The long distance run is a favorite, and staple, for many runners. Often an early morning weekend day run done with running friends, it can be a highlight of the runner’s week.
But, as with anything worthwhile, it takes time and effort to progress, and master, the long distance run. New runners, especially, may feel intimidated as they tackle distances never done before.
Whatever the reason for a long distance run (training for a race, building fitness, etc.), it’s critical to build the mileage smart and safely.
And, a “long run” simply means your longest runs of the week/training cycle for your respective training. One runner may run eight miles as a long run for a 10K, versus a marathoner running 18 miles.
Regardless of distance, the long distance run matters because of its many physiological benefits: increasing blood volume, VO2 max, red blood cells and capillary development. Not to mention you’ll be a more efficient runner with improved running economy (able to run faster at lower heart rate).
Eight tips to ensure an enjoyable, successful long distance run.
The long run is only one piece of the training puzzle.
Try not to fall into the pit of being a weekend warrior, where you are inconsistent with your weekday runs. Some runners incorrectly think that the weekend long run trumps all other runs.
Yes, it’s important. But, if your training plan consists mostly of a long run on the weekend, and one-two short weekday runs, your results, and body suffer. Not only are you more prone to injury, it’ll take longer for you to recover.
A general rule of thumb is your long run shouldn’t account for more than 20-30% of your weekly mileage. And, ONE long run a week is sufficient!
Be in surroundings you enjoy – get outside.
Drive to a favorite area, or route for your long distance run, if necessary. Yes, it may take more time, but your surroundings can make a long distance run so much more enjoyable. Or, even better, try a new route. Variety, or something new is a good distraction and keeps things “fresh.”
There are some strategies that make a long run solo enjoyable, and more successful. It just requires a little planning and forethought.
Also keep in mind elevation gain can add difficulty and effort to your run. For those conquering a new, long distance, less hilly terrain may be a good option.
Chunk down your long run into segments, physically
Sure, out and back runs are easy to navigate, but they can get boring. Plus, if you have an unexpected issue on your run, you might find yourself in a situation where you’re far from the end point. If you’re solo, that can be a problem!
Routes that allow you to loop back to a central point during the run are a bit more interesting, and logistically a smart choice. You can stay closer to fuel, bathrooms, or even the “finish line” if you have to end early.
Chunk down your run into segments, mentally
Long distance runs are a great tool to build your mental toughness.
Chunk down your long run in your mind. For example, think of a 12 mile long run as three four-mile segments. Focus on each segment that you’re in, not concerning yourself with what comes next.
Mix it up by focusing on something specific in each segment as well. For example: cadence in the first segment, relaxation in the second segment. In the last, focus on proper/good form when you’re likely to feel the most fatigue.
Be mindful of pacing. Easier, conversation pace THROUGHOUT the run.
Nothing kills the success of a long distance run like starting out too fast (or running entirely too fast overall). Running at a pace that you can’t sustain for the duration of the run is a confidence crusher, and can be really uncomfortable as the mileage ticks up.
Remember it requires MORE EFFORT to maintain the same pace as the run progresses. What may feel relatively easy early on can be downright unbearable by the run’s end. Starting out too fast also eats up your glycogen stores, resulting in legs heavy with fatigue (more so than necessary!).
Especially for new runners, a conversation pace is key. If you can’t string together a few sentences out loud, your pace is too fast. This ensures your heart rate is in an appropriate aerobic zone.
Run with a friend. With a caveat.
Running with a friend can make the miles go quicker, no doubt. But, if your paces are not similar, that can be problematic. Someone ends up running too fast, or too slow.
If that’s the case (dissimilar paces), perhaps you can agree to grab a coffee or breakfast/brunch after. Sometimes, just knowing someone is out there “getting it done” (although separately) can help. And, if you’ve made a commitment to meet up to start together, you’re more likely to follow through.
Don’t skimp on your nutrition during the run.
Most experts agree that any run longer than an hour requires nutritional intake on the run. It’s not enough to have nutrition prior, so plan on hydration and fueling while running.
Related Post: Common Hydration Mistakes Runners Make
Nancy Clark provides some concise tips on nutrition for long runs here. She provides a range, as runners of course are different sizes. If you are to run for more than an hour, best to take something around the 45 minute mark, and then about every 45 minutes thereafter.
If your stomach tends to get a little cranky with nutrition on runs, then smaller increments more often may do the trick. You may need to experiment with different types of fuel before you land on what’s right for you.
There’s a variety of hydration vests, belts, water bottles, etc. to help hold your fuel. I personally use a hydration vest for any double digit mileage. I love the convenience it provides to hold everything! I feel so strongly about their utility, I wrote a blog on hydration vests.
Try the Run Walk Method!
The run walk method is a great choice for so many runners and reasons. Tackling long runs, or a long race distance, coming back from injury are just a few of them.
In terms of the mental aspect, it helps to chunk down the run into more manageable pieces. It also makes tackling a new long distance less daunting, and intimidating.
Not only does it help you mentally, it can provide a physical advantage as well. It allows new runners to more safely increase their endurance and time spent on foot with less injury risk.
Personally, for my first marathon, I did all long distance runs with the run walk method, and shorter weekday runs as a straight run. I ran the Disney Marathon (2013, have done 13 more since then) with run-walk, and it was a success! I can’t recommend it enough.