5 Proven Marathon Long Runs


It is no secret that training to complete a marathon requires long runs. What has been a secret, however, is that training to race a marathon requires several specialized long runs. Incorporate the long runs below in your next marathon plan to achieve your fastest time on marathon day.

Long and Steady: Lydiard’s Tried-and-True Long Run

The tried and true long run for the last 50 years has been Arthur Lydiard’s long, steady run. Lydiard found that by running for 2 to 3 hours at an easy, yet steady pace (preferably over a hilly route), the body and mind developed the endurance to withstand the race-specific workouts in the rest of a marathon training plan. Perform several of these long runs in your plan, particularly in the early stages of your training.

READ THIS: Run to the Top by Arthur Lydiard and Garth Gilmour (1997, Meyer & Meyer)

Long Run with Surges: Squires’ Boston Beater

A unique aspect to legendary coach Bill Squires’ marathon long runs is that they include surges. On nearly every other long run throughout your plan, he suggests you throw in “surges” every 10 minutes. These surges may last only 30 seconds or up to 10-12 minutes, and the pace varies based on the duration of the surge. Athletes find that surges help avoid boredom and provide a faster average pace across the long run.

READ THIS: Speed with Endurance by Bill Squires and Bruce Lehane (2009, Boston University Press)

Fast-Finish Long Run: Rosa’s Way to the Winner’s Circle

With his athletes winning every major marathon on the planet (multiple times in fact), it’s no wonder that Gabriele Rosa’s training is influential. A unique aspect of Rosa’s plan is to finish the last few miles of the long run fast. “Fast” means pushing the pace for the last 4 to 8 miles, but also running the last 10 minutes as fast as possible. This “emptying the tank” long run is quickly becoming a staple in the marathon plans of elite and competitive distance runners like you. It’s likely one of the most challenging long runs you will do, but the benefits are worth the effort.

READ THIS: Paul Tergat — Running to the Limit by Jurg Wirz (2005, Meyer & Meyer)

Long Run at Marathon Race Pace: Pfitz’s Advanced Marathon Long Run

Specificity is a crucial concept in marathoning. While the long run is the most specific in terms of duration, it’s also important to practice your goal marathon race pace within the long run. Pete Pfitzinger advises a couple of long runs where you run 12 to 15 miles of your total long run at your goal marathon pace. An example would be a total long run of 20 miles with 12 miles in the middle at goal marathon pace. This type of long run is great for faster marathoners who typically run their long runs slower than their marathon pace. For slower marathoners who typically run at marathon race pace or faster for their normal long runs we suggest doing this type of run at your Steady State Pace.

REFERENCE: Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (2001, Human Kinetics)

Pace-Change Long Run: Variety in Pace Gets You Ready to Race

Athletes in championship marathons like the Olympics must practice changing their pace, because rarely are these events run at an even pace. Run like the Olympians by alternating a faster-than-marathon-pace mile with a slower-than-marathon-pace mile. For example, if your goal marathon pace is 8:00 per mile, then a pace change long run should include 20 total miles with 8 miles in the middle of the run alternating between 7:45 pace and 8:45 pace. As your marathon approaches, you may even be able to alternate between 7:45 pace and 8:15 pace. This is a very tough long run, but is great for marathoners who expect to need to “change gears” throughout the race due to tactics or terrain.

In your 12- to 16-week marathon plan, try incorporating each of these types of long runs. Not only will you ensure the ability to go the distance, but you’ll be able to go the distance faster.

I’d also recommend you read the following articles:

1) The Marathon Long Run

2) 3 Great Marathon Predictor Workouts

3) Speed Work for Marathoners

4) Pre-Marathon Miscues

5) Surviving the Marathon Freak Out: A Guide to Running Your Best Marathon [My latest book]


For every distance between 800 meters and ultra marathons, these scientifically-based training plans include your McMillan Calculator training paces integrated, coach’s notes, and access to our prehab routines. Plus, the plans are delivered on a runner-friendly training log platform. Try it for FREE!

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




“I got my first Boston Qualifier today with a 21 personal record!”

– Ramona M.