How to Ace Your Long Run

Long runs are a uniquely feared and revered part of endurance race training. Whether you love them or loathe them, you must respect them. Over the last few weeks I have amassed some tips for taming this lengthy menacing beast. Then yesterday I had a gorgeous long run out to Loch Lomond. So decided to intersperse some advice with photos of that wonderful day.

J at the start of the West Highland Way.
Treat it Like a Mini Race

Unless you are a pro, try not to tax your legs the day before a long run. Essentially, give yourself a mini taper period. Hard speed workouts or tempo workouts may feel like they contribute most to your improvement, but for a marathon the long run is really where the learning happens. Over time, as they increase in distance, long runs come to mimic your race day. Your longest runs will be the dress rehearsals before the opening show night. You won't go into race day tired out, so give your legs some love prior to the long run. I had quite an easy week in the run up (ha, pun) to this 20 miler. 

Route plan

It's important to consider the route for a long run. Firstly, they are often completed early in the morning or late at night. Take care to make sure your route is safe and well-known to you. Secondly, long runs can get really damn boring so it does help if your route is relatively scenic. You will get demoralized far more swiftly if you are running rings around factory estates. If you do live in a town or residential area it can be nice to run past the poshest streets and play, 'If I were a millionaire', with the houses. 

Keep an eye out for hills- your race of choice will dictate whether or not you want them in your route. If you do, consider where they appear in the race, and try to stack them there in your long run too- if the hills are early on, you'll learn how to stop them fatiguing you too much, if they are late on, you'll learn how to run them tired. It can also be exceedingly depressing if you arrive back at home with something like 0.7 miles left on the watch, so planning routes will help maintain your distance. Lastly, if you are the sort of person who may need a toilet stop mid-run, consider that.

J headed towards Dumgoyne.
Conic in the distance with its multiple false summits. 
First glimpse of the loch.

We only took part of our own advice here, opting to run 20 miles of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Balmaha. Now, this is indeed mostly super-scenic, and is a nice and varied trail for the legs (apart from the dire road section into Drymen at 12 miles). However, it is much, much hillier than our goal race. It also has very few toilet stops. Additionally, we had to be pretty confident about our abilities as the only drop out point where you have a hope in hell of getting back to Glasgow is Drymen.

Sleep Well and Run Early

You can get away with a cheeky 5 miler or so the morning after the night before. But you cannot get away with no sleep before a proper long run. You'll feel it from the offset- a heavy body and lethargic mind that isn't strong enough or motivated enough to do it. Even if you manage the distance, your form and pace will suffer. It actually may be the sleep you have two nights before that matters most. Additionally, I've found it's easiest to do the long run early in the day. Get it done then have a lovely lazy recovery Sunday (or whichever day!). If I put it off it looms behind me all day, and the likelihood of me getting out and doing it just decreases as the light dies into evening. Or do as we did and make the run the plan of the day, treat it like an adventure.

Eat well

I have been having big problems with either eating too close to a big run, and then getting a stitch, or not eating before a big run, and then getting a stitch. Either way you need to be fueled several hours prior to the run (which may mean getting up very early indeed), and if your run goes over 10 miles conventional wisdom suggests you'll need food on the run too. The other challenge for early morning runs is hydration- wake up early enough to be both fed and hydrated (though make sure you go to the bathroom before you head out the door). Thumbs up to the lovely folks at the Milngavie Costa Coffee who let us use their toilet. We took water- the weight was worth the benefit, especially as the day turned out to be very sunny- and 4 gels each (we are using the same gels as will be available at the marathon we are targeting). 

Dress Well

Again in the theme of treating it like a dress rehearsal: wear clothes you trust and have run in a million times before. Don't wear anything (from tops to pants) that is new or will chafe. Understand that sometimes chafe is unavoidable, so lube it up! Put vaseline or a targeted product like Bodyglide under sports bra straps, on your inner thighs, under your arms, between your butt cheeks... anywhere!.It feels odd at first but you only need to take one burning shower to realise that it's worth it (plus you stop noticing it very fast). I wore old faithfuls- Sweaty Betty jacket and athlete vest, Ronhill capris, and a hill running gear belt which I've used before (no idea of the brand, my S.O. won it in a raffle). 

Go Easy (and By Feel)

Long runs are about distance and time on your feet. They are not really about speed (although some plans have goal paces). Ideally, a long run should be at an easy pace. This can be hard to estimate, and can vary wildly based on how tired you are, illness, weather and so on. A good way to judge it is to keep a long run at an easy conversational pace. If you are alone you can try to sing every so often. This also means you shouldn't freak out if your long run feels much quicker or slower than normal, judge it on effort. Ours was slow in places because of the tough terrain. Additionally a great amount of mile 17 was walked because that goes straight over Conic Hill.

At the top!

View from Conic summit.
 Stay Loose

Form is really important over a long distance, and its super easy to let this slide. Stay loose by shaking out your arms and shoulders regularly. I know that I have a tendency to clench my hands and was recently given a great bit of advice- act as if you are holding an egg in each hand, and you don't want to break it open. Additionally, make sure your leg pickup remains good- we have a tendency to start trudging when tired! For more tips check out this post by Autumn

Keep your mental game

Some runs are mentally tough. Some miles within a run are tough. You need to learn to persevere. Invite friends to chat to (also helps with pacing). Try some mantras ('Winter miles make summer smiles", is good when the weather is bad, "I believe in me", is good when you feel you Just. Can't. Even.). Music can be brilliantly distracting and if I'm alone I love listening to podcasts. Focusing on your form can also help- if you really think about form and about driving up the hills from the glutes you can actually cover a lot of distance before you tune back in to the fact that you are running miles! I also lie to myself, telling myself I can do just this 4 miles then reassess. Realistically, I never let myself stop after those 4 and I know it... But somehow this works! The mental game honestly is the hardest aspect so I'd love to hear your tips too. 

Recover

This is basically a semi-repeat of the above. Following your long run you need to eat well, sleep well, and give yourself a touch of rest. Its useful to have food and water ready to go for fast refueling. If you sit on the sofa you will find yourself eating 3 hours later, which has far less benefit. You also need good sleep to revitalize after a hard workout. My plan requires me to run the day after a long run, but that run is an easy 'recovery' one, designed to mimic running on already tired legs. This is also the time to do all of your recovery attentions. Take that long bath, do some yoga, and bite your tongue and hit the foam roller.

Cold legs!
Admiring the stunning view.

All smiles.
We went straight into the icy loch for ten minutes (bikini bottoms were a light thing to carry and allowed me to go in right up to the thigh), ate an incredible amount at Balmaha's cute cafe St Mocha, went a walk with Neah (who lives in the area and met us at Balmaha- she had the right idea), then went for another paddle (Neah also needed an ice bath post-cycle training). I then had a luxurious warm bath when I got home. Today my legs actually feel suspiciously fine given yesterday's exertions. I feel like I got away with something here!

Posing.

She splashed me! The scoundrel.

Remember They Can't All Be Good Ones...

How do I know all of this? Well, because I had the worst long run ever one Sunday in this training cycle. I was knackered, hadn't eaten well, had been out late and hardly slept. We went off too fast, misjudged the route so we were a touch short, and I was dressed too warmly. My form fell apart, my legs felt like wood. I did it, but it sucked. You'll also have great ones- yesterday was beautiful, fun, we dressed well, and ate well, and really enjoyed ourselves. The good ones are also great for your confidence, I now believe that if I can run that 20 miler I can definitely run 26 in Liverpool. 

The long run is crucial to distance racing. It gives you endurance- strengthening your heart, leg muscles, and ligaments. Fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited to help with slow-twitch endurance running. More than anything, long runs up your mental game- teaching you how to keep going and making you confident for the grand day itself. If you are training instead for shorter distances, this endurance boost fires up your speed across preciously challenging distances.

So now go and rock yours.

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How do you feel about the long run?


What is the longest you are running at the moment?


Any tips for surviving the long run mentally or physically?


Post written by Scallywag and published on Scallywag Sprints on 11/04/16

8 Comments:

  1. This was a very well timed blog post for me - coming up to the last few long runs of my half marathon training cycle.

    I always break my long runs into 4k chunks. I'm not too sure why, but I also find that it takes me 4k to get into my stride so it's a good unit of measurement for me.

    I particularly love the mantra 'run the mile you're in' - it keeps me focused and stops me thinking ahead to the daunting miles still to come!

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    1. Thanks Joanna! Yeah me too- I splinter into about 4 mile chunks. I love that mantra, I'll keep it (literally) in mind.

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  2. My tips - don't do it when you are hungover, no matter how much water you will drink it will still feel hideous (however, I guess it teaches you some mental stamina...), pick somewhere where you can buy bottles of water/find fountains because you are too lazy to carry any, sing to yourself when you have no music. Plan exciting routes where you don't have to do too many repeats, and lastly, don't organise to do a million and one things in the afternoon afterwards!

    Oh, and you will quickly learn that bras that don't chafe for 8 miles, do chafe when you go up to 20. You then start to organise your bras by run distance that they can survive (and buy many more new ones)

    Great post as usual :) Katie x

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    1. Katie, I feel ya. I've done one long run hungover, and NEVER AGAIN.

      I occasionally like a repeat course though! But definitely, your follow up plan should be eating and sleeping.

      I also have a weird bra issue- one that doesn't chafe starts to really hurt my upper back after about 15 miles, I think it must put too much weight just there?

      Thanks for commenting! x

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  3. I'm one of those crazy people who enjoys the long run! I've just run my spring marathon so am in a recovery cycle right now, but I'm looking forward to getting out there again.
    I tend to follow the same kind of advice as you. My only other tip is to break the long run up into sections e.g. if I take a gel every 5 miles, then I'm only running 5 miles at a time. I do the same in the marathon itself as well to make it seem more manageable.

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    1. Crazy lady! I pretty much only liked this one. How did your marathon go? Was it Paris or Manchester?

      Yeah gels as a time marker are a good tip! Though they failed a bit on the West Highland Way as the time between set A of 2 miles and set B of two miles was not necessarily the same!

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  4. It was Paris and it went really well given I hadn't been able to train much thanks to a stress fracture at the end of last year. Just being able to run at all was amazing!

    If using gels at a particular mileage doesn't quite work, then I go by time. About every 45 minutes works for me.

    Good luck in Liverpool!

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  5. After the London marathon, we are taking the train to Edinburgh, and then later on, driving to Oban. We plan to go through Loch Lomond because we read it is very pretty! And now I know that it is from your gorgeous pics :) Good luck at Liverpool!

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