The Long Run:
Tips for Distance Runners

The long run is the foundation of long distance running and a critical component of training plans for races 10k and longer. Below are some preparation tips, tools, and ideas on how to schedule and plan your long distance runs to be an effective part of your endurance-building campaign!

Nothing builds endurance more effectively than more miles of running. Just like many things in life: there’s no substitute for good experience. When your body experiences the rigors of a long run, it repairs and rebuilds itself to meet and exceed that same challenge on the next go-around. This training also plays a significant role in your mental preparations, as your mind now knows that you can handle ‘x’ miles. So many runners “bonk” at mile 20 in the marathon, which is undoubtedly tied to the fact that so many marathon training plans don’t include workouts longer than 20 miles. Our long training runs are a critical part of our race plans, and to do them right we need to build up to them gradually and do the little things to make sure that we get through them in one piece and recover quickly.

Your long distance workouts should be the first thing that you write out on your training schedule. Here are some rules-of-thumb when conducting your planning:

  • Schedule the long runs with sufficient rest in-between
    When I start a marathon training schedule, there are a few workouts that are the critical components so I write them on the calendar first. For example, I do my longest training run three weeks before race day. I also space any 22+ mile runs at least 3 weeks apart. For workouts that are between 12-22 miles, I try to space them out by 2 weeks apart. And for training runs that are 7-12 miles long, I try to separate these by 1 week. If you cut down on this spacing too much, you won’t give your body the time it needs to rest & rebuild.
  • Gradually increase the mileage
    As you plan your training runs on your calendar, as discussed above, make sure that you’re also increasing your mileage at a gradual rate. Most training plans that I’ve written or followed involve adding 1-mile to the longest run every weekend until 12 miles…then adding 2 miles every other weekend for runs 12-22 miles…and then adding 3 miles every 3rd week for long runs over 22 miles. This tip goes hand-in-hand with the one above: schedule the long runs with good spacing, rest, and gradual mileage increases.
  • Pace yourself
    It’s natural to want to go faster on your long runs…but resist the urge. The faster you go on your long distance days, the longer it will take you to recover which can negatively impact the rest of your training plan. I usually go 1:00 – 1:30 slower per mile on these runs than my planned race pace. The long runs are building endurance and stamina. Don’t use these runs as a time trial for your race…as it could lead to extended recovery times, long periods of soreness, and even injury.

Some long run workouts can exceed 3 hours of running, and there are some fairly simple planning steps that you can take to make these long workouts much more enjoyable. Here are some tips and planning tools to make the long run a bit more fun:

  • Hydration:
    For long runs over an hour, I usually start packing water. I can usually last with a 20-ounce water bottle for an 8-12 mile run; I use a 32-ounce bottle for the 12-18 milers; and a 70-ounce CamelBak for anything over 20 miles. It’s also nice to fill it with a watered-down Gatorade instead of just plain water…depending on your taste. If you’re running a loop, you may even be able to stash some water bottles on the course to avoid having to carry the extra weight.
  • Energy Gels
    I’ve tried many brands, flavors and varieties of energy products, and I still keep reverting back to plain-old vanilla energy gels. Some of the more exotic flavors cause an upset stomach and the energy bars aren’t as easy to eat while running. The gel packs are a good pick-me-up every 40 minutes on the longer training runs, and can be carried on a simple $10 elastic belt. Another item that’s worth adding to the fuel belt – 2 Motrin…these little pain-relievers have saved the day quite a few times!
  • Safety
    Depending on what time of day & where you’re running, you might want to consider some reflective arm bands, vest, or even an LED running light. They won’t add much weight, and it’ll make you more visible to any vehicles. You should also consider taking some form of identification with you…just in case. Something as simple as a driver’s license in your pocket or a cell phone on your fuel belt could save your life in the unfortunate event of being stranded or injured on the side of a road.
  • Music
    Most long distance runners would agree that running is largely a mental exercise. Having some motivational or inspirational music can keep our mind on positive thoughts, and keep it from straying into the realm of discomfort and negativity. MP3 players have come way down in price – I run with an iPod Nano on some workouts…well worth it (See the Gifts for Runners page). Note: Check the battery life indicator the night before your multi-hour runs – it’s a bad feeling when the music stops on mile 2…;-).
  • The weather forecast
    Having the right clothes for your long run can make the difference between a fun workout and a miserable one. It’s no fun carrying a hat & gloves when you could have left them in the car…or having numb hands when a set of gloves would have saved the day. Everyone’s different, but 40 degrees F is my decision point: Over 40F, I wear shorts and lose the winter gear…under 40F, I wear hat gloves, and a nylon wind-suit. Check the weather and plan for comfort….it’s worth the look-ahead!
  • Bodyglide / Vaseline / SportSlick
    Any long run over an hour could create some uncomfortable high friction at strategic areas of your body. Take a few minutes to grease those areas (heels, toes, groin, arm pits, chest…and shoulders if you’re wearing a CamelBak). I’ve used all of the above 3 brands with success…use whatever product that helps you. This can make the workout much more pleasant and help you avoid painful rub marks and blisters which can last for weeks.
  • The post-run treat bag
    When you get in the later stages of your long run, your mind may drift into the “Why are you doing this to me?” stage. It’s at this point in the run, when I usually start thinking about my bottle of Gatorade, banana, and granola bar in the car…or the warm shower and cup of coffee when I get home. Take a minute to pack yourself a post-run treat bag. It’s the little things that’ll pull you though, mentally ;-).

The long run has grown to be one of my favorite workouts on the calendar. It’s not grueling, but rather a battle of will power and stamina. With a few simple planning and scheduling steps, you can shorten your recovery time and have a rather enjoyable workout…in a fanatical-sort-of-way ;-). Happy Running!

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