Most runners will be familiar with the concept of a long run.
It is considered a staple of the weekly training plan. It is exactly how it sounds – a run that lasts longer than the rest of your weekly runs and is normally performed at a steady easy pace.
However, there is a second type of long run that is somewhat unknown to many runners – fast finish long runs.
Unlike in the traditional steady easy long run, fast finish long runs involve the runner starting at their normal easy pace, but then increasing the pace to their target marathon pace or quicker for the last 30-60 minutes or other predetermined duration of the training run.
Why would you put yourself through this?
In this article we are going to unpick this question and dive into:
- The benefits of the fast finish long run,
- How to fuel for fast finish long runs vs standard long runs,
- When to implement fast finish long runs into your training cycle,
- And how to run the fast finish long run.
Fast finish long runs – the why
As experienced endurance coach Greg McMillan points out, you are aiming to achieve two distinct purposes with your long runs during your marathon training plan.
Secondly, you are attempting to become more economical at your marathon race pace, that is, you are learning to burn less fuel for a given pace.
Including long steady easy runs and fast finish long runs in your marathon plan will provide you with different benefits.
Thus, it is essential you understand the difference between them; appreciate why they are important, and how each, in turn, helps you prepare for the challenges ahead.
The importance of fast finish long runs for marathon performance
The accomplished UK based endurance runner Steven McAlary (30.35 10k, 65.01 half-marathon, 2.26.44 marathon) is convinced of the importance of incorporating these types of long runs in his marathon training schedule:
“They prepare you for the challenges ahead in the later stages of the marathon when you are running depleted and on tired legs, as you learn to deal with this situation.”
He advised that you learn to relax your body, settle your head, calm your mind and keep your legs turning over and believes that if you repeatedly simulate the race in training, you’ll have a successful day.
Fuelling for fast finish long runs vs Standard long runs
From a physiological perspective, it is widely known that your body uses fats and carbohydrates when running.
The proportion of each of these fuel types is largely determined by the pace at which you are running. If you are running slow and aerobically, then more of the fuel used will be fats.
On the other hand, if you are running fast and have moved into the anaerobic zone, then your body will rely more heavily on carbohydrates.
Therefore, when runners are performing their long easy steady run, they should be running this at an easy pace so that their body relies on fat and in turn improves their ability to burn fat.
During fast finish long runs, carbohydrates are essential.
This is because the focus is on how you perform in the final 30 to 60 minutes of that run. Some suggest that the part considered “fast” should be no more than 30% of your total run distance or duration.
Studies suggest that your body is totally depleted of glycogen stores after 90 minutes of running. So, imagine that your total run duration is going to be 150 minutes.
It is essential that you consume carbohydrates both before and during to perform well in the “fast” part of the training run.
Thus, the nutrition strategy is completely different in your fast finish long runs. You will want to eat carbohydrates before and during this type of run. In fact, you should try and simulate what you are going to do on marathon race day
When should you run fast finish long runs
Make no mistake about it, these types of runs are hard and mentally tough.
Weekend mornings are usually best for performing your long runs as you’ll be better rested and not rushing to fit the run in if you attempted it during a normal working day during the week.
It would be advisable to alternate these with your traditional long steady long run and ensure that you are not going into them in a fatigued state.
For instance, if you normally do your long run on a Sunday, try and back off a bit on your Saturday training session to ensure you are going in both mentally and physically fresh.
As these runs can be so mentally and physically draining, it is advisable that you do not start incorporating them into your marathon training plan until it is 8-10 weeks before the actual marathon.
If you start doing them too early, you may peak too soon and reach the start line burned out.
So, the best thing to do is to simply run long steady runs until 10 weeks out from the marathon date, and then you could alternate one fast finish long run with a slow steady long run before you taper.
It’s important to note that only having fast finish long runs in your marathon schedule will not be enough. You need to go through the adaptation process that the slow steady long runs provide in terms of improving your ability to burn fat; store glycogen reserves; and handle low blood glucose levels.
How to implement this fast finish long runs into your training
The usual way of performing these runs is to start at your normal easy run pace (like what you would do in your long easy steady runs), and then start increasing the pace at the pre-determined distance or time.
As discussed earlier, you could decide to run the final 30 mins fast or a determined percentage of the total run duration.
As noted earlier, we recommend you eat carbohydrates before and during these runs. This is a critical point, and it is sometimes overlooked by runners who have been accustomed to running without breakfast for their long easy steady runs.
The best way to approach it is to think about what your nutrition strategy will be on the day of the marathon and try and replicate this as close as possible.
For a complete race day simulation, try and get someone to come with you on a bike so that they can hand you the sports bottle or gel at the correct point.
From a mental preparation perspective, the fast finish long run simulates the late in the race fatigue that you will likely experience in the marathon and therefore it provides a great opportunity to train your body to push through that tiredness and keep going even though the legs will be screaming at you and begging you to stop.
Physiologically, they will teach your body to be more efficient at using fat.
This is very important because at the end of the marathon your body will be depleted of carbohydrates, and it will be searching for alternative energy sources. If you have had a number of these fast finish long runs under your belt, the body will be used to running on depleted glycogen levels.
fast finish long runs Example
As a starting point, aim to run the last 3 to 5 miles fast on your first fast finish long run and then increase that distance in the subsequent runs, so that you end up running a 20-22 miler with the last 8-11 miles at a faster pace.
Moreover, ensure that this final fast finish long run is 3-4 weeks out from the marathon as you’ll need time to taper.
Let’s look at an experienced runner’s typical schedule. Paul has a marathon personal best of 3hrs 09 minutes. This season, he has set himself the goal of running under 3 hours. So, his target marathon pace is 6:50 per mile or 4:15 per kilometre.
A typical fast finish long run for Paul would look like this: the first 10 miles of his long run, he would operate at between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile, and then he would aim to up the pace to goal marathon pace over the remaining 6 miles.
He would be looking to finish the last couple of miles faster than your marathon pace, around 6:30 per mile, and lift it in the final 400m, finishing very fast.
You can adjust the paces to suit you based on your own specific target marathon time.
Keen to mix up your running schedule?
Fast finish long runs are a great addition to a varied run schedule, but include all of these and you’ll be flying!
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