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How Long Should My Longest Run Be?

A case study in collaboration with The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.

by Stephen Suydam, PhD.

This week, thousands of runners began training for their first marathon. To kick off the fall marathon season, we’d like to share the eye-opening experiences (and results!) of some spring marathon first-timers.  Regardless of season, the start of long distance training brings about a common question for all, from beginners to PR-seekers: “How far should my longest run be?”

I am sure this question was top of mind as the students walked into the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Distance Running Course.  This yearly spring class teaches students, mostly beginner runners, how to train for a full or half marathon. The “final exam,” so to speak, is the Eau Claire Marathon in early May.

For the past two spring semesters, Milestone Sports has been lucky enough to go along for the ride.  This year, along with the syllabus, all 100 students received the MilestonePod, allowing the professors to follow the progress of each of these runners throughout the semester.  With their Pod and App, the students were able to learn more about HOW they run, not just track how long or far they went.

For 16 weeks, the students followed a set training schedule, and met on Saturdays to “run long” as a group.  At its peak, this schedule took them to 80% of their selected race distance.  Was this going to be enough?  The first timers were nervous! During their longest training run, it felt to many like all their energy was expended. They were left wondering where that extra oomph would come from on race day. They had yet to experience how all the all the race day emotions, such as crowd energy and personal pride, would help carry them to the end.

So, what happened to our students on race day?  The best thing possible!  One hundred percent of the MilestonePod users finished.  Even more impressive than that, they actually cut time off their longest training run pace.

Here are how the numbers stacked up:

Half Marathon Students (13.1 miles)

Average longest training run distance: 10.7 miles (82% of race distance)

Average longest training run pace: 10:00 min/mile

Average finish time: 2:05:13 (9:34 min/mile)

 

Marathon Students (26.2 miles)

Average longest training run distance: 18.9 miles (72% of race distance)

Average longest training run pace:  9:51 min/mile

Average finish time: 4:16:13 (9:47 min/mile)

 

So to all the first time marathoners and half marathoners out there, trust the data. You do not need to come close to the full race distance before race day. Put in the training and let your fans, your drive, and your ambition carry you to the finish line.


This is post #3 in a mini-series entitled: “Because How You Run Matters.”

Steve is the Director of Research at Milestone Sports. He can be reached at steve@milestonepod.com.

 

Author: Steve Suydam

Steve is a PhD and Director of Research at Milestone Sports. He can be reached at steve@milestonepod.com.