Marathon Training Tip: Surviving the Long Run

Ah, the long run- the staple of marathon training. People have different attitudes when it comes to the long run; for some, it’s an evil necessity that eats up hours of their weekend, for others, it’s the best run of their week. For the most part, I really look forward to it because I love the strategy and survival aspect of running for a long time, and I feel so happy and accomplished after I’m done! Also running for three hours obviously gives me an excuse to eat all I want during the other 45 hours in the weekend ;)
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Here are my tips for ENJOYING your long runs this training cycle!

Don’t Put it Off

You know how it goes – the alarm goes off on Saturday morning, and you blearily decide on the spot to push the run to the afternoon or Sunday morning and hit snooze. Don’t do it! Just get up, get dressed, drink your coffee and water and eat your breakfast and get out the door. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Getting it done first thing will let you enjoy the rest of the weekend knowing you got your run done and out of the way :) It also gives you the rest of Saturday and Sunday to go through a thorough recovery routine and be ready for the next week!

Find Buddies

Run with a group or a buddy! While I did all my runs solo for my first marathon in 2012, I started running with CAR this year and can’t imagine running 20 miles by myself now. It’s made the runs a lot more enjoyable for me, and the time goes by 10X faster. It also ensures that I get the run done first thing on Saturday because I know the alternative is running solo some other time that weekend.

It might take some “dating” to find a group with the right pace/ level of seriousness for you. I run with CAR because while most of the group is extremely fast (nearly everyone has BQ-ed), there are also one or two runners right around my speed :) We also ran into a group from the Montgomery County Road Runners, and apparently they have a wider range of ages (and paces!), so I might link up with them in the future.

Pace Yourself

Do most (or all) of your long runs at a very manageable pace – for experienced runners, this can be 1-2 minutes slower than your desired race pace, and for beginners, pick a pace that’s comfortable for at least the first 10-15 miles (no guarantees you’ll be comfortable at the end, no matter what the pace). Taking it slow won’t impact your training; in fact, you’ll get all the mental/ physical training without additional stress on/ potential for injury to your body.

I’ve also started incorporating race pace effort into a few (one or two) of my long runs this training cycle. There are lots of ways to do this – you can sandwich a few faster miles in the middle of your run, pick up the pace at the end, or alternate between slow and faster miles.

Have a Mental Strategy

The long run is as much (or more) a mental effort as a physical one. It gets tiring running for 2-3+ hours and at some point, you may want to quit. My tip for handling the mental fatigue is to break up the run into smaller chunks of 3-5 miles and just focus on the chunk you’re running. It might be helpful to tell yourself that after 3 miles, you’ll take a walk break to drink some water, or take in some fuel, and just focus on the distance you have left till that break. If you run with music, you can try “rationing it” by running a few miles with music, then a few without, and continuing to alternate. Thinking about the 3-4 miles you have left in your chunk is a lot easier than thinking about how many miles you have left to go!

For my 20 miler, I handled it in 3 big chunks: we ran 7 miles, walked and fueled, then ran another 7 miles, followed by a short walk and more fuel. After that, I had just 6 miles left, which went by really quickly because I was working on driving down my pace every mile.

Fuel for Success

Have a fueling plan for your long runs! Start with a small, mostly carbohydrate meal about an hour or two before the run; pick something easy to digest (I usually go for a banana and PB or bread and jam). During your first run, you should aim to take in about 100 calories every 4-5 miles. You can adjust if you find this to be insufficient or too much on your stomach, but eating at regular intervals (whether you feel the need for energy or not) will prevent you from bonking later in the run.

For my 20 miler, I took along 3 Powerbar gels and a pack of ShotBloks and ate a gel at miles 7 and 14 and snacked on ShotBloks in between. If I’m feeling tired, I eat more frequently than that. Towards the end of my run, I let my body tell me whether it wants any extra fuel or is ready to push to the end, and fuel accordingly.
20 miler fuel

Hydrate (or Suffer a Massive Headache the Rest of Your Weekend)

As soon as you wake up, start drinking water to prepare yourself for your run. During your run, you should either carry water with you, or plan a route around water fountains. How much you should drink depends on how much you sweat during the run (which will vary based on temperature, effort, and your body that day). You may also want to add electrolytes to your water to replenish what you’re sweating out.

My rule of thumb is to carry a 22 oz bottle for runs between 7-12 miles and strap on my Nathan Women’s Intensity 2L Race Vest (which holds 70 oz of liquid in the reservoir) for anything longer than that. The hydration pack has been a game changer; I used to wear a belt with two 10- oz bottles and carry my 22 oz bottle in my hand, but I ran out of water as my long runs started to get longer. I can carry a lot more fluid with the hydration pack, AND it fits the 22 oz bottle in the pocket. It’s pretty easy to drink from the bite valve on the run, although you won’t be able to gulp lots of water at once.  I’ve never run out of water with the pack on! I’ll often add electrolytes in the form of Nuun or Gatorade to my 22 oz bottle, and fill the hydration pack’s reservoir with just water for easier cleaning.
013 014 015The pack doesn’t bounce at all (there are a number of straps to ensure a customized fit) and I don’t notice the weight much at all. Here’s a view of the side straps.010 There are two pockets in the front for gels and whatnot, and a big pocket in the back (where I keep my keys, phone and extra gels).
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So there you have it, my tips for enjoying/ surviving the long runs!

Do you look forward to your weekend runs?

How do you hydrate when running for a long time?

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