Long runs are a quintessential aspect of half and full marathon training schedules. We dutifully dedicate weekend after weekend to these training runs in preparation for our race.
The goal of long runs, which is any run over 90 minutes, is to get your body, especially your legs, used to running for 2-4 hours consistently. They are your dress rehearsal for the race and therefore require more planning and thought than a typical run.
You want to carefully consider the route, pacing, hydration and fueling, safety and clothing choices. Although the most important aspect of these training runs is plain and simple — time on your feet — there are a few key factors to take into account if you want to get the most out of each long run, especially if you are going for a personal best time!
Here are six tips to maximizing the benefits of your long runs.
1. Course Simulation
Choose your long run routes wisely. In his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula,” Jack Daniels advises runners to train in conditions similar to what they’ll experience on race day. While this includes temperature and altitude, it’s also important to train at similar elevation changes. Find routes that have similar elevation changes, similar hill patterns or stretches of flat road. If you have hills at the beginning or end of your course, practice starting or finishing your long runs with similar hills. This will prepare your legs and help you pace properly. If you are racing in the same city in which you live, practice running portions of the course at least once or twice. Most race websites show the elevation chart. If it’s not available, map it out yourself on www.mapmyfitness.com. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
2. Pace Yourself Properly
You typically want to run your long runs 30-90 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. Within that context, focus on running negative splits, which is running the second half of the run faster than the first. To accomplish this, practice running the first few miles about 15 seconds slower per mile than your long run pace. Instilling this good habit will prevent you from starting way too fast on race day and hitting the wall earlier than anticipated. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
3. Race Pace Practice
If you are training for a specific time, mentally and physically preparing yourself for your goal race pace is necessary. Insert 2-4 goal pace miles half to three quarters of the way through your long run. A word of caution — don’t be discouraged if the pace feels tough. Additional training, taper and adrenaline will help you on race day. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
4. Hydration And Fueling Strategy
Every race needs a hydration and fueling plan and it’s prudent to practice yours on your long runs. Also, your strategy might look drastically different from your friend’s plan — and that’s OK. As Tim Noakes, author of “Waterlogged,” reminds us, “listen to your body, and your body will tell you” when it needs water.” It may take a few runs to figure out when you need water, which products work for you and how often to take them. Too many people are sidelined with stomach cramps and bathroom issues as a result of too much or too little water on race day. Find out where the water stops are located along the course (this information is usually available on the race website). Plan your hydration and nutrition at similar intervals during your long runs. If you need a starting point, aim to drink 4-6 ounces of water and eat 30-60 grams of carbohydrates (150-250 calories, or about one gel) every 45-60 minutes. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
This is a big concern and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you run alone. During these runs, you’ll be on the road for hours at a time and it’s better to be prepared for the unexpected. Always let someone know where you are running and your estimated time of finishing. Bring money and extra fuel (gel, shot bloks, a bar) with you. If you run alone, buy a Road ID to put on your shoe or bring your ID. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
6. Dress Rehearsal
Use your long runs to figure out which clothing options work best for you. The closer you get to the race, run in the clothes and accessories that you plan on wearing during the race. Longer distances bring out chaffing in new, and often unforeseen, places, so it’s best to get familiar ahead of time with what works and what doesn’t. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
About The Author:
Meghan Reynolds is a USATF Certified Running Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and Yoga Instructor. She’s an 11-time marathoner, and has also participated in numerous half marathons and sprint triathlons.