Oh, long runs. I both adore and loathe you all at the same time. Now, â€œlong runâ€ doesnâ€™t indicate any particular distance, a long run is a long runâ€¦ TO YOU. The definition of a â€˜long runâ€™ also changes constantly for each individual runner in accordance to the event they are training for. For example, when youâ€™re training for a 10K, a 5.0 miler might be a long run. But when youâ€™re doing a Half, a 5.0 miler is a piece of cake (well, sometimes).
As a side note, itâ€™s nutty how marathon training warps your perception of what constitutes a â€˜long run.â€™ Even if youâ€™re starting from zero, in a few months, youâ€™ll pray for 9.0 mile runs instead of 15.0 or 18.0!
The long run is a challenge, as much mentally as physically, and here are my tips on making your long run as pleasant and beneficial as possible.
THE WEEK BEFORE: Decide what day youâ€™re going to do your long run and start building up the experience in your head. Not â€œOMG I have to run 8.0 miles!!!â€ but â€œThis is going to be SO COOL to run 8.0 miles.â€ A positive mindset is very important. Also, see if you can organize your run with a buddy â€“ they donâ€™t have to do the whole thing with you if they arenâ€™t training for the same distance.
Another thing you want to do a week before is start hydrating. Actually, you should be hydrating all the time. Hydration is not just for before or after exercise. Donâ€™t pump yourself full of liquids (overhydration can actually be deadly!), but I always strive to drink a full glass of water with each meal, and a glass before and after exercise. I always have a water bottle with me, too, so Iâ€™m constantly sippinâ€™.
THE NIGHT BEFORE: Donâ€™t drive alcohol or stay up very late the day before a long run (I ran 22.0 miles after a night of serious partying, and it was not fun â€“ to say the least. I will NEVER do that again!). Youâ€™ll want to lay out all your workout clothes the night before. Check the forecast to determine if youâ€™ll need to layer clothes (alternatively, here are my tips for running in hot weather). Charge all electronics.
Youâ€™ll also want to plan out your route. Nicole writes down turn-by-turn directions on a Post-It and stuffs the note in a plastic bag in her pocket. I usually just look at Google Maps and get a general idea of where Iâ€™m going to go. If you donâ€™t have a GPS watch, you can use Map My Run.
Choose your route carefully and consider whether youâ€™ll be carrying your own water or fuel. I usually run out-and-back runs because I think they feel shorter than loops (but everyone is different!) and I always plan to run by a water fountain or a gas station so I can get water. You can stop in grocery stores, libraries, big-box retailers like Target, or coffee shops to use the bathroom and refill your water bottle or CamelBak. For more information regarding fueling during the long run, see â€œThe Long Runâ€ below.
Lastly, eat a stabilizing and filling dinner. Thereâ€™s really no reason to â€˜carb loadâ€™ (sorry!) for shorter distances. The two days before a marathon, I usually eat an extra 500 calories or so to top up my glycogen stores. Itâ€™s more important that your dinner isnâ€™t spicy (or youâ€™ll run the Chickpea Masala 10K) and includes complex carbs. And drink water!
THE MEAL BEFORE: Everyone has different caloric needs, and stomach sensitivities range from â€˜delicate flowerâ€™ to â€˜like a fist of iron.â€™ But especially when you start getting up in the Half Marathon to Marathon range, itâ€™s pretty important to actually eat a real breakfast (vs. a piece of toast or fruit) before your long run. Youâ€™ll be blasting through hundreds â€“ or even thousands â€“ of calories during your run, and your stomach is already pretty empty after 8 hours (hopefully) of sleep. I have to wake up an hour or so before I plan to leave the house so I have time to digest (and poop, to be honest). Great pre-long run meals include oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches, and Clif bars. And drink water! 🙂
THE LONG RUN: Hereâ€™s a post on how to not hate your long workouts that every runner should read! Long runs are a celebration, not a chore. Most running guides recommend doing your long run 30 seconds to 1:30 minutes longer than your goal race pace because more time on your feet is a good thing! So donâ€™t worry about time â€“ just try to maintain a regular pace and keep a smile on your face.
Long runs also serve a practical purpose of being the â€˜testing groundâ€™ for hydrating and fueling. On race day, YOU DONâ€™T WANT TO DO ANYTHING THAT YOU HAVENâ€™T DONE ON A TRAINING RUN. No new drinks, food, clothes, or running styles. So use your long runs as a way to figure out fueling. I usually drink a Gatorade (150 calories) during runs under 10 miles and start supplementing with additional calories after that. I take in about 350 calories during an 18.0-miler. But my caloric needs might be different than yours so experiment! If you start to feel really sluggish, youâ€™re probably not taking in enough calories. Also check out Cures for Sluggish Runs.
To carry your fuel, I recommend a SpiBelt (hereâ€™s my review).
To carry your water, a CamelBak is comfy and efficient (they have a ladiesâ€™ fit with a slimmer profile).
Instead of a CamelBak, I often carry a water bottle that I refill at gas stations or water fountains.
Fueling options include but are not limited to:
Jelly Beans (I wrap them in a plastic bag and safety-pin them to the inside of my shorts):
Coconut Water (a natural electrolyte replacement; however, itâ€™s pretty low calorie):
And lastly, I donâ€™t have much experience with salting/electrolyte replacement beyond Gatorade, but if youâ€™re running for a long time in hot weather, you might want to consider a salt replacement to help maintain your electrolyte balance. Check out this post from Runnerâ€™s World for more info.
THE RECOVERY: Ahhhh, recovery! Congrats on making finishing your long run. Now itâ€™s time to enjoy recovery â€“ but donâ€™t collapse on the couch just yet. Check out Fueling for the Long Hauling: Eating for Long Distance Running and How I Recover Quickly to learn more. Also â€“ it helps to go for a walk or do some very light yoga a few hours after your long run. Moving your legs a little will really reduce soreness.
What are your tips for surviving (and enjoying) long runs?