It’s hard to believe that last weekend was my final long run of Brooklyn Half Marathon training. But it was! And after completing ten weeks of milage, I’m so ready for taper.
I wish I could say that training was a breeze, but let’s be honest: getting those runs in every week was not easy (and sometimes straight up didn’t happen), and once the weekend session crept past 6 or 7 miles, they became downright daunting.
But you have to do them – long runs are the linchpin of half or full marathon training. They allow you to gradually build your mental and physical stamina so that, eventually, running 13.1 (or 26.2) miles doesn’t seem like such an impossible task.
I’d like to think that I have the long run game figured out. Since I started distance running in college, I’ve trained for four marathons and even more half marathons. But for some gosh darn reason, I still manage to have that one long run that just falls to pieces. Maybe it’s when I’m travelling and trying to eek in miles in unfamiliar territory. Or it’s the first hot day of the summer and I just didn’t think to pack a hat/sweatband/extra nutrition. Or, if I’m extra lucky, a really nasty combination of the two – which is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago while trying to log 10 miles in swampy Houston, Texas (let’s just say the journey included a pit stop at a gas station for vaseline and Gatorade). Oh my word. The price of not being prepared for a long run is ugly.
So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to put into writing – as a reminder to my future forgetful self – my tips for preparing for a long run.
Respect the miles. First things first. Find your humility, people, because running requires a big heaping dose of it. Each training cycle, I find myself becoming overconfident and thinking that I don’t need to prepare for a long run because, having done so many before, I should be able to “tough it out.” Nope. Uh-uh. This is a huge red flag. Long runs are always challenging and each one is a unique journey. Do yourself a favor by respecting the miles and putting in the work to prepare.
Hydrate. This seems obvious, but I still regularly fail to hydrate properly for my long runs. Ideally, you should be hydrating every day, but especially the day before you go out for a heap-load of miles. That way, when you lace up your shoes, your body is at peak performance and ready to go. I also try to carry a small flask of water or energy drink with me, because the day I don’t is the day the water fountains will be out of order.
- What I use: This year I’ve been wearing this small SPIbelt clip-on bottle attachment, which I find to be just the right amount of liquid for 8 – 10 miles. If it’s extra hot outside, I reach for this larger Nathan hand-held bottle. I also started using nuun electrolyte drink this year and have really enjoyed it!
Fuel. I break this down into two categories: before and during. Of course, you need to fuel after, but that’s typically a lot more intuitive and easy to remember because long runs make you insanely hungry.
- What I eat before: My stomach is very sensitive and doesn’t appreciate when I try to eat before exercising. Through trial and error, I’ve found that a few things fall into the sweet spot of satisfying my hunger while being really gentle on my stomach. Winning foods include: a scoop of peanut butter and half of a banana, a slice of toast with almond butter and honey, or half of an energy bar (these Bonk Breakers have been on repeat in my pantry lately). However, my favorite recent discovery are these apple cinnamon oatmeal Clif Bar Organic Energy Food packets. Let me tell you, they’ve been a game changer. I eat half before a run and, because the recipe is a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, they release energy slowly and sustain me for hours. Even better, they don’t send my stomach into knots. Win win.
- What I eat during: I’ve been experimenting with different things during my run, but if I’m going over 8 miles, I always try to have something on hand to help replenish my energy and keep me moving. The past few long runs I’ve tried Clif Shot Bloks, Gu Chews, and organic fruit wraps from Trader Joes. All passed the delicious to eat + happy stomach test!
SPF. I am admittedly a bit overzealous in this department, but I never leave the house for a run of any kind without applying sunscreen to my face. Even if it’s in the morning. And yes, even if it’s overcast. If I’m running in the afternoon, I’ll also take an extra few moments to get some SPF on my arms, chest, and legs. You may be fast, but you can’t out-run skin damage or, worse, skin cancer. So wear your sunscreen, runners!
- What I wear: I prefer mineral sunscreen for my face and have been using Juice Beauty SPF30 sport for the past year. It goes on thick but, with some work, doesn’t leave you looking like a ghost. And it smells wonderful! If it’s really brilliant outside or I need a little extra coverage in trouble spots, I’ll also break out the Zinka. And, always wear a hat. I told you, I’m not messing around!
Body glide. Body glide. Body glide. Shorts season and long runs are only compatible when coated in body glide. At least for me, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. I have strong legs and yes, after so many miles in the heat, they tend to rub together and cause some serious discomfort. So body glide is always a must before I leave the house. And if I forget? Well, that’s when you’ll find me at the nearest convenience store trying to salvage my run with some vaseline. Not ideal!
Allow yourself some entertainment. This one is hard for me to write, because I used to be a hard core “no headphones” kind of gal. And for 99% of my runs, I still enjoy the sound of my feet and the buzz of my surroundings over the distraction of music. But for solo long runs, I’ve found that listening to podcasts or music can really make the mental and motivational difference between fail and fantastic. So this year I stopped trying to fight it and just gave in to the headphones. And let me tell you folks. It feels like cheating and I’m kind of okay with it.
- What I listen to: I don’t have the patience to build a playlist, and am willing to admit to you that I’m not entirely sure how Spotify works. So instead, I listen to podcasts to pass the time on the road. My favorites are the NPR TED Radio Hour and Stuff You Missed in History Class. But I need new ones, so please tell me your favorites!
Taking breaks is a-okay. Often when I tell people I ran X number of miles today, they’ll immediately respond: “Wow! Without stopping?” Why is that a thing? No, not without stopping. When I feel like my lungs are going to explode or my muscles are cramping up or I just need a hot second to stop and smell the roses, I stop. And that’s okay. I find that when I allow myself that 10 – 15 seconds to stretch and catch my breath, I’m much more motivated and ready to tackle the next phase of my run.
Have fun. No really, enjoy it. Long runs are awesome. If you prepare for and respect the journey in front of you, that high mileage runner’s high is unlike anything else. That is, until you sit down for that post long run brunch and order a large coffee + eggs + avocado toast + side of bacon. Because let’s be real, the food is half the fun of running in the first place!
If a half or full marathon is on your plate this year, I hope this tips help you make those long runs the very best!