As I approach the last 7 weeks of training for the New York City Marathon, my mileage is almost at it’s peak. These past few weeks I have run the typical long run distances – 16, 18 miles – but have yet to reach the 20 miler (that’s next weekend!).
The past two long runs have only been 2 miles apart in distance, but have been significantly different for my body and my mind. My first 16 miler of this training cycle was completely awful – mentally I just wasn’t ready for it, and my body got tired at only about 8 miles. The following week I ran 18 miles and had what I think was the best long run ever.
It’s funny how fickle our bodies can be, right? In the span of 7 days we can go from totally doubting our endurance, to being ready to conquer any distance with a positive attitude just 7 days later.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I did differently to prepare for the terrible 16 miler and the amazing 18 miler, and have created a list of all the things that help me prepare for an awesome long run; both physically and mentally.
How to Run Your Best Long Run Ever
Don’t dwell on it!
I find that if I put too much focus on an upcoming long run, I psych myself out. I often run 4 or 5 miles the day before a long run and whenever I am thinking about the next day’s mileage during that run, I get so worked up about the fact that I have to run 4 times the distance the next day that the run seems impossible before I even start.
Incorporate yoga or stretching in the few days leading up to your long run.
My legs feel fresher and last longer when they are stretched out and ready to go for my long run. I’ve been doing yoga once a week lately and have found that my legs don’t feel as heavy by the end of my run when I do this. Yoga helps keep them fresh and rejuvenated after all the shorter runs during the week. Here are some of my favorite yoga poses for runners.
Make sure you hydrate the day before and two days before your long run.
I’ve experimented with this one quite a bit, and have found that the weeks when I go out and have a few drinks or even just drink pop instead of water are the weeks when my body doesn’t feel as fresh to start my run. Even if I went out two nights before the long run, I can definitely feel the effects in my legs and overall feel pretty lethargic when I start running.
Run a short shakeout run the day or two before, and run it slower than your normal pace.
This is something I battle with constantly. My body is usually on auto pilot when I run because I pretty much always run the same pace (which is slow to begin with), so it is just as hard for me to slow down the pace as it is to pick it up. I have to be very mentally present and focused on my shakeout runs beforehand in order to run slower, but my legs definitely feel much fresher the next morning when I do.
Don’t be afraid to eat a late night snack the night before.
My eating habits have definitely become a routine; I eat the same types of things for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. However, on the night before a long run I like to eat a bigger dessert or treat myself to a snack before bed. Usually when I eat my typical meals I wind up feeling hungry in the morning before I even start the run.
Eat a bigger and more carb heavy breakfast than usual.
I typically eat half a bagel and a banana for breakfast, but before a long run I like to eat a full bagel. I forgot to eat the full bagel before heading out for a long run and definitely noticed it a few miles in. I was getting hungry and already feeling tired. Your body needs those carbs to run! Make sure you give yourself at least half an hour to digest that breakfast before starting your run though.
With that in mind – eat before you get hungry during your long run!
This has been something I’ve consistently done on runs that end up feeling awesome. I sometimes get so caught up in the run (and mostly just lazy) that I decide I’ll only eat a little bit at the halfway point, or won’t eat as many shot blocks or snacks as I usually do.
I normally start to feel hungry on the second half of the run when I do this, and by this point it is too late to recover. I’ve found the best success when I eat smaller amounts more frequently, and force myself to do so even when I’m feeling lazy. (My absolute favorite long run fuel is the Honey Stinger Waffle. It goes down easily on the move and tastes amazing!).
Break up the distance on your long run.
This is a new thing I am trying and so far it has worked wonders! I have always been an out and back runner. When I run 16 miles I start on the trail and run out 8 before I turn around. Same thing for 18 miles – I run out 9 miles and then turn around.
On my last long run of 18 miles I went out one direction for 3 miles and came back, then went the other direction and came back, and finished in the first direction for 3 miles before turning around. This helped me mentally SO MUCH. It is so much easier to think of a run as three 6 milers than two 9 milers. Breaking the distance down into something more manageable has worked like magic for me.
Run with someone or talk to someone on the phone during your run.
I usually meet my mom for long runs and she will run all or part of them with me, which helps me keep going and stay distracted during the run. When I can’t meet up with her, I often talk to her on the phone while I run.
This works just as well and has been a life saver for these long runs! I plug headphones into my phone and store it in my pouch, so I don’t even have to hold anything while I talk. This makes the time pass so much faster.
Run by feel and not by pace – don’t be afraid to walk.
I love starting my runs by reminding myself that 18 miles is 18 miles, no matter how slow or fast I get it done. Walking 18 miles is still the same distance as running 18 miles, and this really helps take the pressure off. When my body is breaking down and I’m falling apart, I let myself walk for a little while to regroup. I also avoid looking at my watch during long runs and focus on how I’m feeling in order to set the pace.
I am a firm believer that anybody can run a marathon, or a half marathon, or whatever that distance is that seems impossible to you but has always been something you wished you could do. Our bodies are so incredible, and a distance race is about so much more than race day. The process of getting their is the true accomplishment, and the journey teaches us so much about ourselves.
Looking for more tips? Check out these articles:
- How to Recover Quickly from a Long Run
- Should You Skip a Run? 12 Ways to Find Out
- So You Want to Run Your First Marathon
- 10 Foolproof Ways to Overcome the Wall in a Marathon
- The Best Half Marathon Training Plan for Every Runner (download the plan for FREE!)
Even after a perfect week of training and preparing for a long run, things could go wrong and you could still end up having a terrible run. But more often than not, once we really get to know our bodies we are able to understand what they are telling us and make adaptions to improve. Long runs are not always fun, but the feeling afterwards makes every moment of struggle worth it.
Good luck to all of those preparing for long runs this weekend!