Long runs (12+ miles) are arguably one of the most important workouts in marathon training. They help the body get used to being active for a long time and build the confidence that is needed to race all 26.2 miles. On most days, it’s mentally daunting to think about completing a double-digit, 3+ hour run but I’ve found ways to make them doable and more enjoyable. Here’s how I went from dreading them to loving them.
1. Explore new routes and neighborhoods
I like to try and run through various parts of New York City. As comfortable as I am in Central Park, this gives me an opportunity to explore new routes and discover places I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Diversifying my runs keeps it exciting. It’s a great way to enjoy parts of the City up close while doing something I love. Running new routes also means I don’t know where the hills are so it trains me to adapt quickly to the unfamiliar.
2. Plan ahead and prepare
Long run logistics are annoying but when I’m adequately prepared, I enjoy it significantly more. I’ve done enough runs to anticipate the worst so I plan ahead. I get plenty of sleep the night before, eat and hydrate, charge my phone and Garmin, keep a first-aid kit, bring water and chews (and energy gels), rub vaseline on chafing-prone areas and throw my ice packs in the freezer before heading out. Preparing makes a huge difference.
3. Do a lighter warmup
I used to do the same warmup for every type of run (intervals, long runs, tempo, recovery). I learned that it is more effective, however, to do a lighter warmup for long runs because the first 2 to 4 miles are actually spent warming up anyway. In racing, I aim for negative splits so it totally makes sense to use the earlier miles to warm up and build from there. Now, I do a light jog and some dynamic drills and take it from there.
4. Mentally break it up
Rather than think about a long run in its entirety, I break it up into manageable increments. I think of an 18-mile run as a 6-mile run, done three times. If needed, I take a 30 second to 1 minute walk break before starting the next phase of the run. I also think about the miles I have left to run rather than the amount I’ve completed. This psychological trick doesn’t change the distance I need to go but makes it mentally manageable and physically approachable.
5. Don’t go hard
All long runs are not meant to be done at a hard pace – but I learned that the hard way. For some, I do progression runs or keep it at 5-10% slower than my predicted marathon pace. Otherwise, long runs should be at a nice, conversational pace. I thought that a long run was worthless if I didn’t try to push the pace. Once I learned that it’s more about practicing race strategies and getting my body used to that time on my feet, I started looking forward to them.
6. Test something new every time
I keep long runs exciting by testing something new every time. I’ve tested new gear, energy chews and pacing strategies. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t is helpful so that I don’t suffer on race day. I also use long runs to clean up my form and get in touch with how I breathe. Similar to UX design, the process of iterating and perfecting various strategies is really gratifying so the more long runs I do, the better I understand where my running pain points are.
7. Prepare for the post-run festivities beforehand
I’m always exhausted after a long run so I start preparing for the post-run shenanigans in advance. That means already having a carb-heavy meal cooked for myself and getting an ice bath ready. I also try and make plans with friends for the remainder of the day so I can keep moving to facilitate accelerated recovery and not fall into a pattern of taking naps after long runs. And when I make plans, it’s mandatory for us to stuff ourselves with a lot of food.
8. Run with a group
I tend to enjoy solo runs more but there’s definitely a positive side to doing long runs with a group. Running with others is always nice because they keep me accountable and push me to finish strong. In addition, I need to be doing long runs at a conversational pace so having some folks around to chat about marathoning and life is wonderful. Finally, running with a group is more ideal for safety reasons in a crazy city like New York because you never know.
9. Keep doing it
If I want to make long runs something I genuinely look forward to, I realized that I have to do it with frequency and make it a no-brainer habit. Of course, it’s not something I should do every single day but most marathon training plans require it once a week. Now that I’m doing it often as part of my training for the TCS New York City Marathon, I’m fearing them less and turning them into just another habit in my life.
10. Have a reward system in place
Designing a reward system for myself has been one of the healthiest ways I’ve built that love for long runs. Recently, I’ve become addicted to these organic Honey Stinger Energy Chews and always take a few packets with me for long runs. In general, I love gummy candy so I think of these chews as indulging my sweet tooth during a workout. In addition, I have other rewards systems in place to make the process of completing them not as daunting.
I try not to think about how daunting it is but instead, do my best to prepare well. Even though I’ve hit mileage up to 20 miles, it doesn’t make the next long run any easier. Completing them is always going to be a struggle. They may be an evil necessity in training for a full marathon but these strategies have made them a joyful part of the process.