word for it, however. In the next few pages we’ll explain some of the science behind why you should avoid running a marathon as a long run or fun race.

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