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Can you skip out on long runs during marathon training?

Are there any benefits to skipping your long practice runs?


Dave Emilio is training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 16.

I skipped a long run. Gasp! Yes, at the 11th hour last weekend, I chose to run a local 10-kilometre race instead. But for me and most marathon runners, Sundays are reserved for the long run, the key workout in our training program. This element of the program is necessary to prepare us for the distance of the marathon race. It is also a day of trial and error. We test out new shoes, try a new breakfast or on-the-run nutrition. Most of all, we test our fitness.

Sometimes we run alone, sometimes we run with a friend or a group. Some people prefer to do the same thing every Sunday, but I prefer to mix it up. I like to run with a group for the social aspect and to be pushed to work a little harder. Once in a while though, I find it's therapeutic to be alone on the road with just my thoughts to keep me company.

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As runners, we get very analytical when we're training for a marathon, particularly after a hard workout or long run. We immediately start comparing the session to one from the same juncture in a previous training schedule. We try to figure out if we were faster or if we weren't, did it feel better? Was my heart rate lower? I always hope the numbers are drastically better and that I've magically reached a new plateau. It's not magic though - it's hard work.

My Sunday runs are rarely less than 20K and build up to several runs between 32 and 35K, and they last two to three hours. They are a big part of the allure of marathon training and are a good indication of how I'm progressing.

At some points in the program, however, I need to do something different. Races just call my name, such as the 10K I did last week. Shorter races can be beneficial in terms of improving speed. They're a foolproof way for me to get into the groove of running faster by stepping outside my comfort zone.

In a race, I want results, whereas in a training run I can get lazy and put off a tough workout for another day. The 10K race just felt like the right thing to do. Next Sunday, the long run will be back in its rightful place.

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