Whether you're a newbie 5k runner or a hard-core marathoner, the long run is the key to any successful training program.
But knowing when to schedule your long runs, how vigorous to make those runs, and the best way to recover from your training can often confuse the distance runner in the midst of their training.
Here are seven running experts sharing their tips to make the most of your long-run training—and how it can help you run your best on race day.
Long-Run Training Tip No.1: Just Get Started
"Don't think about the long run itself; focus instead on simply getting ready for a run. After all, getting ready to run is easy—the concept of running 18 miles isn't. In order to do a run all you need is your shoes, your gear and maybe a watch. Done.
"By breaking the longer run down into "just another run," you are effectively removing the mental obstacle 18 miles. And once you get your momentum going it will be much easier to carry that outside the door."
Long-Run Training Tip No.2: Shorten Your Long Runs
"If you're gunning for a faster 5K, your long run will likely last an hour; marathoners should build up to three hours. Run longer than that, and the physiological gains are outweighed by the stress put on your body.
"I believe that anything over three hours should be saved for race day—if you've consistently run at the proper pace for two to three hours, and tapered adequately, you'll safely complete 26.2 on race day.
Over six consecutive weeks, stair-step your long run as follows: two hours, two and a half hours, three hours, two hours, two and a half hours, and three hours. Taper the run down for three weeks before marathon day. Your effort increases as you run up a hill, even if you reduce your pace.
Long-Run Training Tip No.3: Sugar is Not Your Friend
"Sports drinks and other on-the-run fueling products such as gels, beans and Clif Shot Bloks were originally invented to supplement your energy intake. Your body can only take in so much energy in the form of sugar, and when you exceed that level, it causes nauseau and stomach upset. The idea is not to replace the energy lost while running but to only replenish some of what is lost.
"If you are on the lighter side, lean toward the lower end of the range and vice versa. Practice this in training to identify which products agree with your system. Avoid mixing a sports drink with a gel or beans, as all of these products are designed at about a 6 to 7 percent sugar concentration to allow for quick absorption rates.
"If you mix sports drinks with a gel, this increases that concentration level and you'll develop sugar belly. You can also develop this condition if you take in too much sugar during the run. Keep track along the way, and you'll develop a recipe that works for you."
Long-Run Training Tip No.4: Drink Water...and Lots of It
"No matter how slow you go or how much you drink, your body will be dehydrated after a long run. 'And when you're dehydrated, your heart's pumping sludge,' says 1996 Olympic marathoner Keith Brantly, 'though you may not feel it until the middle of your next hard workout.'"
"So drink copiously way beyond thirst. 1996 Olympic marathoner Anne Marie Lauck downs a 2-quart bottle of Gatorade as soon as she finishes, and another one within the hour. Good rule: Drink one quart of fluid for every half-hour of running.
Long-Run Training Tip No.5: Push Yourself
"Hard workouts serve to calibrate the teleoanticipation mechanism. Hard workouts expose your body to fatigue in ways that are similar to how marathons do, so they teach your body how fast and how far you can go before fatigue will occur.
This internalized feel for your limits will help you pace yourself more effectively on race day. Here are three peak marathon workout formats that I recommend:
- Long, Hard Run
- 1 mile easy
- 20 miles @ marathon pace + 20-30 seconds per mile
- Marathon-pace Run
- 1 mile easy
- 14 miles at marathon pace
- Pre-fatigued Time Trial
- 10 miles easy
- 10K maximum effort
Long-Run Training Tip No.6: Leave Something in the Tank
"Follow the 90 percent rule. When doing quality workouts (hill repeats, tempo runs, intervals, long runs), push yourself, but always leave something left in the tank. Think about pushing yourself up to about 90 percent of your maximum effort, but never give push it to maximum effort.
"After finishing a quality workout, you should feel tired. You should feel like you've worked hard, but you should also feel like, 'Hmmm, I could have done a little more.' This should be a good feeling, not something to beat yourself up about.
"Knowing that you've worked hard (close to maximum effort), but not crawling away from the workout and needing three days to recover will greatly benefit you in the long run. Doing every quality workout at maximum effort is an injury waiting to happen. Just knowing that you have that "extra" in you can really help you beat mental and physical fatigue later in a race. intervals."
Long-Run Training Tip No.7: Schedule Your Long Runs
Anne Marie Lauck
"What day is best for the long run? Saturday is a popular choice, and for good reason. It's when you and your running partners have the most free time. It allows for a little R&R afterward (you don't have to go to work the next day). And, besides, most marathons fall on the weekends, so why not set your body clock ahead of time?
"'I'll do my long runs on Saturday or Sunday depending on what day the marathon I'm training for falls on,' says Anne Marie Lauck, who finished 10th in the 1996 Olympic marathon. 'If possible, I'll even run at the same time of day as the marathon."'