The Longest Long Run

in Marathon Training

I am currently running 22.0 miles with Megan, but here’s an interesting topic to discuss until I come back! 🙂


How long should your longest run before a marathon be?


You should ALWAYS train to run the race distance, of course, but does that mean you actually need to run the distance before the big day?  My first race was a 10K, and the longest I ran before the race was 5.0 miles (so 1.2 miles short).  When I ran a 15K, the longest I ran was a 8.0 miler (or 1.3 miles short).  But, when I did my first Half Marathon, I ran 14.0 miles the weekend before. I wanted to “know” I could do it and then some.


Marathons, however, are different.  Few people (especially people not training to qualify for Boston) run the entire 26.2 miles before race day, just because it’s so hard on your body.


Most plans max you out at 20 miles, which I ran a few weeks agoOther plans suggest a maximum of 23 miles.  But how is it possible to run only 20 – 23 miles in practice and then bust out 26.2 in race conditions?


  • On January 10, I will have tapered for 3.5 long weeks, so I’ll be extremely rested and ready to go!  I am currently not in a state of recovery.
  • Race day makes you excited and gives you an extra boost.
  • If I can run 22 miles, I can run 26.2 miles based on sheer will and determination.


Why am I running 22 miles this morning and not two 20’s?  Well, I just want to feel “that much” closer to the big 26.2.  I hope my 22 miler gives me a great experience to draw on when the going gets tough at the marathon.


For shorter races, do you run less than the race distance, the race distance, or plus some?  If you’ve done a marathon, what was your longest long run and why?



  • christie, honoring health December 16, 2009, 5:55 am

    Good luck on the run!

  • Sarah @ See Sarah Eat December 16, 2009, 6:25 am

    When I trained for my half marathon, I ran 11 miles two weeks before but that was the longest until the race. With shorter races, I prefer to get used to longer distances, like if I’m doing a 5K, I want to feel pretty comfortable running 4 miles (or 0.9 miles further). I don’t know why, that’s just what I’ve always done. I think if I did a marathon, I’d try for at least 20 or 22, because 4 more miles still seems like a lot. You are doing great, can’t wait to hear about the run!

  • MizFit December 16, 2009, 6:32 am

    Ive been repeatedly told 20 (!)

    have you see the marathon expert’s info here:

  • Melissa December 16, 2009, 6:43 am

    When I ran a half, I did three 10 mile practice runs. Next time, I think that I will probably go to 11 though. I think a lot of it is in the head at that point, so it’s up to the individual person.

  • Jessica @ How Sweet It Is December 16, 2009, 6:50 am

    Good luck! THe longest my hubby ran was 20, and he was ok. I’m sure you’ll do great!

  • sirenjess December 16, 2009, 6:58 am

    My longest race is a marathon and I’ve run 21 as my longest training run. I don’t believe that you should run the full 26.2 and most plans don’t have you do that. Some plans will have you run two 20 or 23 milers. I’ve done that when I was training to qualify for Boston. I ran two 21 milers. One was to test to see if I could qualify and the other was to run just because I needed to run another long run.

  • Lily @ Lily's Health Pad December 16, 2009, 7:13 am

    I only ran 20. I did a lot of research and that is what most sources recommended. I wasn’t trying to break a PR- just simply finish and run the whole time. Plus, I didn’t find my long run Sundays to be particularly fun. Im sure 22 is fine if it makes you feel better about the race. I promise you though, if you can run 20, you can run 26.2.

  • Madeline @ GreensAndJeans December 16, 2009, 7:40 am

    For both of my marathons the longest I ran was 20 miles. You would be shocked at how much adrenaline (and sheer will to finish!) will help push you across that finish line!

  • Paige (Running Around Normal) December 16, 2009, 7:53 am

    Good luck on the 22 miles! (Wow, it’s crazy even typing that!!)
    The longest race I’ve run is a 10K, but my longest training run was 8.5 miles. I think I was a little overzealous, hehe.

  • Katie December 16, 2009, 7:57 am

    Hey Caitlin

    before my last two Boston marathons the longest I went was twenty miles. But I think twenty two is really awesome! You’re kicking serious butt!

  • Jess (A Fete For Food) December 16, 2009, 8:00 am

    I’m interested to see what people are doing. I JUST signed up for Boston 2010 to run for a charity (WOOHOO!!!) and this will be my first marathon. I’m planning on using a Hal Higdon schedule, and running 20 miles x2, unless someone has a better running schedule. I think one of those runs I might do 22, more as a mental confidence booster than overcoming that physical barrier.

    For my half I ran back in September, the longest I ran was 11. It was plenty for this distance.

    • Caitlin December 16, 2009, 3:49 pm

      congrats on running Boston for charity. that is awesome!

  • Britt - Runnerbelle December 16, 2009, 8:01 am

    Hope your run goes well despite the fun you had yesterday. 🙂

    The longest I’ve run before a marathon is about 22 miles I think, but usually I stick to about two 20 milers. There are many people out there that topping out at 16 miles is just fine before a marathon, but I have to do at least 20 to feel comfortable heading into the race. Topping out at 20 miles has worked well for me, I’ve qualified for Boston 4 years in a row now!

  • Estela @ Weekly Bite December 16, 2009, 8:04 am

    I hope your run goes well!

    My longest run was 23 miles. It worked for me 🙂

  • Haleigh December 16, 2009, 8:05 am

    Good luck on your long run!

    I am not much of a runner, I prefer to take walks and practice yoga but the longest that I have ever ran was 6 miles.

  • Lee December 16, 2009, 8:22 am

    When I ran a marathon, I did two 20 mile runs. I was supposed to do three, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.

  • megan December 16, 2009, 8:30 am

    for shorter races, I like to run the race distance plus some. For my half marathon, I maxed out at 12 though, because I just didn’t want to do 13 🙂 It didn’t hurt me though – I hit my goal exactly!

  • Jenna December 16, 2009, 8:33 am

    good luckkk

  • Alex December 16, 2009, 8:34 am

    This is a great question because everyone has a different opinion, and (almost) everyone always thinks that their opinion is the right one… because it is, for them! I think it all depends on what kind of runner you are, what you’re training to do in the marathon, how many you’ve run before, etc. The longest run I have done before a marathon was 24 miles, and that was my fastest one and a BQ, but I know that my body can handle that because it is used to longer/higher distances. I think that whatever someone chooses as their longest run is perfect for them, as long as they are educated about their options and are not risking injury, either from running too much or not enough before the big day.

    Good luck out there!

    • Caitlin December 16, 2009, 3:50 pm

      truth – i agree.

  • Allison December 16, 2009, 8:37 am

    Thanks for the info! I’ve only done 5k’s and 10k’s, so I’ve trained to run the full distance. For my half marathon training, our longest training run is 15 miles. However, it’s two weeks before my race so I might do a shorter distance that day. In that case, my longest run before the half with be 14 miles.

  • Jess December 16, 2009, 8:37 am

    I think it really does depend on what kind of runner you are. For me I prefer to run at least the distance I’m racing beforehand and usually longer. My body takes a while to adjust to longer distances and I feel I’d be more likely to injure myself if I had to tackle both a longer distance and a higher intensity in a race.

    For my first marathon in April I plan on running two 20 milers and one 22 miler. But obviously I’ll adjust as necessary based on how I feel at the time. The way I look at it, there are people who train for and run ultra distances regularly, so saying that you shouldn’t run over 20 miles in training seems a bit overzealous to me. If you think you can handle it and you build up to it properly then, by all means, run as far as you want.

  • Molly @vegandorm December 16, 2009, 8:43 am

    as a college xc runner, weo train for a distance of 5k or 10k, we do a 2 hour long run once a week, so over. i’m no expert on marathons though!

  • Lisa December 16, 2009, 8:43 am

    I don’t know if the difference between 20 and 22 is so relevant, but I think it matters how *many* of these long runs you’re doing. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with just 1 20m but it’s the cumulation of miles that will get you there.

    Having said that, and not seeing what your running schedule is while you’re away in the UK, I think your taper is really long and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with almost a month. Are you going to get in several mid-distance runs (12-15miles) while you’re on vacation?

    • Caitlin December 16, 2009, 3:52 pm

      probably not… i respect hal hidgon a lot ( and his plan has you doing just one 12 miler in the three weeks before the marathon. if i squeeze it in, cool, but i really dont think its going to make a difference and i dont want to be running for 2+ hours vacation.

      • Lisa December 17, 2009, 12:12 am

        I have no doubt that you’ll finish, if only because of the adrenalin and excitement of the crowd, your determination, etc. will push you there. However, fitness does decrease, 3.5 weeks is a long time, and because you’re not coming in with years of running fitness, but just restarted again (a year ago?) I would wonder if you had enough in the “bank” to make the last 10-12km easy (when I say easy, I mean “not painfully unbearable”). You might want to think of finding a group in England to do a run with – that would be cool because you’d be running with locals and getting a different taste of the country that not many people get. In any event, good luck!!! And safe travels!

        • Caitlin December 17, 2009, 9:05 am

          thanks for your advice!

          i do want to clarify that i’ve been running for 3.5 years straight with the exception of 2 months this summer. and during that time, i trained for and raced in a metric century bike race. so i definitely have years of running fitness under my belt. 🙂 but thanks for your advice!

      • Morgan December 17, 2009, 11:01 am

        Hal’s plan has you doing a 20 miler 3 weeks prior and a 12 miler 2 weeks out and 8 the week before, AND he also has you running quite a bit during the week (17-20ish) miles before the long run day. With a taper the last week.
        I think you really should consider a couple of longer-ish runs while you are on Vacation!
        No matter how long you have under your belt in fitness training, it always leaves much, much faster than you build it. I’ve been active since I was 8 (and I’m almost 30) and running since high school and I can tell you in the 3 weeks I take off after a marathon, my training is gone.

  • Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg December 16, 2009, 8:45 am

    I’m with you– I would definitely want to get as close as possible to the actual 26.2 miles, just to feel as comfortable as possible with the idea of running that distance on race day.

    Hope you’re having a successful final long run as I type this!

  • Jolene ( December 16, 2009, 8:45 am

    I think you should do whatever feels right for you … I am sure that the 20 mile rule was just someone’s opinion – go for it girl!

  • Paige December 16, 2009, 8:50 am

    My longest run for a marathon is 10 miles. To explain a little further, I do “two a days” instead of doing one long run. For instance, my biggest training day might be 10 miles in the morning and 4 miles in the afternoon. That way, I get 14 miles for the day, without too much wear and tear on my legs. I am afraid that if I did anything 16+, my hips would hurt. Two runs a day work perfectly for me!

  • Matt December 16, 2009, 8:51 am

    Wow you are tapering 3.5 weeks? That is a long time and it might cause you to lose some fitness. You may want to try and get another long run in before the marathon.

  • Joelle (The Pancake Girl) December 16, 2009, 8:54 am

    I can’t even believe you’re doing 22 miles.. so intense! Go girl go!

  • Meredith December 16, 2009, 8:57 am

    I have run six marathons including 3 Bostons with a PR of 3:21 and I have never run longer than 20 miles in training. For Boston 2009 I did three 20-mile long runs and that was really great preparation. I have never done more than 20-mile long runs because it isn’t necessary. With speed work, maintenance mileage and weekly long runs you’re more than covered. If you can run 20 you can absolutely run 26.2 on race day, and running beyond 20 miles increases the odds of getting injured – which would be a nightmare!

    • Morgan December 16, 2009, 1:09 pm

      I agree 100%!

  • Meredith December 16, 2009, 9:00 am

    P.S. Even Kara Goucher had never run longer than 20 miles at a time when she ran her first marathon in NYC, in which she placed 3rd!

    • Alex December 16, 2009, 6:14 pm

      Yes, but she was probably running close to 100 miles a week!

  • Whit December 16, 2009, 9:07 am

    I think the 22 miler is a great idea. Plus try to not come down with a cold the week before your race. because I think that is key.

  • Nobel4Lit December 16, 2009, 9:13 am

    I’ve run 4 marathons (PR 4:19) and have not done more than 20 miles at one time. What I’ve found has worked for me is 2 20-milers. They say that each 20-miler you do builds your tolerance to the “wall,” and really I don’t think I can run more than that during training without breaking, no matter how much taper I have.

    I just ran 26.2 on Dec 6 and don’t think I’d be up for running another 26.2 three weeks from then. The legs take a good while to recover completely.

  • Mrs.Ballou @ The Unlikely Success Story December 16, 2009, 9:24 am

    I’ve only done one 5k and I’m training for my 2nd, since you asked for short distances I can share that I ran up to 4 miles in training. Of course I’m not a real runner, just getting started. I feel like I need to know I can run that far.

    I hope your 22 miler was great! 🙂

  • Megan @ Megzz Wins At Life December 16, 2009, 9:30 am

    Good Luck!! Funny thing is everyone who finds out I am running a 1/2 Marathon asks me if I am going to run the 13 before and I say no I am done at 11.. hehe

  • Megan December 16, 2009, 9:32 am

    I’ve done three marathons so far, but this is the first one I’ve trained with a serious hope of a BQ. For my first three, I never hit past 20, but it was becuase I was struggling with injuries and other issues. This year I did 2 18s, 2 20s, and a 22 because I was in much better shape. And I liked having a little break after the first 18. My weeks looked like this: 18/10/half race/20/22/20/18 (this coming Sunday). I think even more important than the acutal distance of your longest run is that you incorporate goal pace into about half of your long runs. Finishing a long run with 4-6 goal pace miles helps train your body to run fast when tired, which is key!!

  • Lindsey @ EatReadRun December 16, 2009, 9:42 am

    My longest pre-marathon distance run was 20 miles twice. For the next one, I would definitely run 22 miles once and 20 miles once. I hit 21 miles during the actual marathon and my body was shocked. I think adding a bit more distance certainly would have helped me. But that’s just me. Goodluck on your long run today!!

  • Devon December 16, 2009, 9:50 am

    For my half, I only ran 10. I didn’t feel like that extra 3.1 was anything at all. Race day adrenaline can get you through pretty much anything!

  • julia December 16, 2009, 9:50 am

    When I ran my first half, I did 12 miles two weeks before. A lot of beginner training plans topped out at 10, but I knew I would be much better prepared mentally if I did 12 as my longest run. However, this year, because of injury and an abbreviated training plan, I’m only going to do 10 two weeks before the Disney half.

  • Kristie Lynn December 16, 2009, 9:51 am

    For 5ks and 10ks I always still do a “longer” run, just to keep up my endurance. But for my first half my longest run was 12.8 miles (it was supposed to be 11.5 but I got lost!). For marathon training next year I hope to run 22 miles too, just because I need to know mentally that I can go that far. Guess I’ll see how my body feels as I go through training though! Hope your run went well this morning!!

  • Betsy December 16, 2009, 10:04 am

    I have to say I’m in the 22 camp. Although almost every training plan I’ve seen say to peak at 20, mentally, I like to know that I’ve been a little closer. Running long distances is so much more mental than anyoen ever thinks, and to know that i’m closer to that 26.2 distance gives me a boost of much-needed confidence. Good luck today!

  • Tyler December 16, 2009, 10:05 am

    I like to get in one 10 miler before a half marathon, but I have done a half marathon before without training more than seven and did well! i really doubt that i would run 26.2 miles before an actual marathon race. with the adrenaline in races, you can push yourself more than you did in training. plus, if i was doing a marathon for the first time, i would want to save the excitement of reaching the distance for race day 🙂

    hope your 22 miler is going well!!!

  • Katy @ These Beautiful Feet December 16, 2009, 10:11 am

    Yay 22!! I love that number. 😉 Congrats, I hope it’s going amazingly well! You’re almost to the 26.2!!

  • Melissa S. December 16, 2009, 10:14 am

    i have always thought that 22 miles was a great distance to run before a marathon. for shorter races like 5ks, 10ks and 15ks i think you should run the whole distance at least once, maybe a bit more.

  • Janna (Just Flourishing) December 16, 2009, 10:20 am

    The longest race I’ve done is a 10k and I don’t think I’ve run much longer. I am hoping to do a half marathon in March though!

  • Beth @ DiningAndDishing December 16, 2009, 10:36 am

    I seriously admire you for being able to spend the afternoon at the bar yesterday and then knock out 22 miles today!! The day after drinking I’m usually face down on my bed. hehe

  • Esther December 16, 2009, 10:49 am

    I think it completely depends on the person. For me, I always like to run more than the race distance, but I’ve been running for 15 years (not just training for an event). For my last marathon, I ran 27 miles 2 weeks prior. I continued to run double digit miles the days immediately following my 27 miler since my body felt great and was not sore. For me, the fun in running is not the event I participate it. As I get older, I find that I participate in fewer organized events, but I run much longer distances than ever.

    No matter what the “experts” say, I really think it depends on the person and how long you have been running. You can run a marathon w/o a long training period, but the difference is in how you feel and recover afterward.

  • Teacherwoman December 16, 2009, 10:51 am

    When I run shorter distances, like the 5K, I will train above and beyond the 3.1 miles, but that’s just me. When I trained for the half marathon, I think my longest run was just shy of 10 miles due to other cicumstances and looking back now I know I should have done more. If I plan to do the half marathon this may, I would LOVE to get in 12-14 miles a couple weeks before the half!

  • Morgan December 16, 2009, 10:53 am

    I ran one 22-miler previous to the Chicago Marathon in October and a couple 20’s but mostly 18’s. Come race day I was more than ready and when I crossed that Finish Line I was like “oh wait… I’m done?” The adrenaline alone could’ve kept me going… 🙂

    You are going to do great and you’ve definitely trained for the distance. 26.2 is hard on your body and you’re going to feel it, best to go in it ready to rock then be overtrained.

  • Lindsay December 16, 2009, 11:06 am

    Good luck!!!! I know you’ll rock this morning’s 22 🙂

  • Caitlin@TheTwentyFifthYEar December 16, 2009, 11:08 am

    For both races I have run (5K and 5-mile) I never ran the full distance prior to race day. My pace was pretty even between the two, the only regret I had was not training for endurance better because I hit a lot of hills I was not prepared for! I plan to start training for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May which will have MANY hills so cross-training is in order : )

    Regardless, your long runs are an inspiration!

  • Diana @ frontyardfoodie December 16, 2009, 11:23 am

    Wow, I’m in awe of you!

    I’m going to be doing a couple 10K’s this summer but I don’t think that’ll be a big deal training wise because I already do six miles runs all the time. For the half marathon I plan on actually doing the full distance some time before hand(maybe a few weeks ahead) just for my own mental assurance. I’m not all that good on race day so I need to know for certain I can do it.

    Good luck on your 22 miles. I know you’re going to do so well!

  • Jill Will Run December 16, 2009, 11:23 am

    For everything up to a half marathon, I always train further than the actual distances. But for all of my previous marathons I did up to 20 miles. When I do another marathon someday, I think I will probably go up to 22 miles in training.

  • skinnyrunner December 16, 2009, 11:45 am

    my first half i didn’t run at all! my first marathon i ran the full distance 3x and then got injured and didn’t end up running the actual race!
    most recently i ran a 22 miler before my first marathon and all turned out well but i had wished i had run the full distance just for some mental confidence.

  • Tracey@tropicalhappiness December 16, 2009, 11:58 am

    Oh my goodness… if we added up all the miles that people are commenting about, I think “we” as a group would have ran halfway around the world!! Crazy! I’m so intimidated by anything double digit, much less 20 or 22 miles! WOW!
    Can’t wait to read about how your 22 miler went. Hope it went well! 🙂

    • Caitlin December 16, 2009, 3:53 pm

      HAHAH i was just thinking how impressed i was by all these ladies!

  • Kerry December 16, 2009, 12:01 pm

    My training group runs 26 TWICE before the marathon. at first I was scared, but it really mentally prepared me for it. By the way, I run with the galloway training plan. I actually met him and it was so inspiring to hear him talk. I just completed my first marathon using the galloway method and finished in 4:38. I was so glad I got those 26 milers in first.

  • Allison December 16, 2009, 12:12 pm

    My longest race was a half marathon I did back in october. I only did two 10 mile long runs before- I did a couple of 8 miles and one 9 mile run. I think it was enough to finish the race- I did great, but it took me weeks to fully recover from that race. I think for the next one I do I plan to do a couple of 12 mile runs and some 11 and 10 mile runs as well to help me get more used to doing the long distance thing so I can recover quicker.

  • Emily December 16, 2009, 12:50 pm

    My longest race so far was a half marathon, and the longest training run I did was eleven miles! It was, however, four weeks before the actual race. I did not feel at all prepared for the half marathon – I feel like I should have run thirteen miles (at least!) about three weeks before the race, eleven the next week, and then ten the week before. But then again, that’s just me.

  • Anna M December 16, 2009, 12:54 pm

    Research suggests that there is a “tipping point” at about 20 miles where you are tearing down your body more than you can rebuild, meaning you may actually be making yourself weaker for race day than you would have been had you stopped shorter, if you go over that threshold. Also, the training adaptations above 20 are not significantly better than those equal to 20. The most benefit derived from tapering is shown at a very drastic taper of 72-94 hours. Good Luck!

    • Morgan December 16, 2009, 1:34 pm

      I agree here too.
      Also, it is not a good idea to run that many miles after a night of binge drinking. Being dehydrated will inhibit your ability to recover properly. You might be lucky one time and not the next (in terms of recovery). You definitely don’t want to inhibit your recovery time before a race.

      One other thing you need to think of in terms of training wise is speedwork and running when you are worn out. I know during your last 20 miles you guys ran fast at the end, which is good, especially for race day training. But adding speedwork, tempo runs, strength training and hill work will affect your running the most.

  • Angela December 16, 2009, 1:43 pm

    Great question, and one I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve run three marathons and my PR was on the training cycle I went up to 22. I’m planning on running at least one more fall 2010 and am debating going up to 28-30 in order to most comfortably finish the race and improve my time. I’ve read that in order to make gains on your time you should consider doing this. However, the flip side is you potentially risk injury and over-training. A friend of mine recently got a PR and her longest run? 14 miles. Go figure!! It might be worth trying a few different things and finding what works for you. Good luck on the 22.

  • Kristin December 16, 2009, 1:49 pm

    I believe for any distance less than a half marathon, it is good to train for longer, that way the race distance will seem easy! I prefer to do that for a half marathon also, but that’s just me. 🙂 For my marathon training this fall, I did two 20-mile and one 22-mile training run. The reason I did more than 20 was somewhat psychological; the last 10K is supposed to be the hardest (and it is), and I wanted to break through that barrier in advance. I’m glad I did. I might do 23 in my next marathon training cycle (spring?). I don’t think the long distance beats you up too much if you do it at any easy, slow pace. Can hardly wait to read about your run!

  • Becky December 16, 2009, 4:38 pm

    I ran my first 5K race on Thanksgiving. I just started running in September by accident! I was running 5 miles 3-4 times a week before the 5K. I wanted to know I could handle the actual 3.1 on race day. Now, running 26 miles….that’s another story….

  • Barbara December 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I have run 5k and 10k for years, this will be my first Half (curently 65 yrs. young ) and have had a blast training, although have had my share of setbacks due to one problem or another, and have learned so much about the sport and my body.. I want to get to 12.5 mi. a couple of weeks in a row and then enjoy the finish !!!! but we have a pre-race 5k the day before..I am planning to take it easy and just use it to warm up a that wise ??? my goal : Get to the start line,UNINJURED, and FISNISH !!!!!!

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