Autumn brings lovely leaves, even lovelier temps, and, of course, marathon season. The race itself, a perfect culmination of training miles, taper, adrenaline, and crazy crowds, is pretty much guaranteed to be a lovely run. But those training miles? Not so much, especially when it comes to the double-digit, multiple-hour runs that typically start in the dark, continue as temps climb, and are often done alone.
The bad news is that long runs are a non-negotiable if you want to do well in your marathon; the good news is that they don’t have to be total slogs. Here are eight ways to conquer the long run:
Long runs are an intimate, eye-level way to explore new parts of town, so don’t get caught in the same-route, I-know-I’m-at-kilometre-7.43-at-the-purple-mailbox trap. Ask friends for suggestions. Or spend some time online, scheming up new routes, On a fresh route, you’ll concentrate more on the scenery than your Suunto — another welcome change of focus.
Yes, 21 kilometres is a long, long way to run, so yes, you can spend the entire week leading up to it fretting about every.single.step. you’ll be out there. Or you can do your best to realize that, if you’re following a training plan, you’re ready for – and totally capable of slaying – 21 kilometres. Certainly plan for your long run (the night before, eat a good meal, get your nutrition and hydration ready, and don’t skimp on sleep), but do your best not to obsess. You’re just wasting useful energy.
Long runs can be mentally sliced and diced in myriad ways. Take 30 kilometres. You don’t have to think of it as 30 kilometres. It can be 30 x 1k, 15 x 2k’s or 3 x 10k’s. Or it can be 8 kilometres to a park, then 6 kilometres around the park, plus a 4k out-and-back, and 8 back home. Breaking it up into smaller distances makes it feel so much more doable. Plus, concentrate on the segment you’re in: if you’re running your 8th kilometre, give your focus to that kilometre — not to kilometre 10 or 14. You’ll be there soon enough.
One way to spice up a long run—and have some company and refreshments along the way—is to cross a starting line and a finish line during it. Put a 10K into a 20k, or a half-marathon into a longer run. Scout out a nearby race, and either run to the starting line, or arrive early to get in half of the “leftover” mileage as a warm up. Then run the race at your prescribed training pace (easier said than done: remember these are training k’s), and finish up with your final k’s as a cool-down.
In an ideal world, you have a running friend who is training for the same race and follows the exact schedule you are. Back in this world, you probably have a variety of running friends who are doing a range of distances. No worries; you can still recruit them for your long run team. They can all just run a slice of your distance. For instance, you can start a run by yourself, loop back to meet your neighbor who is on the XC Team for 6 kilometres, then have your sister meet you at kilometre 12 to bring you home. It requires a little coordination, but the company—and the anticipation of it—will keep you going. (And major bonus: they can bring you fresh, cool drinks too.)
Long runs are taxing enough on the body and mind; don’t make them more intense by not having adequate fuel or hydration. If you’re out there for more than 90 minutes, you need a nutrition and drinking plan, something solid that you know works for you and your gastric system. (Drinking to thirst and taking in between 150-250 calories per hour are good basic guidelines.) Once you have a plan, stick to it through the whole run: if you take a gel every 40 minutes, and are due for one with about 20 minutes left to run, still suck it down. You’ll need it for your final miles.
Keep your body happy by wearing clothes that have a minimal chance of irritation: skin-on-skin rub at kilometre 5 of a 17k is not pleasant. Tights/compression are great for colder runs, as they eliminate any chance of thigh chafe and give a little extra support to your knees. Similarly, a soft, wicking top will keep your skin cool and dry. Mentally, stay relaxed by making a new playlist or downloading some podcasts to listen to when boredom sets in.
Running is not an easy thing to begin with; training for a marathon can feel downright masochistic at times. Long runs serve a very crucial purpose: to teach your body to keep on going when you’d rather not. Accept that the long-run exhaustion, both mental and physical, is part of the plan to get you to thrive on race day. Promise: when you cross the finish line feeling strong and smiling, all the training kilometres fade quickly into the distance.
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