Long Runs And The Double Step Up

Most marathon training programs never have you running more than about 32 kilometres at one time. In addition, these long runs are usually performed at well below your desired race pace.

This means that in order to reach your goal time come race day, you need to do the:


This is the problem of needing on race day to both run further a lot further than you've ever run before, at a pace significantly faster than you've ever run a long run at before.

To me, and to many runners I've talked to, this is an unreasonable expectation, especially over the challenging marathon distance. The double step up might be an OK tactic for shorter races, but it makes your task unduly hard in the marathon when you're trying to do a fast time.

Now of course many of these training programs are made by very experienced runners and they've done this for a very good reason - to minimize your chances of sickness and injury. Running long distances at fast pace runs a high risk of weakening your body and making it susceptible to sickness. In addition, as you get tired near the end of the run, you're likely to injure yourself with poor style as you try to keep the pace up - whether this is rolling your ankle on rough ground, or a stress injury from poor form.

However, this website is based around the idea that you want to run a good time, such as under 3 hours for the marathon, rather than just finish. As such, the training program takes more 'risk's in order to increase your chances of success on race day.

I adopted the policy of trying to reduce the double step up to a single step up. To acheive this, I incorporated two special types of runs into my training.

The Fast 30 Km Run

To give my body some training in running at race pace for a long distance, I did a few 30 km runs at near or actual race pace (which is 4:14 - 4:15 kilometres by the way). These were done around a 5 km circuit track so I could keep track of the pace a little better. These were very hard runs however, and require you to be in full health and well rested, both before and after the run.

The Slow 35 - 40 Km Run

The second type of long run done in order to avoid the double step up was the slow, ultra long run - almost race distance. This was done to train for running on your feet for the sort of time period that would happen on race day. The pace was below race pace to try and reduce the difficulty of the run.

Since you're running a distance almost as long as the marathon at below marathon pace, some of these runs can end up taking more than 3 hours. These runs also allow to trial run your race day drinking and nutrition program.

Medium Long Runs With Faster Last Thirds

Another good longish run is one where you run at a steady pace for the first two thirds of the route, and then gradually increase your pace over the last third. I typically did these over mid-long distances of 15 to 30 km.

Some runners consider the last part of your long run as being the most beneficial, so by gradually increasing your pace you get the maximum training benefits from the run. This tactic is also a good way of getting a bit more usefulness out of a mid-length run (15 - 25 km) when you don't have time to do a long run.

Fat Burning With Low Intensity Long Runs

If early in your training program you're interested in dropping fat, it pays to keep abreast of some of the theories regarding burning of energy versus fat.

One of the main theories is that, in terms of maximising fat burn off, you're better off exercising for long periods at low intensities, rather than shorter periods of high intensity.

Some of the figures suggest that near the end of a long low intensity session, 50% of your energy will come from burning fat, compared to only 33% at higher intensity. Of course at the higher intensity you're using more energy which partially balances out the fat burned, but it's also harder to maintain higher intensity exercise.

A hypothetical example:

  • You exercise at low intensity for 2 hours, using 1000 kJ per hour
  • You use a total of 2000 kJ, of which 50%, or 1000 kJ, comes from burning off fat.


  • You exercise at high intensity for 2 hours, using 1500 kJ per hour
  • You use a total of 3000 kJ, of which 33%, or 1000 kJ, comes from burning off fat.

This is a grossly simplistic example but illustrates the general idea that higher intensity exercise isn't always the way to go, especially when considering fat loss.

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Copyright 2007-2010 Michael Milford