Author: The Mizuno Shoe Guy
Published on: September 29, 2016
There’s just no way of getting around the fact that the most important element of any marathon–or even half marathon training program–is the long run. It is absolutely essential that every aspiring marathoner consistently logs numerous long runs during the three- or four-month buildup period to the marathon.
It’s quite simple: Do long runs consistently throughout your marathon training cycle and you will become stronger and tougher mentally and physically. Neglect long runs or only do them on an irregular basis (or don’t run them well) and your chances for having a successful marathon/half marathon diminish greatly.
Even though the long run is the cornerstone of marathon success, it is also the hardest obstacle to overcome for many runners. Especially beginners. But done properly and with a little planning, the long run can be an enjoyable component of your training.
There are certainly numerous ways to make your long runs more manageable and easier to complete, but keep this thought in mind: The long run is a marathon. And the marathon is just a very long run. That is, you must treat your long runs with the same respect and attention to detail as you do the actual marathon. If you do, you increase your chance of running the long runs well which translates directly into having a good marathon—especially if it’s your first.
Here are a several tips for newbies and veterans to make the long run more palatable:
Rest. Before any long run, get plenty of rest the day before. Don’t do anything physically taxing that you wouldn’t do the day before a big race. If you choose to run the day before a long run, make it short, relaxed and very easy. Get it out of the way early. Avoid such activities as soccer, golf, mowing the lawn, long bike rides or moving furniture. Pick up a book or watch a football game. The night before the long one is not a good time to go clubbing. Go to bed at a normal time and get plenty of rest. You’ll need it.
Plan. Decide beforehand, how long you’re going to run and where. Pick a course, map it and if it’s unfamiliar, drive it the day before. Or bring a map with you on your phone. Just make certain there won’t be any confusion which way to go while you’re running. You don’t want to get lost or go too far (or too short). Also since you are going to need to hydrate every half hour or so during the long run, you’ll need to hatch a plan so you can drink along the way. Plan to make stops at drinking fountains, carry water with you or bring money to use at convenience stores along the way. If you’re planning to use Gu, Shot Bloks or Hammer Gel, map a strategy for carrying them. (You can cache water and nutrition packs the day before along your anticipated course. If you do, make certain you seal your water bottles.)
Get loaded. That’s right, carbo-load for your long run the night before just like you’ll do for the marathon. You don’t have to get fancy. Simply eat a healthy meal, rich in carbohydrates to fuel your muscles for the long run the next day. Pasta always works.
Partner up. Find someone to go long with you. A long run can get awfully darn boring and a friend (or several) can only make the run seem shorter by sharing the miles. Try to find someone who can run your pace range and who is willing to go as long as you. Or, find someone who can run at least a good part of the long run with you. If it’s impossible to get anyone to run with you, ask your spouse, child or a good friend to ride a bike at least part of the way with you (and make sure they bring plenty of water).
Group runs. Even better than running with a friend, is doing a long run with a group that is training for the same marathon. The dynamics of the group are almost always helpful in completing a long run and if the group meets regularly, it becomes one long social gabfest.
Pump it up. Before heading venturing outside for your long one, put on some AC/DC, Tom Petty, Santana, Fitz & The Tantrums or some other high-energy music to get your blood pumping and ready to rock…er, run. Starting your long run energized by some hard-driving rock has proven to have a positive effect on your attitude.
Go early. When doing a long run, earlier is better than later. There’s less traffic, the air is cleaner, it’s cooler and once done, you have the rest of the day to recover. Beside, all marathons and half marathons, start early, usually at 7 or 8 so get used to running early.
Dress right. The problem on most early fall or even late fall long runs isn’t staying warm; it’s being cool enough. You’d be amazed how much heat your body will generate on a long run and if you overdress, you will get way too warm. It takes some experimentation to find the right clothing combination (and obviously depends on the weather), but generally if you’re comfortable in the first couple of miles, you’re probably overdressed. In the fall, you should be a little chilled in the first few miles. Generally, the most you’ll need to wear is a long sleeve T-shirt, shorts and possibly some light gloves and a hat. Unless it’s below freezing, you won’t need tights or a jacket. Less is more.
Wear “fresh” shoes. Clearly, you need to wear a high quality pair of training shoes (hopefully, Mizunos), but what many marathoners don’t realize is if there shoes are worn down, it will compromise the cushioning greatly in the latter stages of a long run (as well as the marathon). The last few miles are tough enough without having to run on a “flat” shoe. (Any shoe will lose a substantial amount of cushioning in two hours of pounding. A “fresh” pair loses less than a worn out pair.) A “fresh” pair with plenty of life still in the shoe will provide cushioning for the length of the long run and make the last few miles easier on your legs. Get a new pair of shoes a couple of weeks before your marathon.
Segment your long run. Break it up into less intimidating, manageable chunks. Instead of thinking you have to run 20 miles, envision it as four runs of five miles. Or, two runs of 10 miles. Or my favorite mental game: A long run of 16 miles with a simple four miles at the end.
Simulate the marathon course. Check the map of the marathon course you have targeted. If it’s hilly, you will need to long run on plenty of hilly courses. If the hills are in the latter half of the race, try to cover several hills in the last few miles of your long run when the going gets tough. On the other hand, if it’s a flat course, running hills will still help. Also make sure you do a few long runs on flat courses to replicate the marathon.
Visualize the marathon. Try to equate certain mile markers of your long run with how you’ll feel at certain points of the marathon, especially the tail end. When you hit 20 on a long run, note how you feel and imagine running another six miles.
Practice proper pace. There are different schools of thought on what the ideal long run pace is, but suffice it to say it should be slower than the pace of your normal training run and your expected marathon goal pace. If you go out too fast in a long run, the last few miles will be agonizing (just like in the marathon). Rather than suggest you run a minute or two (or more) slower per mile, my advice is to do the long run under a controlled pace. That is, a pace you can maintain for the length of the run—and even pick it up in the final miles. Finding that perfect long run pace, is a matter of conditioning and experience. The more long runs you do, the easier they become.
How many/how long. Again, it depends on your experience, your fitness level, goals and several other factors. There isn’t a single number (or distance) which works for everyone. Some marathoners do as little as six long runs, but my advice is that before your marathon you should have at least 10 long runs under your belt and at least one long run should take as long (in time) as your projected marathon time–but within reason. If you are planning to run a 4-4:45 marathon, try a very long one that takes about that long to complete. The mileage doesn’t really matter; the time on your feet does. But it shouldn’t be any longer than 21-24 miles. If, however, your marathon goal is five hours, don’t do a long run of that duration. It’s simply too long.
The longest long run you complete in your training cycle should be about five or six weeks out from the marathon. And your very last long run shouldn’t be any closer than three weeks before the marathon date. Four weeks is probably better for most first-timers to allow plenty of time for recovery.
Walk. There’s nothing illegal about walking in a marathon. Even so, there’s long been a controversy on whether it’s OK or not to take walk breaks during long runs—and during the marathon. Some experts advocate them as a way to make the last few miles of the marathon less grueling. Other coaches, don’t promote walking in training or racing. You choose. What is undeniable is that if you’re new to long runs (and are having difficulty extending the length of your runs), a 30-45 second walk break every mile (or 10 minutes of running) will definitely make the long run easier. But if you choose to take walk breaks, do them consistently right from the first mile—even though you aren’t tired. If you choose to take walk breaks on your long runs, one good way is to take a break whenever you drink. Just keep walking, rather than stopping completely to drink.
Punt. That’s right. Just because you have a long run scheduled for a specific day, doesn’t mean you have to do it at all costs. If you’re dinged up or sore, you may have to postpone or even cancel it. If you turn an ankle during the course of the long run, don’t assume you must gut it out to finish. Doing so, will just further your chances of having a more serious injury. And if you miss a long run (due to a commitment, injury or whatever), don’t necessarily reschedule it for the next possible day. Let it go. There’s still plenty of time to get one in next week. Don’t panic. Assuming you complete several long runs before the marathon, missing one (or even two) along the way won’t make a substantial difference.
R&R. Rest & recover. You should have rested before the long run. You should also rest and recover after long runs. Long runs are strenuous and tough. They are supposed to be. And you will need at least a few hours immediately afterward to recover. Give yourself plenty of time to relax, rehydrate and refuel your body with carbohydrates.
Take a walk or bike ride. Assuming you’ve done your long run on Saturday or Sunday morning and have some free time in the afternoon, go for a walk or gentle bike ride. It’ll help your recovery and keep your leg muscles from getting too stiff.
Give yourself a break. There’s one last bit of training advice that was given to me several years ago by Mark Coogan who made the ‘96 Olympic marathon team. Coog, who is now a successful coach, always took a training break six weeks out from his marathon to give himself time to recharge before the final push. Just when he was starting to get worn down by all the training, he cut his mileage in half for a week before the final stretch.
I’ve used the same approach. Six weeks out, I do my longest long run and then the next week I cut my mileage in half. All my runs for that one week are easy and stress-free. No speed work, no hills. I might run a short race, but that’s about it. It’s time to relax and give myself one last training break before the final weeks of hard training.
You should give yourself a one-week break too. Don’t stop running. Just don’t do any long runs or hard workouts for a week. Simply make all your runs relatively short and easy runs that don’t stress you out. After that “rest” week, you can put in two or three more solid weeks of training feeling refreshed and energized for the marathon.