This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Recently, I encountered two separate discussions elsewhere that raised an interesting idea. The idea is of covering the marathon distance or more in a single weekend while training for a marathon.
As anyone who knows me well knows, I’m a big fan of back to back "long" runs on the weekend. However, I believe you need to have a sufficient base for this kind of training. It’s not for everyone. Most importantly, it’s not for those who aren’t already sustaining a high base of training volume. If you’re running 50 miles per week, I’d much rather see you do a light run of 3-5 miles the day after your long run, which may not be more than 18 miles. It’s "only" a 21-23 mile weekend but you still get the feel of running on tired legs. In addition, you have 27-29 miles to spread out over the remaining 5 days. With that much training capacity for those days available, your overall training will be much better and more well balanced.
But the most critical part of the marathon is the ability to run long, right? What better way to prepare to run long than to log some serious miles on the weekend? It makes logical sense, doesn’t it? Well, take a step back to look at it. If you do this, you’ll probably just log 2-3 easy runs over the course of the week because your legs will be so shot from the weekend. If you do 21-23 miles on the weekend, you’re still getting some serious distance. You’re only giving up around 5 miles. In the meantime, you will have the extra energy to get in a good tempo run on Tuesday or Wednesday and you’ll maybe even be able to get a mid-week run of 10-12 miles in. The net gain by doing a little less on the weekend but getting in much more during the course of the rest of the week will be significant.
Some might say that the suggestion is to only do this once. However, you have to build up to doing this, right? Probably at the same time as you’re building your weekly mileage. So how many weeks do you spend with roughly half of your weekly volume occurring on the weekend? How much are you getting out of the other 5 days a week during those weeks?
Obviously, for some runners, the story is a little different. If you’re running 80 miles a week, a 30 mile weekend makes perfect sense. After all, 80 miles is an average of 10 miles a day for 6 days with a 20 mile run on day 7. However, for a 40-50 mile a week runner, you can’t do 30 or even 26 miles on the weekend and get that same kind of balance. A maximum weekend of 21-23 miles makes much more sense.
In the end, you need to find your best balance. Will a single 26-30 mile weekend for a 40-50 mile per week runner be harmful? Probably not. However, ask yourself what it will do for you. Then ask yourself what it will force you to give up. Is it really going to be beneficial?