I am in the middle of marathon training and long runs are a major part of it. We’re also in the middle of Winter and so I have to watch the weather forecast a bit more closely, but also plan the runs in more detail. Last year on one of my long runs in Winter it was so !@#$ cold that the Gatorade in my bottles froze while I was running and I had to stop at a McDonald’s to use their electric hand dryer machine to get the Gatorade back into a fluid state. While weather is important for your long run, there are several other things I do to prepare for my runs.
Long runs are crucial when it comes to marathon or ultra-marathon training. By adding long runs to your training, you increase your body’s aerobic capacity by building muscle enzymes and capillaries that deliver the blood to your muscles. Spending more time than usual on your feet also strengthens the musculoskeletal system. Physiologically, going long your body will learn to tap into and utilize energy reserves from body fat storage after the glycogen (fuel) stores in your muscles have been depleted. On your long runs you need to refuel appropriately (or learn to refuel) to avoid running out of fuel in your glycogen stores because once your body switches to fat as the fuel your overall performance will drop by about 20 percent. In addition you will build up mental toughness – an extremely important factor when it comes to finish a marathon race (or races of longer distances in general). The human body is an amazing machine and you will be surprised how much you can achieve by will power alone.
How I prepare for my long run
So, now that we know why longs runs are so important here is what I do to prepare for my long runs and marathon races. The day before a long run I usually take it a bit easy from a workout perspective. I will not go all the way out or sometimes I even take a rest day and only do some core and back strengthening exercises. I work out hard the rest of the week, so my long runs will still happen on fairly tired legs (cumulative fatigue) even when having a rest day before my scheduled long run.
On the day of the long run I make sure I have a solid breakfast and then – depending on if I start my long run later in the day – have another meal about 30-45 minutes before I start running. I know that most other people recommend to have a meal about 2 hours before your run, but that never worked for me. I always feel better with a meal just 30-45 minutes before I run and a full stomach has not bothered me when running. Of course I am not going overboard with the meal, but I will definitely have a decent portion of food.
Bathroom! Us runners, we probably have a love-hate relationship with bathrooms in a certain way. How often have you gone to the bathroom before your last race? Probably more than once within the last 60 minutes before the race starts. Well, I am no exception and I can easily go 3-4 times (number one) before a race. Anyway, no matter what type of long run (race or training) I will have at least one bathroom stop before my run (number one and number two). Enough said.
In the last 30 minutes before my run I prep my running belt and load it up with Gatorade Chews or some Energy gels, and of course I fill up my bottles with Gatorade or some other Sports drink. I then use plenty of BodyGlide or BlueIce to prevent chaffing and get fully dressed for my run.
Then it is time for my run. If I leave from my house on foot I have a certain route that I follow. The first 2.5 miles are usually the same, but then I have quite a few options to adjust my route based on distance, weather, and how I feel. However, the first 2.5 miles are always quite hilly and so I have a love-hate relationship with that part of my run. I love hills for strength and endurance training, but I hate running up those hills, too. Important is the speed I go out with. I have been struggling sometimes to go out slow enough to have enough in the tank once I go past the half marathon mark. The second half of any long run – that’s where the benefits (and the miles) are piling up.
I refuel about every 45 minutes. In Winter I usually stop and walk or just pause because it is a hassle to open gels or Gatorade chew packs in the cold. I am wearing gloves, the fingers might get cold easily – slowing down or pausing is the smarter option in my opinion. In warmer weather I run and eat at the same time though.
I always try to finish strong. From reading several books and websites I understand that I will be able to benefit the most from my run with a strong finish. When I talk about finish I am referring to the last 1.5 miles. I always try to maintain a good pace and where I live I always have a steep hill in my way when coming back home and so I always try to make it up that hill as fast as possible. This type of strength training has helped me a lot during my marathons and I take joy and pride when/if I am able to pass people on the last few miles of a race.
After the Run
I am not with eating after a long run. I just cannot swallow any food without feeling nauseated. So, I usually refuel with lactose-free chocolate milk (I am lactose intolerant). I love the FairLife Chocolate milk. It has lots of flavor, lots of protein, and a good amount of carbs. I am known to easily go through at least half of a large bottle with no problem after a run. I know that I am cutting myself short on carbs with that recovery drink, but this has worked best for me this way. I start eating some solid food about 2-3 hours after a long run, but that is about it.
PS: Tomorrow is Saturday and I am planning for about 18 miles of running. So far the weather forecast looks good (keeping my fingers crossed).