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Learn why long runs over three hours may be doing you more harm than good.
The marathon long run is overrated.
I’ll pause for a second to let the sound of your gasps fade. In my experience, too many beginner runners, and those running slower than 3 hours and 45 minutes, focus on trying to squeeze multiple 20 or 22 mile runs into their training segment at the expense of improving more critical physiological systems. More importantly, scientific research has shown that runs of over 3 hours offer little additional aerobic benefit compared to runs of 2 hours, while significantly increasing injury risk.
As such, rather than cramming your marathon training schedule with multiple 20-22 milers that increase injury risk and decrease recovery time without decisive aerobic advantages, you should instead focus on improving your aerobic threshold, teaching your body to use fat as a fuel source, and building your overall tolerance for running on tired legs through accumulated fatigue.
Since the long run is such an ingrained element of marathon training, and suggesting they are overrated sounds blasphemous to many marathon veterans, let’s take a look at some scientific research, relevant examples, and suggestions on how to better structure your training to help you run your next marathon faster.