As a sports medicine professional, one question I get asked from runners-in-training is “how long should my long run should be?” Deciding the length of your long run is always a big question. As a runner, you know the long runs are tough and you wonder if you will even complete them, but you also know you need to subject yourself to the long runs to train successfully.

A long run depends on two things: your weekly mileage and the pace that you will run the long run. The rite-of-passage for most runners training for a marathon would be to string a bunch of 20-mile runs at the end of the week. This “magic number” does not consider individual differences in abilities and goals. Without proper training, 20 miles at the end of a three-a-week training program can be both demoralizing and injurious.

Finding the Right Time and Length for Your Long Run

Dr. Jack Daniels (not the whiskey) provides a basis for your long run. He instructs runners to never exceed 25-30 percent of their weekly mileage in a long run. He adds that a 2.5 to 3-hour time limit should also be enforced. Exceeding those guidelines offers no physiological benefit and may lead to overtraining, injuries, and burnout. Dr. David Costill also adds that a 2-hour bout of running will reduce muscle glycogen depletion by as much as 50%. While this rate of depletion is acceptable on race day, it is counterproductive in the middle of a training cycle because it takes 72 hours to replenish those stores; leaving you to recover the rest of the week instead of getting in quality training.

The second factor in your long run is the pace you will be running it at. The long run should be about 1 to 1.5 minutes slower than your race goal pace. So, if you are planning on running slower than a 9-minute pace, then you should avoid the 20-mile trek. This would put you outside the 2.5- to 3-hour time limit. If you ran 20 miles at a 9-minute pace, it would put you right at 3 hours to run. Anything more than a 9-minute pace would put you over 3 hours for a 20-mile trek, thus breaking the cardinal rule.

So how do you finish a 26.2-mile marathon without ever running 20 miles on your long run? Kevin and Keith Hanson from the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project provide a solution for this problem. They prescribe to their runners a long run of only 16 miles, but here’s the catch: they have you run on tired legs to simulate the last 16 miles of the marathon not the first 16 miles. With their training method, they have you run a tempo run on Thursday and run on Friday and Saturday. Thus, giving you no time off before your long run and there is nothing like a tempo run to get your legs tired for your long run. I have used this method for years in my marathon training and I can say it works; it has kept my injuries down and has kept me healthy for race day.

Where Did the 20 Miles Come From?

In the 70s, the average finishing time for a marathon was under 3 hours. But, these were hardcore pavement-pounders and elites that could finish 20+ miles during their long run in well under 3 hours. This is where the “magic” 20 miles came from. Today, with the increased popularity and numbers of marathon runners, the time to finish a marathon is right around 4.5 hours; thus making your long run of 16 miles better for the average runner.

If you get an injury during your marathon training and need help getting back to running, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist familiar with sports medicine. We’d love to help and our physical therapy offices are located throughout the Phoenix Valley.

Many runners think the best way to avoid time spent on injury recovery is investing in a high dollar shoe a close friend or running guru has recommended to them. Often, that means buying the newest “it” shoe. Roll bars, thrust enhancers, and microchips: the running industry wants us to think that their new technology will prevent injury or make us faster. In fact, they’re counting on it.

Over 46 million pairs of shoes were sold last year, making the shoe companies over three billion dollars, so it looks like the marketing is working. However, despite these claims proclaiming the technology is best ever, 65 to 80 percent of all runners suffer an injury each year. If the technology is improving in running shoes then why is there such a high number of injuries each year?

Before the invention of the modern running shoe in 1972, runners needed and had strong feet because they would run in thin-soled shoes. As you can guess, the strength in their feet resulted in a lower rate of injuries than what we see today. “A lot of foot and knee injuries plaguing us are by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate and give us knee problems,” says Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard University.

Not convinced? Did you know that an arch is one of the strongest weight-bearing designs ever invented? Guess what? Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch and it gets its strength by applying force from the top down, not from underneath. So, when you wear a cushy shoe, you are actually weakening the foot. A weak foot means an increased chance of injury.

Of course, the shoe companies wouldn’t want you to know that. As a runner myself, and after seeing many runners at the clinic, I can safely say there are no shoes that are the best because each person is different. For example, I don’t do well in Nike or New Balance shoes, but I’ve seen other runners who prefer these brands. Furthermore, never assume the shoe with the higher price tag is the better shoe.

When shopping for running shoes, don’t go to a big box store. Instead, go to a local running shoe store. The big box stores don’t have the knowledge that your local running store has. We recommend SOLE SPORT. This locally owned shop features a runner-hobbyist sales staff that can offer first-hand advice and fit you with proper shoes. Additionally, they have a great return policy; they want you to be happy with your shoes.

In my years of running 5ks to marathons, I’ve found a practice that helps me reduce the time I spend on injury recovery: getting three pairs of shoes and often rotating which pair I wear each time I run. I mark the shoes with a sharpie “1,” “2,” or “3” so I can keep them in order. Even if you are using the same model shoes for all three pairs, each shoe can be made just a little different. This difference will put your foot in different positions every time you run in a different pair, reducing the pounding on the same part of your foot because of the slight variation. While this practice will cost you a little more upfront, in the long run, your shoes will last longer and most importantly it can help prevent injury.

Come in and see us if you’re suffering from an injury or you’re looking to reduce the time you spend on injury recovery. We’d love to see you and are here to help. Contact us to schedule an appointment!

In our Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic, we treat and train a lot of runners. As a competitive, long-distance runner myself, I have learned a lot over the years. I try to use my knowledge to help others achieve their running goals, whether it is finishing a race, improving their time, reaching a certain distance, or anything else. A race doesn’t start at the starting line—it begins weeks ahead of the race, during your first week of training.

I have witnessed many runners in the first weeks of training (when their mileage is low) load up their belts with Gu packs or carbohydrate drinks just to get through a mile or so. The problem with this strategy is that your body is not going to learn how to burn fat or use up glucose if you constantly supply it during training. Runners need to teach their bodies how to burn fat and their on-board fuel supplies if they want to reach the finish line in an upright position.

During a race, I always laugh when I see the ‘energy’ water station at about the 10 mile mark in a half-marathon: at this point, it will be too late if you’ve already burned through all your glucose. The last three miles are not going to be fun, and your race is not going to end well. Trust me, because it has happened to me and I have learned from my mistakes.

First off, an elite runner has enough glucose in their body to run for just over two hours with no problem, and an average runner has much more. So if you are running 13.1 miles, your body should have enough glucose to power you through the race if you trained properly. My advice is to complete one or two runs per week with just good ol’ H2O—water. If you run in the morning, don’t eat until after you run; this will teach your body to use and rely on its own energy, and it trains your system to store more glucose rather than depending on outside sources. After time your body will start to adapt, and you will not hit that dreaded wall during your race. I have been running competitively for over 10 years now, and after using this fasting method I can now train and run about 18 miles with just water and no problems at all.

Completing a marathon may seem like a nearly impossible task, but getting to the finish line is a hugely rewarding accomplishment. Contact our Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic for advice about training!

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy’s Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic provides extensive services to patients of all ages. We believe in creating an individualized program for each patient and utilizing cutting edge techniques to ensure the best results possible. You can schedule a free assessment with one of our expert staff by simply going online here today. To learn more about physical therapy practices, follow our blog!

Anthony Heywood, PT, MPT, is a dedicated Ahwatukee physical therapy provider. He discusses why strength training could be beneficial for children, what parents should be aware of, and how to make a training program successful.

With the arrival of a new school year—and with it a new sports season—parents often wonder if their kids could benefit from strength training. At our clinic, I get this question from parents all the time. The short answer is, yes! However, it has to be done properly.

Exercise physiologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both support the implementation of strength and resistance training programs for young children. Studies show that a moderate-intensity strength training program can help increase strength, decrease the risk of injury while playing sports, and increase bone density in children.

The AAP supports resistance training programs, even for prepubescent children, if they are monitored by well-trained adults that take into account the child’s maturation level. The AAP does suggest avoiding repetitive lifts, which are lifts that an individual can only complete 1-3 reps of at a maximum weight. When children have not yet reached developmental maturity, their epiphyses (also known as growth plates) are still very vulnerable to injury, and performing maximal lifts could damage them. However, neither the AAP nor exercise physiologists have set a minimum age for children to begin a resistance training program. Research has been performed on moderate weight training programs with children as young as 8 years old to no ill effect.

Growth plate injuries in children should not be a worry in weight training with proper coaching. Strength training for kids, especially in this day and age, is a good idea. Proper coaching will avoid near-maximal lifts, sets with extreme fatigue, and sets to failure (lifting until you physically cannot continue). Weight training injuries are usually a result of pushing too hard in addition to improper technique, which is why strength exercises for any age requires experienced administration. Just because your big brother works out, doesn’t make him the best coach! And a parent’s program from their trainer isn’t going to be safe or age-appropriate either. Don’t think that a child simply needs a scaled down adult program—you are asking for injuries if you think that is the case.

Strength training should not be confused with weightlifting, bodybuilding, or powerlifting. Those activities are driven by competitions in which the participant wants to lift heavier weights or build bigger muscles than other athletes. Believe it or not, there are bodybuilding competitions for boys as young as 13 years old! Some say 13 is too young to start a weight-training program, while other equally-qualified experts see no harm in it at all; but there is an important difference between moderate strength training and bodybuilding/weightlifting competitions.

My number one concern with weight training is, in fact, competition. Strength training is not about lifting the heaviest weight, and we definitely do not want children competing with each other on who can build the biggest muscles! We need to praise children for good technique. We need to award kids for the best form, or the safest practices in the gym. A child’s ability to appreciate proper technique and form should determine whether or not they are ready for strength training, and they must be mature enough to accept direction. A good rule of thumb to follow is if your child is mature enough to participate in organized sports, such as football, soccer, dance, etc., they are ready for some type of strength training. While it can be a lot of fun, it is not “goof off” time, and children have to be able to take it seriously.

Personally, I encourage strength training if done properly. Strength training offers many rewards to young athletes such as increased strength, decreased risk of injury, and increased bone density. Strength training is even a good idea for kids who simply want to look better and feel better about themselves. It can put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness. The key is to work with experts. This concerns your child’s health, so my advice is to do your research, ask questions, and consult with a Foothills physical therapist!