Long runs for slow runners


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    Hello everyone!

    I am 37 years old and new to running and just signed up for my first marathon in November. I am running with my wife, And our goal time to run together is four hours 30 minutes. I have a power-based level one marathon plan, And I am currently working with a level one run faster plan before that plan starts.

    My question pertains to long runs. I know they are distance-based in the plan. Based on how slow I am, some of the longer runs will have me well over three hours. I have read elsewhere that long runs over three hours have diminishing return on building endurance while also increasing the risk of injury. I have also read in the 80/20 book that long runs with fast finish and long runs with speed play serve to increased fatigue resistance beyond what long runs can do at a certain point.

    I do not have the confidence to modify the marathon plan without further advice from the group, but would it make sense to incorporate long runs with speed play once I have built up to three hours running?

    Thank you to all in advance!


    Good Morning Hyper 1984,

    I just finished the level 1 plan on 5/1 and am currently working on level 2. I have ran 6 marathons and am a 4:30+6:30 level marathon runner.

    I know the studies you reference about over three hours. It’s hard for us slower runners to get the mileage in without doing double day weekends doing that. There are also studies that show that 5 hours is where the absolute point of final diminishing return. 80/20 Endurance subscribes to the 5 hour limit for it’s plans. After 5 hours the risk of injury is just too great for the small benefits you receive. That limit will get you the 19-20 mile longest run in the level 1 plan.

    This is your first marathon. Your primary goal imo should be training to finish. The marathon is a great distance race but it is different than most other endurance races. Some have said it’s a 20 mile run with a 10K finish. I totally agree with that analysis. For this 1st event, your goal is to train the body to withstand the distance. The level 1 plan is very well designed with it’s long runs to do that. You are slowly building up the weekly mileage to allow your body to adjust to the increased load the race will put on it. That’s why it doesn’t have any speed work ( Fast Finish Long Runs, Marathon Pace Runs, etc.) within the plan. The primary goal is to safely introduce the body to the stress of the marathon.

    The speed work is a part of the level 2 plan. However, to accommodate that, the plan also starts at 10.8 miles on week 1. By week 4, you are at 14.3 miles. It does this to have time to fit the speed work in between.

    In addition to the long run, level 1 builds your endurance with the in week speed work you are doing and the overall weekly volume. These shorter sessions will work wonderfully to prepare you for your 1st marathon. You should finish your week 16 with around 40-45 miles and about 9-11 hours of training. This will be exactly what you need to be prepared.

    You are going to have a great race. Make sure and let me know how that first endeavor into the marathon works out.

    Gerald Collins
    80/20 Ambassador


    Ha! MY goal is to finish. 4:30 is what I could bargain with the wifey (much better runner) to stay with me!

    Thank you for the detailed answer!

    I guess another consideration is that we have four small children and being out on a 3+ hour long run may be difficult. But I’ll do my best!


    That is indeed an issue with marathon training. The time out is an issue to manage with marathon training.

    Leyla Porteous

    I would recommend running your long runs for time up to that 3 hour mark, as you mentioned running longer than that can have diminishing returns. For a first marathon I would focus on consistency in your training throughout the week and leaving your faster running for those Tuesday and Friday sessions. In your long runs work on your pacing (you can always run the last mile of all of your long runs as your fastest), mindset, fueling and posture. this way you will build the base of fitness required to run faster for longer.


    Thanks, everyone for the guidelines, I am newbie and Glad to be here:)

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