Another Run SMART coach comes out against the “magic 20 and 22 milers” for beginner marathoners. We all know Jack is very adamant about his 2:30 hour cap on long runs for beginners and we pretty much rest our case there but in an interview with Run SMART Media, Ann Alyanak says “20 and 22 mile long runs are not necessary” for a first-time marathon runner looking to finish the race.
RS: When you get a client who wants to run a marathon but has never run a race before what do you tell them?
ANN: I would not discourage a client from running a marathon even if they have not raced before but I would encourage them to run some shorter races first like a 5k and 10k and maybe even a half marathon. I would want them just to experience a race environment before jumping right into a marathon. RS: How do you structure their training and are there certain benchmarks you work them up to first before diving right into an official marathon build-up?
ANN: I would be pretty conservative when structuring the training and the marathon build-up would have to be pretty long if they are just getting started with serious training. I think the client would need about 6 months to train and do an official marathon build-up and there would be certain benchmarks they would hit during this time. I would want them just to run consistently for 4-8 weeks before starting any real long runs or workouts. This would be done in order to minimize injury risk and just get them used to running. After a month or two I think the person could work up to some longer runs like 8 to 10 miles. I would also encourage them to do a shorter race during this time and maybe even try to find a half marathon after about four months and use this as part of their training for the marathon.
RS: Before a beginner decides to run a marathon do you think they should accomplish other goals first? Also, what’s your opinion on long runs for a first-time marathoner who has a limited running background? Do you believe 20 and 22-milers are necessary if they are simply trying to finish the race in one piece?
ANN: Personally, I think it is good to progress slowly to a marathon so start with 5k and 10k and then do a half-marathon and eventually work your way up to the marathon. I think this is the ideal way and allows a person to adapt to the training and volume and reduces injury risk. But if I had a client who was set on running a marathon right out of the gate I would work with them to do it safely and use a long and gradual build-up.
I do not think 20 or 22 milers are necessary for the beginning runner training for the marathon and do not think they are magic numbers. I definitely think a beginner runner has to get some long runs in but I think 16-18 miles or just being on their feet for 2.5 to 3 hours in one run can be enough. If the goal is just to finish, I think this can be accomplished on shorter long runs. 20 mile or longer runs could do more harm than good for a beginner. If the rest of the marathon training is structured appropriately a beginner runner should be able to finish a marathon without doing super long runs during training.
Run SMART coach Ann Alyanak is a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon. If you want to work with Ann for your next marathon you can sign up for private coaching here.