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How to Survive a 20 Mile Run | 6 Tips for the Long Run

The 20 mile run is a milestone during marathon training. Regardless of whether you’re training for your first marathon or have run too many to count, completing a 20 miler is always something to celebrate.

Is a 20 mile run enough?

Many first time marathoners are surprised to see that their training plans only have a long run of 20 miles – not any more. While 20 miles sounds like quite a feat when you’re just getting started, knowing that the race distance is actually 26.2 miles creates a bit of uncertainty in new distance runners.

A 20 miler might sound like a lot less than the 26.2 miles to complete on race day, but training plans are actually designed that way for a reason.

Most marathon training plans peak with a 20 mile run before tapering begins. This helps runners practice long distance, create a fueling plan, and increase their endurance while still leaving them fresh enough to continue training.

What’s a good time for a 20 mile run?

In most cases, you shouldn’t worry about time or pace during the long runs of marathon training. Even if you have a goal race pace, your training runs will probably (and should probably) be run much slower than your goal pace.

The long runs, and the 20 mile run especially, are designed to help increase your endurance and mentally prepare for the distance of the marathon. Their sole role in training is to increase mileage – not be used as a way to gauge speed. Save your timed miles for those during mid-week workouts, and focus solely on finishing the 20 mile distance during the long run.

What does running 20 miles do to your body?

Running 20 miles is no easy task. Even after working up to the distance in the weeks or months prior, a 20 miler takes a toll on the body.

Long runs require a significant physical effort. If you consider that the average person burns about 100 calories when running a mile, 20 miles could burn a whopping 2,000 calories. In addition, even when running a slower pace or walking intermittently, your muscles will be fatigued from the distance.

Many runners discover that other areas of their body, such as the low back, arms or even shoulders feel sore after a 20 mile run. It will require perseverance and a great deal of mental willpower to complete the long run distance, leaving both the body and mind tired in the hours and days to come.

Regardless of how many 20 mile runs you’ve completed or how fast you finished, be prepared to spend time resting and recovering in the hours and days to come.

Related: A Guide to Long Run Recovery

What should I eat on a 20 miler?

When the long runs reach their peak, fueling becomes especially important. Eating during a run might not feel easy, but is essential for success during training and on race day.

The type of fuel that’s best to consume during a 20 mile run will vary from one runner to the next. Some runners find success with gels, while others prefer solids. Some can handle the processed chews, while others need a homemade option.

Finding the right fuel for a long run requires a bit of experimentation, especially the first time. Starting from the very beginning of training, runners will need to practice eating during long runs. Take the time to experiment with different foods, noting which feels best for your body.

An upcoming 20 mile run might seem daunting, even after working your way up to the distance. However, most runners are surprised to discover how natural it feels when completed during marathon training.

Try these 6 strategies to conquer your 20 mile run during marathon training! Check out everything you need to know for long run fueling, recovery and more. #longrun #marathontraining

6 Tips for Your 20 Mile Run

Use these 6 tips during your next 20 miler to make the distance feel natural, manageable – and, dare I say it: normal.

Ignore your speed.

Long runs are the time to focus on just that – running longer. Forget about your speed and prioritize finishing the distance. Walk if you need to, stop to make adjustments, and starting slowly to save energy for those final miles.

Work your way up.

A 20 mile run shouldn’t come out of the blue when following a training plan. Take your time building mileage and complete the long runs scheduled weeks and months ahead of time. After completing a 14, 16, and even an 18 mile long run, your body and mind will be ready for the next natural step.

Time it right.

By the time you reach the 20 mile run on the training schedule, you’ll likely have learned a lot about your body. Be sure to take those observations and use them to time your long run in the best possible way for your body.

Plan your run at a time when you have plenty of time to eat some pre-run breakfast, make a bathroom stop, stretch and anything else that’ll help you prepare.

Related: The Perfect Pre-Run Routine

Make adjustments now.

During any season of marathon training, runners are tweaking and adjusting their routines. If you discover that your stomach was upset after eating a particular breakfast, change it. If you’re struggling to get water from your hydration pack, try a handheld water bottle. The shoes that create blisters? Swap them out.

Practice positive self-talk.

Completing a long run is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. The 20 mile run is a perfect place to practice reciting mantras or repeating any positive phrases that you plan to use on race day.

Find an encouraging mantra to lean on when you hit the wall or simply practice telling yourself that you can do this. The habits we create during training will stick with us on race day; if you spend all of your long runs worrying that you won’t be able to finish, you might find yourself unintentionally doing the same when it really counts.

Don’t psyche yourself out.

A 20 mile run is going to feel hard at any point in training. The distance is long, you’re probably running alone, and there’s very little external motivation to continue when things get hard. Remember that it’s not going to be easy, and don’t psyche yourself out when things start to feel challenging.

Whether you have one 20 miler on the schedule or many, each one will present different challenges. Stay focused, remain positive, and remember that you’ll be stronger for it.

The 20 mile run is the closest you’ll get to running to the actual marathon during training. This run provides a perfect opportunity to practice for race day – from your fueling, to gear, hydration and everything in between. And if something doesn’t go as planned, that’s what practice is for. Adjust, move on, and stay confident as you continue to train.

More tips for 20 milers:

Saturday 21st of October 2023

Thank you for the article. I am doing my first 20-mile run/walk today and I am mentally preparing myself. After all running is mostly mental & slightly physical.