The long run, such a vital part of marathon training. It is the one training session that prepares us most effectively for the challenges that we’ll face on race day. Most coaches will say that the long run is the most important training session for marathon preparation.
But, how do we prepare for the long run?
Obviously, we want want to complete it. So, just like marathon we are training for, we must ensure the fuel tanks are full, right?
Well, maybe not.
For many years there has been discussion about the carbohydrate fueling levels for the long run in marathon training, and the subject has been well-covered by the respected coach, Greg McMillan. Those supporting the low fuel policy would say that one of the aims of the long run is to encourage the body to adapt to running in a depleted state. If so, then if the depletion is limited (by ingesting carbohydrate), then the adaption is limited too.
Those on the other side of the debate would say that depletion causes a drop in performance and so the training session will be run at reduced levels of intensity.
Well, now we have some research that supports the claims that running in a depleted state has real benefits for the endurance runner: Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state.
The conclusions of the researchers (Karen Van Proeyen, Karolina Szlufcik, Henri Nielens, Monique Ramaekers and Peter Hespel), is that: “Our present findings therefore provide evidence to indicate that regular fasted training is a useful strategy to stimulate physiological adaptations in muscle that may eventually contribute to improve endurance exercise performance”.
As usual, this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy, some runners will respond differently, but there certainly seems to be sound reasoning for starting some long runs with a degree of depletion. If we look at this from a common sense angle, it’s really no surprise: our long runs for the marathon will be in the region of 18 to 22 miles in length, but not as far as the 26.2 miles we are training for. It’s worth taking the body and mind into territory that we will encounter on race day.