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How To Use Your Long Runs To Experiment For The Marathon

Any experienced marathoner will tell you that the No. 1 rule for beginning marathoners is simple: Don’t try to do anything new on race day or the day before the marathon. The marathon is not the time for experimentation with new shoes, strategy, clothes or nutritional supplements. Doing so, might work out, but chances are experimenting with something new during a marathon or half marathon can lead to disaster.

Which is one of the reasons you do long runs—to experiment. Your many long runs during the build up to one of our winter marathons such as Houston (January 18th) or Austin (February 15th ) are the perfect opportunity to try something new and different. If it works, you can practice it on subsequent long runs and use it during the marathon. If it doesn’t, no worries. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

For now, we’re focusing on two areas that you should experiment with well before race day: equipment and nutrition. Your marathon success will depend on both so if you’re faced with questions, get your answers during long runs.


1. Shoes. You need to determine which shoe works best for you. Will you wear training shoes, racers or lightweight performance shoes? Regardless of which shoe you wear, you should make certain the shoe feels completely comfortable on your long runs without any blister issues. And that the shoe still has plenty of cushioning and support for the marathon. If there’s any doubt about its cushioning or support, buy a new pair of the exact same model at least two weeks before the marathon or half.

2. Socks. Determine which type of socks—thin, thick, double layers—works best for you and is the most comfortable. Make sure your running socks work well with the shoes you have selected to run the marathon and that there is not a blister problem.

3. Skin lubrication. If you have chafed on prior long runs, try using a lubricant such as Body Glide or Vaseline to see if it helps in any problem areas. If it does, determine how much you will need to use during the marathon. Also, practice with a lip balm.

4. Clothing. Depending on the weather, experiment on long runs with the various clothes combinations you might wear (long sleeve, hat, gloves, tights, singlets, sportsbra, sunglasses, shorts, etc.) to determine how much to wear. Any article of clothing should be worn several times before you wear it in a marathon. Never wear anything in the marathon that you buy at the marathon expo the day before.



1. Pre-race carbohydrates. Before every long run you do, you should carbo-load the night before just like you’ll do before the marathon. The pre-long run meal is the time to try different carbohydrate-rich dishes and see which tastes the best—and works the best the next day. Also, it gives you a chance to determine how much you need to eat, when you should eat and how much to drink. By the time the marathon comes along, you’ll know exactly what to eat (and what not to), how much and when to eat.

2. Pre-race nutrition. It’s a good idea to eat some carbohydrate-rich foods a few hours before the marathon. Such easily digestible foods as a banana, bagel or cereal are all good the morning of the marathon, but experiment with them before long runs to determine exactly what, how much and when to eat.

3. Caffeine. Many runners have a cup of coffee or tea before they run and wonder whether they should the morning of the marathon. If you don’t have any issues tolerating a cup before the long runs, you should be fine before the marathon. But limit yourself to just a cup of coffee or tea because caffeine is a diuretic and too much can cause dehydration.

4. Bowel movement. You will need to have a bowel movement before running the marathon—or long run. Experiment with how much time you need to be awake before going to the bathroom and whether caffeine or anything else will speed the process.

5. Hydration. The necessity to drink during a marathon or long run is a given. But you should also make absolutely certain you are properly hydrated before you even start. Before long runs, experiment with how much water or sports drink you should drink before starting the run so you are completely hydrated, but not so much that you have to urinate every mile. During your long runs, you’ll also need to hydrate and after doing a few longer runs you’ll be able to determine approximately how much you need to drink and when to drink to stay fully hydrated. You’ll also be able to decide on long runs whether water or sports drinks (or a combination of the two) works best.

6. Energy gel supplements. Experimenting on long runs with energy gels is key. If you use them on long runs, find them palatable and feel they help provide energy, plan to use the gels during the race. If you don’t use them on long runs, don’t even think about using them during the marathon because they could leave you with a very upset stomach. But on long runs, try different flavors from the various brands to find the one that tastes and works the best. Also determine how often you need to take on gels, how to carry them and when to take them.