There’s not a lot that can beat the feeling you get after you finish your long run. You’re sitting on top of the world, having just run anywhere from 18 to 32 kilometers and beyond, and you carry it around with you for the rest of the day. You carry it with a bit of pride, knowing you actually did that, you carry it with a few bragging rights, and you carry it with some invincibility, knowing it’s done and nothing can get in between you and your long run. At least not this week. And mostly, you carry it around with a smile, because now it gives you the liberty to eat a few extra treats that day. Like spoonfuls of almond butter on freshly baked bread.
I remember training for my first marathon, and being so excited and nervous about doing things wrong, that I did my long runs with the utmost precision, always making sure I ran exactly how far I was supposed to, when I was supposed to do it. For my second marathon, I got faster, but didn’t run as far in training. Yet, they were worse in terms of being harder to get motivated to get out the door to make them happen and to consistently run the appropriate distance. And for these last 16 weeks, while I’ve been training for Boston, they’ve been different again, almost being this thing of therapy for me, that I don’t necessarily look forward to, but I don’t hate, and that once I’m going, they seem to fly by and not feel like I’m running for hours.
As runners, we worship the long run. We plan our week around it, we plan our day around it, and come marathon training season, we plan our life around it. But if you’re new to this whole endurance running thing, it seems kind of daunting (sure, let’s go run for 3 hours – by choice!), and it’s easy to get caught up in just doing what you are supposed to do and not really giving it a second thought. But the long runs are SO important and there are lots of things you should know to make yours the most successful!
What’s the purpose?
- Although running a certain long run distance can still fall under the category of fun, mostly, we do long runs because of all the benefits behind them. Here’s why you need to do long runs:
- It helps you prepare mentally to run that long. Your mind will want to quit long before your body has to, and you need to practice overcoming those mental barriers.
- It helps you figure out your fuelling requirements. Running that long requires fuel on the run, and what that is and how much that is, is different for everyone. Use your long runs to figure out what it means for you.
- They build physical endurance.
- They build confidence. When you practice running long, come race day, you’ll be much more confident that you can complete your race in your goal time.
- They teach you to keep running even when you are tired. You have to enter a marathon accepting before it starts that at some time it will hurt, at some point you will get tired, and at some point it gets hard. Running long helps your body prepare for this so it can perform anyway.
How far and how fast should I run?
This is completely dependent on your training plan, as well as what race you are training for. As a general rule, don’t increase your long run distance by more than 10% each week, and it shouldn’t be more than 30% of your weekly mileage. In terms of pace, long runs are meant to be done at a slower pace, and are not the time to be trying to set a new personal pace record. It should be a pace that is sustainable over a long period of time, and when you finish your long run, you should feel like (if you had to), you still have more to give.
Making it more bearable
- Create a playlist with great music
- Listen to podcasts
- Leave the house with something to think about, decide on, ponder etc.
- Find a buddy – nobody says you have to do it alone!
- Run with a group – I’m a solo runner at heart, but some people find doing long runs with a group more motivating and far less daunting than facing it alone.
Making it count
It’s one thing to do your long run, it’s another thing to make sure it counts and is going to be beneficial to you on race day, not just junk miles. Keep these points in mind:
- Practice everything as if it were on race day, from the time you run, to the clothes you wear to the fuel you consume
- Pay attention to your pace and try to stay within your target range, but don’t get overly worked up over it – it’s more important to complete the distance.
- Allow proper rest and recovery afterwards to prevent injury
- Challenge yourself to run in less than ideal conditions (like rain, wind or freezing cold temperatures), to further train your body and prepare it for race day success.
Mistakes to avoid
- Don’t go overboard with your fuel or water – Use your long runs as test runs for how much fuel and water you need and learn from them! While it’s different for everyone, a general rule is 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
- Listen to your body and see how you feel – Don’t get caught up in making a certain pace. You can do paces in training runs and tempo runs, but that’s not what the long run is about.
- Respect your distance – Run the distance you are supposed to: nothing more, nothing less. Run less and you risk not being in the right place in your training come race day, and run more and you are setting yourself up for injury.
- Don’t run the race distance – It may sound counterintuitive, but the full race distance will take a lot out of you mentally and physically and doing it before race day puts you at risk of not having your all to give at the race. For marathons, cap it off at 32 kilometers, or 20 miles and for half marathons, 10 miles, or 16-18 kilometers is a good mark.
Training for some long distance running events? Check out these resources to help you out: