Though speed workouts are some of the toughest workouts, it’s the long run that often has runners feeling training jitters. It’s easy to think of long runs as the most important on the schedule — especially when training for a half-marathon or marathon — so missing one long run can feel detrimental during training. If you find yourself sick, injured or facing an obligation or prior commitment, should you make up a missed long run?
“This is a tricky subject, because training is both an art and a science,” explains Lisah Hamilton, coach and founder of The Conscious Runner. “What might work for one individual may not work for another.”
Even though this makes it seem like there is no one answer, there are a some things to consider that will help you physically and mentally when you’ve missed a long run.
REMEMBER THIS KEY THING ABOUT TRAINING
When you’re training for a race, it’s the overall training effort that matters, and it’s likely that missing one run — or even two or three over the course of a few months — isn’t going to make or break your race. If you’re training for a longer distance such as the half-marathon or marathon, of course the long run is important to help your legs get used to the mileage they’ll face on race day. However, it’s still just one part of the overall sum of your training efforts.
“Training schedules are guides and should be looked at as such. Things come up in our lives that cause our plans to shift and it is OK to shift our training schedule accordingly,” notes Hamilton. “Fatigue, stress and how we are responding to the training are also reasons for schedule shifts.”
When deciding whether or not you really need to make up a missed long run there are a few things to consider; all should be viewed with the understanding that depending on your experience level and race goals, your training plan can be fluid.
IT’S ABOUT THE BIG PICTURE
Because a marathon training plan has so many parts such as speed workouts, long runs, cross-training and rest days, you want to look at your schedule as a whole, even when considering just one run. If you don’t have a coach you can still approach this situation like one and ask yourself a few key questions.
“I would want to know what the runner’s training looked like leading into the week, the confidence of the runner, how the runner is feeling, the current fitness of the runner, the length of the long run, how far along in the training plan the runner is, how many long runs have already been done, what other workouts were planned for that week and what workouts are planned for the next couple weeks,” reveals Hamilton. “I would advise the runner to take all this into consideration when making the decision to make up their long run.”
Your long run is often followed by a recovery run or rest day, so shifting even just one day may cause you to have too many hard workouts right next to each other. That could lead to overtraining or injury, which would do much more harm to your fitness than missing a run. Most often, not making up your long run is best
“Skipping your long run will depend on where you are in your training schedule. Have you already run a long run or would this be your first and only? What are your goals for the race? What is your level of running experience? Why are you skipping it? This is why planning your schedule in advance is so important,” adds Mindy Solkin, founder and head coach of The Running Center. “Of course life happens and you may need to re-adjust along the way, but for most mid-to-back-of-the-pack runners, it will be fine to skip it. Then, make the necessary changes to your upcoming training plan so that you stay on course for your ultimate goals.”
SPLITTING UP YOUR LONG RUN ISN’T THE ANSWER
If you feel like you absolutely can’t miss your long run, you may be tempted to break up the miles over the coming days so you are still meeting the overall mileage goal you had for the week. Doing this, however, isn’t the answer.
“You get more benefit from a long run by doing it in a single run, because its purpose is to increase endurance, improve running efficiency and boost confidence,” notes Hamilton. “The long run increases muscle capillarization, increases fuel storage, increases capacity to make more glucose, improves reliance on fat, makes muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments stronger and increases mental fortitude. When you break your long run up, you limit — or eliminate — these benefits.”
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Additionally, this still involves having to rearrange your schedule and potentially pushing yourself too hard during either a recovery run or speed session, which again leads to overtraining and injury. You don’t want your body to be fatigued, resulting in poor form and mechanics, so adding additional mileage to other runs will just have negative effects on your other workouts for the week.
TRY A MENTAL WORKOUT INSTEAD
A great solution to making up a missed long run is actually all in your head. Runners who still want to get the mental benefits of going the distance can do a mental workout, practicing visualization and strategy needed for race day success. So how exactly is it done?
“Look over the course map. If you’re traveling to an out-of-town race, get a map of the city and note the landmarks that you’ll be seeing at each mile marker. If the race is in your own city, you’ll already be ahead of the game,” explains Solkin. “Then find a quiet place, lie down, close your eyes and perform a mental visualization exercise. See the course in your mind’s eye as you click off each mile. Congratulations on running your mental marathon!”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN