For all the Central Texas runners planning a fall marathon, their weekends will now be dominated by the long run. Heat and humidity be damned, there’s just no way of getting around the fact that the most important element of any marathon training program is the long run. It is absolutely essential that every marathoner consistently logs numerous long runs during the marathon buildup period, regardless of how many weeks that might entail.
It’s quite simple: Do the long runs and you will become stronger and tougher (mentally and physically). Neglect them (or don’t run them well) and your chances for running the marathon well diminish greatly.
Even though the long run is critical to marathon success, it is also the hardest obstacle to overcome for many runners. Especially beginners. There are certainly numerous ways to make your long runs more manageable and easier to complete, but you must keep this in mind: The long run is a marathon. And the marathon is just a long run. That is, you must treat your long runs with the same respect and attention to detail as you do the marathon. If you do, you increase your chances of success in the marathon this fall.
Here are a several tips 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 race. If you run the day before a long run, make it short and easy. Then, avoid such activities as soccer, golf, mowing the lawn, long bike rides or moving furniture. Pick up a book or watch a basedball game. The night before the long one is not a good time to go clubbing on 6th Street. Go to bed at a normal time and get plenty of rest.
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 the map with you, especially if you’re following the Austin Marathon course. Just make certain there won’t be any confusion how long you’re running or which way to go. 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—either at drinking fountains, carry water 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. If you are part of an organized training group, this minimizes some of the logistics and course decisions, but you still need to mentally prepare for the long weekend run.
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. TexMex usually doesn’t.
Partner up. If you aren’t part of a training group, find someone to go long with. A long run can get awfully darn boring and a friend who can share the miles can only make the run seem shorter. Ideally, you’ll find someone training for the same fall marathon as you. If not, try to find someone who can run within 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 together. If it’s impossible to get anyone to go, 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 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. This is yet another reason why joining an organized training group (Luke’s Locker, Rogue Training, Gilberts Gazelles, etc) is a smart move.
Pump it up. Before heading downtown or venturing outside for your long one, put on some AC/DC, Tom Petty, Santana, Allman Brothers, Grupo Fantasma 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 can have a positive effect on your attitude.
Go early. When doing a long run, earlier is better than later. There’s less traffic on the weekends, the air is cleaner, it’s cooler and once done, you have the rest of the day to recover. Best advice is to go before the sun comes up and get in an hour of running before the sun rises.
Dress right. The problem on most summer long runs in Texas is staying cool enough. You can’t do anything about the heat and humidity, but the less you wear, the better.
Wear “fresh” shoes. Clearly, you need to wear a high quality pair of training shoes, 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.
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.
Simulate the marathon course. Depending on which fall marathon you’re planning to run, study the topo map of the course and try to find a route which partially mimics that course. If the marathon is hilly, you’re in luck as there are numerous hilly long run routes in Austin to choose from. Even if the course is flat, long runs with some hills interspersed are a good option. If the marathon course is flat, do at least several long runs on relatively benign courses such as two loops on the Butler/Lady Bird Lake Trail.
Visualize the marathon. Try to equate certain mile markers of your long run with how you’ll feel at certain points of the marathon. This is especially true for the final 30 minutes. That final stretch on long runs isn’t easy, but don’t cave and walk/jog it in. If you do, you’ll likely do similarly in the marathon.
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. If you go out too fast, 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 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.
Summer long-run pace. Again, this will be a matter of trial and error. Suffice it to say, it will probably be even slower than a normal long run pace in say 40-degree temps. But, you have to ski the conditions.
Post long run. Once you have finished, keep walking for at least another few minutes. Walk and drink. Or drink and walk. Give yourself a few minutes to cool off and drink in the accomplishment of doing a long, hot summer run. It never gets old. After finishing the cooldown, immediately change out of all your clothes and get into something dry. Continue drinking until you can urinate.
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 extremely tired, don’t bother doing it. If you turn an ankle during the course of the long run, don’t assume you must finish it. 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 plenty of time to get one in next week. Assuming you complete several long runs before the marathon, missing one (or even two) along the way won’t make a substantial difference.
Recover. You should have rested before the long run. You should also rest and recover afterward. There’s no getting around it; long runs are tough. They’re supposed to be. And you will need at least a few hours immediately after it to recover. Give yourself plenty of time to rehydrate and refuel your body with carbohydrates. Something I’ve always done is the night before a long run I make more pasta for dinner than I can eat. Then, I have plenty left over for the next day after I finish my long run when my body is starved for more carbs. Whatever you do, eat what your body craves after the long run. You’ve earned it.
Walk or ride. Assuming you’ve done your long run on the weekend and have some free time in the afternoon, go for a walk, swim or gentle bike ride with your family. It’ll help your recovery and keep your muscles from stiffening too badly.