For Time or Distance?

I’ve been doing some reading lately.  About running.  Specifically marathon training.  And I’ve seen lots of people saying the same thing.  At first I pretty well dismissed it, but I just KEEP seeing it, so it’s pretty hard to just ignore.  And the people saying it?  Yeah, they’re no idiots.  So now I’m a little perplexed.  What is it I’m talking about?  This.

“There is no physical or aerobic benefit to running beyond three hours.”

I didn’t bookmark anything to link back to, and I’m not going to cite anyone in particular, but this seems to be a VERY popular opinion.  If three hours gets you 22 miles, great.  If three hours gets you 15 miles, so be it.
If I continue doing my long runs the way I have been–running comfortably and walking every mile–3 hours would get me to about 16 miles.  That just seems BONKERS to me, to go into race day only having run 16 miles!  I know the Hanson Brothers plan only goes up to 16, and lots of people go on to run a successful marathon with that plan.  But I just don’t think I could do it.  The thought scares the crap out of me.  Would I love to ditch my 18- and 20-mile training runs?  HELL YEAH I WOULD!  But I’m just not sure I could get to the starting line feeling prepared if I did.
So what’s your opinion?  How long should your longest training run be?  Have you ever gone into a marathon on less-than-optimal training?  Do you follow the three-hour rule, or do you do the commonly accepted 20 or even 22 miles?

9 thoughts on “For Time or Distance?

  1. I find this very interesting too because people in my club are doing this… but they are faster than me, so 3 hours actually means something. For me, I prefer to go to 22 for a full (a few times if I can). I would rather be used to the time on my feet since I am a slower runner!


  2. This is weird, to me. I mean, 3 hours would net me the same, like, 16 miles. There's no way I'd be comfortable capping my training at 16 miles. For ME, at least half the battle is mental, and knowing that I finished 20, 22 miles is important. I think it would screw with my head only completing 16 milers.

    I did 3 20's and a 22 on my training cycle. That said, I love super long runs. I'm broken.


  3. I've heard the same thing and some people have tried to explain the theory behind it. The physical side I can get but for me mentally doing the longer runs was key to making each long distance race seem more and more approachable.


  4. I get it for faster runners. But the marathon isn't capped at 3 hours – 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. And if I don't go at least 20 in training, I'll never make it on race day.

    Maybe if I was mentally more tough I could do it physically. But alas, I am a big fat mental wimp.


  5. For my first marathon, I did the triple 20's and I am using the same formula for marathon #2. For marathon #3, I hope to get some 22's in there. I can't go by the hours since some also argue you should do your long run slower. I need the longer distance to build my own confidence and I think it better trains me to actually do the 26.2 miles. I was beat after my 20 miles last week. Dead tired! I ran some at a faster pace due to time constraints and I know I can't hold that pace for the full 26.2 but I know I can do the full 26.2 now.


  6. There might not be a physical or aerobic benefit but MENTALLY there is a huge benefit!!! My husband has done 3 fulls now and has said for his next one he will train and do at least a 24 or 28, a 20 and 22 weren't enough for him.


  7. Hmmm… I thought I was pretty up on the latest training stuff and I haven't actually heard of that. I guess I can't really pass judgement on the supporting science (since I don't know anything about it), but that sounds kind of bogus to me. So you could max at 3 hours and then go run an ultra-marathon (50 miles? 100 miles?) and do just as well? I don't buy it. Is there more to it? Like 3 hours max, but make sure you're getting in at least 50 miles a week or something?

    Even if that is true physically, I'm with everyone else here – mentally it's got to be important.


  8. I completed my first marathon having only completed a 17 miler for my longest training run. It wasn't what I had planned, but life events got in the way of a couple of training weekends. I think mentally it may have been tougher than it would have been if I'd known that I could at least complete 20.


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