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Coaches Blog

Racing Long Distance WITHOUT Running Long Distance

Most endurance athletes see the great advantage of having at least one long run in their training plan if they intend to run anything longer than a 15K. But how long should this "long run" actually be?

Some people may be surprised to learn that in most cases, a runner should not run the actual distance they're training to complete. 

There are a few scientific reasons for this:

  1. Research shows that good form breaks down toward the end of your run, and the aerobic benefits gained do not match the injury risk created. 

  2. Unless the athlete has been running for many seasons, their muscular-skeletal and endurance systems may not be trained to take on these miles regularly yet.

  3. After running for several hours, mitochondrial development tapers off, and there is no significant beneficial increase.

  4. Running is a high-impact activity, so one must be careful to balance the endurance benefits with the risk of overuse injury. One way to do this is to gradually increase the length and distance. 

So, how long should a long run be? It all depends on the person. For example, I am partially paralyzed on the right side. Therefore, my form is no longer "typical." For this reason, I only trained for up to 2 hours or 8 miles, when training for a half marathon.

Even though I only ran this short distance, I completed the half marathon with a great time and little soreness afterward (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

How Long Should Your Long Run Be?

Generally speaking, an athlete can train up to the following distances to complete a long-distance running race:

Distance Races:

Half Marathon - 8 to 11 miles

Marathon - 16 to 22 miles

50K - 20 to 25 miles

50 Miles - 30 to 35 miles

It is said that when you train for a long race, you should "not train the first 10 miles (on a marathon), but for the last 10 miles." One way to incorporate this into training is to have a shorter but higher intensity run the day before the long run. 

Of course, everybody is different! You may need to train a little longer or shorter than the estimates. You may have to split the run into 2 with a little break in between. Run YOUR race!


Coach Becky Piper is a USAT Certified LII Paratriathlon and Triathlon Coach living in Michigan with her husband Sam and her dog named Moose. She is a paratriathlete, and paracyclist, and has plans to try her hand at para- dog sled racing. Her true passion is coaching athletes to reach their best selves - both in endurance sports and beyond! Coach Becky can be reached at



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