6 Tips on How to Master the Long Run
The loneliness of the long distance runner is well documented and hardly surprising as it takes not only physical fitness but mental toughness to tackle what lies ahead, often running for a few hours at a time. A ‘long run’ is also relative: what one person may consider a long run may be an easy run for another. Long runs are a staple of almost all training plans for runners, whether you’re training for a 5k or a marathon. They improve your stamina and aerobic endurance, which are the building blocks for building a runner who can run faster over longer distances.
1. Start With Your Mind
Preparation for a long run begins in your head. It’s ok to be anxious when you see a distance you’ve never run before, or just a really long distance, on your training plan. You can make it easier by preparing mentally for the distance you’re going to cover. Visualize the route you will run and picture yourself running well and finishing strong. Trust your training: take it slow and tell yourself you can do it. A positive mindset will go a long way when the going gets tough. If you tell yourself it’s hard and you can’t do it, then you’ll only make it harder for yourself and you’ll actually find it harder.
2. Focus on Hydration & Nutrition
You need to carb up for your long run as carbs provide your body with energy – so carb up before your long run! How much you need will depend on a lot of factors. Oatmeal is a great choice of carbs as it’s easy on the stomach and you can increase portion sizes as your workout demands increase. The carb needs of someone running for 30 minutes will vary a lot from someone running for 3 hours. It’s best to play around here and see what works for you. As long as your stomach feels ok during the run and you can complete the run, then you’re on the right track. If you feel like you can’t complete your run feeling strong, then begin to increase how much you eat before. If you’re struggling to perfect your pre-long run meal, then use 7-10 g of carbs per kg of body weight as a guide and work from there. If you’re training for a race, then your long run nutrition and hydration should replicate what you plan to do on race day.
3. It’s Not a Race, Pace Yourself
Your long run pace should be a slow pace you can hold for the duration of the run. You should run your long run at a slow and conversational pace. Long runs are more about the effort and simply covering the distance. If you have a specific race and goal in mind for a half marathon or marathon, then this is when you can begin to think about hitting certain paces. Aim for 1 minute to 90 seconds slower than your planned race pace. It’s easy to overdo it in training and run too hard when you’re feeling good and leave all your best efforts in training. It’s better to be at the start line slightly undertrained than even as little as 1% overtrained.
4. Break It Into Sections
A long run can seem scary, but it can help to break up the distance mentally. Instead of telling yourself you have to run 15km (for example), tell yourself it’s 3 slow 5kms together or 2 x 7km with 1km more added on – go with whatever combination works best for you. It’s also ok to take a break during a long run! If you’re doing 15km and feel the need to walk or take a couple of minutes break between 5kms, then go for it. However, try to reduce breaks in your long runs as your fitness increases. It can also help to visualize a post-long run treat to help you get through the distance, whether this is a meal you’re looking forward to, a glass of wine or simply watching Netflix for the rest of the day on the sofa.
5. Consider Mid-Run Fueling
If you’re running over an hour, then it may be time to start taking on calories during your run in the form of gels, chews, powders you can add to water, or nuts and dried fruit if you prefer a more ‘real food’ approach. Taking on food during a run isn’t easy and everyone’s stomach has different preferences, so you’ll need to experiment with different types here. What works for one person won’t work for another. Every runner has their ‘go to’ foods and strategy – so get building yours! Hydration during a long run is also necessary as you start to cover longer distances. You may need to take water with you during a run either in a bottle or in a hydration back pack, or plan your route so you pass water fountains along the way. Hydration and fueling during a long run requires a lot of experimentation, but a rough guide would be to drink roughly every 20 minutes and take on calories every 40 minutes.
6. Don’t Skip the Post-Run Recovery
It’s also important to eat soon after your long run to provide your body with the energy it needs to recover. It’s easy to skip this step and forget about recovery, but you just ran a long way so be sure to give your body what it needs! Your post-workout meal should consist of a good mix of proteins, fats and carbs to ensure good recovery. If it was particularly warm out or you’re a heavy sweater, then you may need to consume electrolytes and believe it or not, beer is a good source! If beer isn’t your thing, then adding a little salt to your post-run meal will work just as well. Also, dust off your foam roller to give yourself a deep tissue massage, loosen up your legs and recover quicker. A good recovery strategy helps you recover faster and prepares you for your next run.
If you’re doing long runs now in preparation for a marathon, then tell us about it in the comments below! We’d also like to hear your nutrition/hydration strategy as your comments may help another blog reader find what works for them!