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Splitting up Your Long Run: Is It Effective?

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Are you training for a marathon, half marathon or ultra, but having a tough time fitting in your weekly long runs? Are you working on weekends, struggling to find someone to watch the kids, or just plain uncomfortable with running in the dark? A group of runners and coaches facing similar challenges have come up with the perfect solution to this conundrum: Splitting up the long run. They complete a chunk of it in the morning, for as long as time and other commitments allow, and then finish it up in the evening or afternoon of the same day. Voila! But is this really effective, you ask? Does splitting up a long run really produce the same results as completing it in one go? The answer might surprise you.

The Benefits of Splitting a Long Run

According to Jenny Hadfield, certified personal trainer and coach with a Masters degree in Exercise Science, and Patrick Wheeler, professional triathlete and coach with QT2 Systems, splitting up a long run has quite a few advantages. These include:

  • Helping you accumulate long run mileage over an extended period of time, thereby placing less stress on the body
  • Helping you to complete a long run with better form throughout, thereby decreasing the risk of injury
  • Priming your body for the physical and nutritional demands of a long event
  • Increasing the time spent on your feet beyond what would be safe to do in a single session

How to Fit Split Long Runs into Your Training Regime

But how exactly should you incorporate this long-run strategy into your training regime? Should you do it every weekend?

Coach Hadfield suggests using this approach to doing long runs as part of a system of “rotational progression in long run mileage”. For example: Over a 20-week period before a goal marathon, divide your weekly long runs into six groupings of three, slowly and safely increasing your total long run distance each week (except on cut-back weeks). In week one, do a normal, undivided long run. Then in week two, do a split long run by covering the bulk of your long run distance in the morning and the remainder in the afternoon or evening (preferably within a 12-hour window). And, finally, in week three, do a cut-back long run incorporating varying paces. Repeat until you get to week 20. Play around with it a bit and find what works for your lifestyle and your schedule. And if you’re unsure, enlist the help of a trained and experienced running coach. The important thing is to find something that works well for you!

Wheeler follows a similar approach with his athletes and agree that the split long run shouldn’t act as a replacement for all long runs. Remember that, in order to stimulate the necessary physiological adaptions to enable your body to safely tackle a distance like 26.2 miles in one go, you need to put in some undivided long runs as well. Coach Wheeler does, however, like to assign a split long run to athletes training for longer distances every 3-4 weeks with the following purposes:

  • For a bit of variation
  • To get more time on the feet than would be possible to safely do in a single session
  • To practice running on tired (but slightly refreshed) legs while fine-tuning a fueling strategy

How to Split a Long Run

And how should long runs be split up? Coach Hadfield recommends completing approximately 60 percent of your split long run in the morning. You should then clock the remaining 40 percent of your run in the afternoon or evening of the same day. Coach Wheeler, on the other hand, often recommends AM and PM sessions of a similar length of time. He does, however, include pace variations for one or both sessions, depending on the experience and goals of the athlete.

The Dos and Don’ts of Splitting a Long Run

In whatever way you decide to split some of your long runs, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Keep your overall effort level the same as you would have with a single, undivided long run. Don’t be tempted to run faster or harder just because you’re taking a break in the middle. You still want to reap the benefits of going long and slow!
  • As discussed above, also don’t split up every long run in your schedule. Try saving your split long runs for days when your schedule is really hectic. Or save them for the longest runs of your program. Remember that building up endurance through undivided long runs is still extremely important.
  • Keep your activity levels reasonably low in between split long run sessions. Put your feet up as much as you can. You don’t want to schedule a do-or-die shopping spree for in between long run sessions!

So don’t let a hectic schedule or family and work logistics stand in the way of your distance running dream. Make it work by splitting up some of your long runs to suit your needs. Just remember to do it wisely and keep in mind that single, undivided long runs are still vital on non-busy weekends. And don’t hesitate to appoint a running coach to help sort out the kinks if necessary. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself by showing up at the starting line of that goal race feeling refreshed, well-prepared and ready to roar!

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