Ahh, the long run. A staple of any distance runner’s training plan, the one weekly workout you shouldn’t skip in marathon training and either the love of your life, or the bane of your existence (there’s no in between!).
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s usually tough, especially when you get up past double-digit mileage. Sometimes I think that just looking ahead in your training plan a few weeks and seeing a distance casually placed on a weekend that you know you’d have no chance of completing if you were trying it today, is enough to overwhelm you ahead of time.
I’m firmly in the love it camp. I relish the big chunk of alone time I get when I’m running long. I love getting it done early and knowing I’ve accomplished a big goal for the day. I enjoy planning the route out and finding somewhere new to explore for part of the distance. And even though I definitely like long running, it’s still hard. It’s still overwhelming. It still requires a few tricks up my sleeve to make it really count as a quality workout.
So today I’m sharing with you my tried and true 8 Tips for Mastering the Long Run today, as part of the Running Tips series. These have all worked for me and made me love the long run more – hopefully they’ll do the same for you!
1. Break it up, baby. No, I’m not talking about splitting one long run into two segments on the same day (although some people swear by this technique). I mean split up that run to make it seem manageable before you even get started. Let’s say you have a 15 mile run to tackle. An easy way to approach it is in thirds – three 5 milers. Now, think of each 5 mile run as a separate workout. You could have a different goal pace for each segment, or have a different place to run for each third. Even think about planning a different focus for each – like the first 5 miles is about breathing, settling into your pace, enjoying the scenery. The second can be working on your form and checking in with your body, making little adjustments. The third section could be on pace and gradually increasing your pace at the point when your body is most tired.
2. Speaking of pace, get negative. Training long runs are the perfect opportunity to nail the negative split. Especially if you’re someone who often makes the mistake of going out too fast at the beginning of a race and suffering at the end, getting used to negative splits in training will be key to overcoming this common slip-up. Whether you mentally split the run into two splits, three, or even each mile, really focus on gradually increasing your pace as the run progresses. Here are three ways I approached the long run as a negative split workout when training for both the marathon and half marathon distance:
- The rule of thirds (I like splitting it in three, what can I tell you?!): First third easy pace, second third medium pace, last third medium-hard pace.
- Fastest last mile (this works best with shorter long runs): Run at your regular long run pace throughout, then run your last mile fast. Make it your fastest mile split. It is a great boost mentally to know you have that energy left at the end of a long run.
- Gradual speed increase. This requires a lot of either concentration on your RPE (if you are aware enough of how your pace ascribes to how you feel), or checking in with your Garmin or GPS at least every mile. Each mile should be slightly faster than the one preceding it. Try taking off a couple of seconds each mile for long long runs, or bigger chunks of time each mile for shorter long runs. Just do some quick math before you head out to ensure your overall pace for the entire run will still fall into the right pace range for your overall racing goal.
3. Practice Race Day. I know you’ve heard this advice in a thousand different iterations before. That’s because it’s excellent advice. Your long run is a weekly chance to ensure that everything will be as practiced and natural as possible on race day. Things to think about experimenting with in the early long runs, then having down pat towards the end of your training cycle include: clothing – test out race outfit options on your long run days; fueling; hydrating; PRE-fueling and hydrating (what works for breakfast the day of your run and what works as the night before fuel as well). You can even practice key elements of the race course if you want to get crazy. If there are hills at mile 10 of the race elevation, then incorporate hills at that point in your long runs once you get to that distance.
4. But remember, every long run doesn’t have to be a replica of race day. For example, I’ve never raced with music, but once I get above 12 miles for a long run in my training, I need my iPod with me. I know that the spectators, atmosphere, fellow runners and excitement of the actual event will mimic the distraction training music provides.
5. Think about the hardest part of your long run and make it better. Is it hard for you to just start, feeling overwhelmed at the distance? Do you flag in the middle, when you know you’re only halfway? Or is it the last few miles, when you just want to be done already? Plan accordingly for those mental blocks. Organize a friend to run that portion with you, even if it’s just a mile. Create your playlist so your favorite, motivating music comes on just at the right moment, or start using music or a podcast just for that part when you want to quit. Ask friends to text/tweet/message you at a certain time and take a quick walk break to soak in the support before tackling your nemesis. Bonus: Do the same for race day, even if it’s just organizing your spectators to be at certain points on the race course when you already know you’ll need the boost.
6. Use the long run as a chance to check in with your body. It’s so easy to get caught up in pace and fueling and just slogging through the mileage. A great way to make sure you’re staying healthy and running your best is to use the longer time and distance to pay attention to what’s going on physically. When you’re tired, what happens to your form? What corrections can you make that work to keep you running strong and pain-free? How does your breathing affect the way you run, or your effort level? Get to know your body’s signals and how to improve throughout the workout.
7. Practice mantras. Having a mantra to push you through the hard parts of a workout or race can be a lifesaver (or a PR saver!). It doesn’t even need to be a whole motivational phrase. Sometimes just one word will be the motivation you need, or can repeat as a way of taking your mind off the pain. Experiment with what works for you, in terms of what to say to yourself and when you need to be giving yourself the mantra pep talk.
8. Have a post long-run ritual – one you wouldn’t want to miss. Yes we all (hopefully) have our recovery rituals down pat – stretch, foam roll, refuel, throw on our super-cool and stylish compression socks. But have something you can look forward to on your long run days, whether it’s brunch with friends, catching up on your favorite TV shows as you stretch, taking a bath with a good book or a magazine, or making the night of your long run be take-out or restaurant night for dinner. Pick something that makes you feel indulgent and something you can really look forward to as you’re gritting your teeth through the last mile.
So, there you have it, my 8 best tips for mastering your next long run. Incorporating these tips into my long runs has definitely cemented my place in the love it camp – especially using pace as a tool. I used to just go out and try to hit a certain overall pace for the run, but breaking it up into segments of pace, or trying out negative pacing both really helped me tackle the long run as a workout rather than just a slog. Even so, remember that just like any workout in your training plan, sometimes you’re going to have a long run that just plain sucks. It feels bad, nothing you’ve planned seems to work, it’s a mental and physical drain. It happens and that’s okay, too! Remember, it’s the terrible runs that make the good ones that more magical.
What’s on your list of what works for making running long something you don’t dread?
Do you love or loathe running long?
Have you tried something that definitely did NOT work for you?