Our good friend, Carolyn Day, recently sent a concerned email regarding her marathon training. She was due to compete in the New York Marathon in 5 weeks, had gone on "only one 20-mile training run", and had a significant amount of business travel upcoming that would make a second 20-miler difficult to accomplish. Apparently, the training plan she was following (a popular training schedule used by many runners) prescribed and highly recommended two, 20-mile training runs prior to race day. One around 5-6 weeks out and the second around 3-4 weeks out.
I explained to Carolyn, "I don't know when it became en vogue to run two, 20-milers, but I've never run more than one when training for a marathon or Ironman--and it should be 4-6 weeks out from race day." Carolyn hung up the phone sounding somewhat skeptical, but she agreed not to do another 20-mile run before NYC.
After our conversation, I wondered how many more people out there were running two (or even three) 20-mile long runs in prep for a 26-mile race a few weeks thereafter? It's not the right strategy because, as I explained to Carolyn, the chances of the second long run causing overtraining and/or excessive wear and tear on your legs/body so close to the race are much greater than it helping. This is especially the case for marathoners 30 years and older--the bulk of racers. The last 6 miles of a marathon are going to hurt, no matter what you do in training before. It is your mind and determination that will pull you through "the wall"--and the freshest legs as possible from the start.
How did Carolyn do at this year's NYC marathon after running only one 20-miler? Personal Best time (PR) by 2 minutes...3 hours and 30minutes and 49seconds (3:30:49)!