Well, it’s November, folks, and marathons are starting to happen—the Humana San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon kicks off the Texas marathon season on December 3. What does that mean?

It means that a lot of Austin runners are getting in long runs. But what exactly do long runs do, and how long do you go? Answers to these questions lie ahead.

2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon champ David Fuentes knows a thing or two about marathon training.

Should you follow the Hanson training method, which advocates not long runs of 23-26 miles, but rather weekend back-to-back runs of 16 miles, followed by a hard eight miles the next day (for example)? Or should you gradually build your long run up to 25-28 miles, thus ensuring that you can cover the full distance.

Running expert and former Olympian Jeff Galloway remarked that there are many training methods that can successfully get you to the finish line of a marathon. Still, Galloway sticks to his recommendation for the best outcome in a marathon: You should build your long run up to as high as 28-29 miles. Galloway states that this builds extra endurance, which gives your legs the capacity to keep pushing during the later stages of the marathon itself.

While this article does not necessarily endorse one or the other of the aforementioned training strategies, let’s take a look at the actual physiological benefits of the long run.

  • Overall Strengthener: Long runs develop and accustom the joints and muscles to handle the stress of the marathon distance.
  • Capillary Development: It’s well-documented that long runs help the body to build capillary beds, particularly in the calf muscles. Capillaries are small blood vessels that help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues, therefore building a larger number of capillaries facilitates oxygen and carbohydrate into your muscles.
  • Increased Glycogen Storage: We all know that we use carbohydrates (glycogen) in the muscles for energy to run. In the marathon, the more glycogen you can store in your muscles, the better, and easy long runs deplete the muscles of stored glycogen, causing the body to respond to by learning to store more glycogen to prevent future depletion.
  • Better fat burning: While this continues to be a subject of debate, many marathoners—including former Houston Marathon champ Benji Durden (2:10 PR)—believe that when you run slower than your aerobic threshold for long periods, you burn a higher percentage of fat, sparing glycogen. “The more often you do that, the more often you will burn more fat on a regular basis and at a faster pace,” says Durden.
  • Mental benefits: There’s no doubt that your mental outlook plays a huge role in marathon running. And building long runs of 20 or more miles into your training will help boost your confidence about covering the 26.2-mile distance successfully at your goal pace.

To summarize, former Austinite and nationally renowned coach Greg McMillan puts it together nicely:

“The key aims of the long, steady distance long run are to increase your ability to burn fat, store more glycogen and to challenge the body and mind to continue running even when fatigued.”

Upcoming Races: Thursday, November 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Long Center, ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot Five Miler. If you live up north, try the Georgetown Turkey Trot 5 Miler Thursday, November 23 at 8:00 a.m. at downtown Georgetown on the square. Live south? Try the  Comal Cops for Kids Gruene Turkey Trot 5K on Thursday, November 23 at 8:30 a.m., 1281 Gruene Rd., New Braunfels