Forerunners currently is hosting the Virtual Seven Summits and Four Cities Run until June 30th. If you are planning to run a virtual marathon you may want to use one of the 47km challenges as part of your preparation.

Training for a marathon requires several longer runs over 30km to prepare for the 42.2km event. You could run less distance during the lead up to a marathon such as 25km to 30km runs and finish the race; you may not run your best potential time but you should be able to finish. Some marathoners like to run one or two over distance runs greater than 42.2km to prepare for their key event which is considered an “over distance” run.

In the 1970s and 1980s it was popular to run over distances of 40km to 50km when preparing for a marathon. It was considered a good way to develop endurance and to prepare for the mental demands of racing. The over distance run helped prepare your energy system to burn fat as a source of fuel. Today ultra marathoners, who usually race 50km and longer, have successfully competed in marathons and their training includes over distance running.

In 1988 I was training in New Zealand and met the Japanese Marathon team who were training there as well. For one of their workouts they ran 80km at a pace of 2 minutes per km slower than race pace. For additional mental strength, they ran their workout on a 1 mile grass loop. Many of their men athletes ran marathons in 2:10 and women in the 2:20s.

The downside of a very long run is that there is a greater risk of injury and some muscle damage. You need to allow for recovery time after an ultra long run. There is also the risk of excessive fatigue from running too fast during the run. One of the keys to success with the longer runs is to maintain an easy pace. Peter Butler, founder of Forerunners practiced over distance running and his advice is; “to run at a pace much slower than marathon pace; 90 seconds to 2 minutes per km slower than race pace. Run at a slow pace and you will benefit. Run too fast and you will be burnt out.”

The current Forerunners marathon program includes a gradual buildup of long runs over many weeks. Here is an example of the long runs scheduled over 11 weeks:

21km, 24km, 27km, 30km, 30km, 33km, 33km, 36km, 24km, 15km, race marathon

There is a gradual build-up of distance then a taper leading up to the race. The taper allows time for muscles to repair after the 36km run.

If you decide to run an over distance run you will need a little more taper. Here is an example of a long run schedule including a 47km workout:

21km, 24km, 27km, 30km, 30km, 33km, 36km, 47km, 27km, 24km, 15km, race marathon

In this example there is an extra week of tapering but the extra fitness is maintained through moderate long distance runs of 15km to 27km. Over the four week taper the muscles have time to repair from the long run and here is time to improve speed and pace for the marathon.

This spring and summer there are several virtual marathons that you can run. If you are interested in trying the over distance run now is the time to test one out in your training and determine if you would use them for regular races in the future.