If a long run is in your foreseeable future, you’re more than likely training for a big race, and whether it’s a half-marathon or an ultra-marathon, this type of training run needs to be taken seriously and approached with great consideration. You simply can’t fake a long run. From my years of making mistakes – some more than once – I have learned a few essentials to consider when planning your long run.
First, be realistic with your planned distance for your long run. If your first long run in your marathon-training plan is 14 miles, you’re going to be limping, exhausted, and pissed off by the end of it. You’ll probably also end up not doing the race. However, if you begin with a long run no longer than one mile past your longest normal weekday run, you will be able to finish and feel pretty proud of yourself.
Second, slow down. Unless you’re a pro, long runs are not for speed work of any kind; they are simply for training your body to keep moving for a longer amount of time and over a longer distance than it’s used to.
Finally, stick to the general rule of thumb of adding no more than 10% to your long run each week. This gradually increases your distance safely and without you really noticing a huge difference in effort from week-to-week.
How many hills can I honestly handle, and at what point in the run? Is it really a good idea to put the biggest hill in mile 17 of a 19 miler? How many hills does the race I’m training for have in it? These are the sorts of questions to ask when mapping out your long run. If you’re running a mountain race, you need to train on mountains – or at least simulate them with as many hills as possible. If your marathon is a flat pavement race, then hills are not as vital in your long runs; one good hill will probably do it.
Again, it’s most helpful to train on terrain similar to what your race will be. Streets, woods, or a little bit of both? It’s also important to realize that trail running typically uses a bit more energy (due to loser footing, uneven ground, and more turns) and takes longer overall than a run on pavement would.
If you’re like me and have a hard time finding people willing to get up at 5 a.m. and run 15 or so miles with you, you need to be particularly cautious of your safety. First, don’t run alone when it’s dark. Ever. Seriously! Second, bring pepper spray. It’s cheap, easy to get, and fits perfectly in running gear such as belts and vests. Third, always tell someone your route – and then stick to it. It will do no one any good to know your route if you saw something shiny and veered from it, then tripped in a pothole, broke your leg, and are sitting there stranded and in pain. Hey, it happens. Finally, bring your cell phone. I’ve learned from experience that it’s necessary to seal it in two – yes, two– Ziploc baggies so it doesn’t get ruined by sweat, rain, or a leaky water bottle or bladder (don’t ask).
Pack enough liquid and food to get you through the run. Then pack some more. There’s always a chance that you’ll take an accidental detour, add a few miles to the run, and end up needing that extra Cliff block shot or four more ounces of water. Why risk it? The weight of an extra food package or a few more ounces of water will not weigh you down for the run; I guarantee you, you won’t know the difference. Where it will make a difference is in those unexpected times when your body just needs little more than usual.
Run at the same time your race is going to be, which is most likely early morning. Your body needs to learn how to run with the same amount of sleep, drink, food, and mental alertness it’s going to have on race day. If you’re worried (or whining) about an early run cutting into your sleep, go to bed earlier. Or take up a sport more in line with bocce ball.
If properly planned, a long run can be a wonderful way to spend a few hours.
By Audra Rundle