Long Run, Dress Rehearsal

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

The long run. Often intimidating. Rarely easy. It’s the keystone to training for a marathon or half marathon. It’s also the run most folks training get wrong. Here are some things you can do to better your long run, your overall training, and the reasons why you should handle your long runs certain ways.

  • Think of your long runs as dress rehearsals for race day. This means you should practice eating dinner and breakfast the way you would before your race. it also means you should plan mid-run fueling as you would for race day. If you decide to “wing it” on race day, you are foolish. You have weekly long runs between now and race day. Use them as practice.
  • Don’t be scared of bombing a long run. If something goes wrong, LEARN from it. Perhaps you will need to cut the run short due to dehydration, chafing, or take a detour or a bathroom break. Or perhaps you need a walking/stretching break. Or you lose your mental focus and cannot get it back. IT’S OKAY. Figure out why these things are happening, and then we can fix them and never make those mistakes again. A bad long run isn’t a bad thing if you can learn from it.
  • Test out your fueling options. Some folks can take any kind of nutrition on the run and feel great. Other’s find almost every endurance fuel out there leads them to racing for the bathroom. There are dozens of fueling options. Find what feels best for you. Do you love caffeine GU? Do you need to avoid caffeine at all cost? Do you love your nutrition in liquid-form like Gatorade? What kind of Gatorade? Again, the long runs are rehearsals.
  • Take your pace easier than race day on your long runs. This is a hard concept for many runners planning for a marathon. The logic is often that you want to run at marathon goal pace so you know you can. Let go of that ideal. In fact, plan to run most long runs at marathon goal pace PLUS :15-45 seconds PER MILE. Why? Well here’s the short answer: to reduce injury risk. Think about it – when you finally run your 26.2 mile journey, it will be after a taper and you will plan to take at least a week off from running post-marathon. So HOW can you expect to run a 20-miler at your marathon pace and be recovered to run your speed workout a few days later? You cannot. Well you can, but your risk of injury is stupid high. Plus, if you are running speed workouts, running a “fast” long run has no real benefit. If you are sticking to a plan that includes speed workout and easy long runs, the combination will have you prepared for marathon day. I swear. I have yet to meet a coach who recommends you run your long runs at your goal race pace.
  • There are a few times when progressive long runs are beneficial. These should be handled with caution and are only ideal for experienced marathoners. Progressive long runs can vary in formula, but always end with finishing the long run faster than you started. Some will end with the runner finishing the final miles at marathon goal pace. Again, only for the experienced marathoner and with the advice of a coach.
  • Long runs are about time on your feet more than pace.
  • Regardless of pace, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours. Reason being, injury risk goes up as the hours pile up. Again, totally understandable that a runner aiming for a 4 hour marathon wants to clock long runs of 4 hours, but hang in there. Instead, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours and perhaps go for a second run within the weekend, perhaps within 24-36 hours – giving your legs the experience of running on tired legs but with the benefit of some recovery.
  • Long runs also give you the opportunity to practice recovery. Take the opportunity to figure out how you feel, what you need to eat and drink, and how your body reacts to the stress of the long run. Some runners are nauseous for hours post-run, while other runners want to eat everything in sight. Some runners have a hard time stretching, foam rolling and taking care of themselves, others are on it like rock stars. We can always make improvements, so budget time to handle yourself as needed after you clock that big run.
  • The long run is also a rehearsal for what to wear on race day. While seasons may change in the course of your training, try to wear what you may want to race in for some of those final long runs. Weather should be pretty accurate, as should your size and how clothes will fit you. Take note of any problem areas with chafing, and if you simply feel good or bad in what you wear.
  • If the long run is mentally intimidating, break it up into smaller sections. Taking on a 20-miler can seem like the worst thing ever, but 4 5-milers, refueling with GU every 5 miles suddenly doesn’t sound so hard. Remember that some miles will feel better than others, and often those middle miles are the hardest to grind through. Once you see mile 17 of 20, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight.

Lastly, be sure to write down or remember what worked and what didn’t. That information can be priceless. How long did you eat before your run? Were you hydrated enough? How much sleep did you get? What fuel did you use and what was the outcome? Do you love or hate a certain training route? Were there mental roadblocks and what tricks got you past them? These are all clues that can lead you towards a successful marathon.

Endurance Nutrition

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

During marathon season, many questions come up regarding nutrition. Today I’d like to go over some nutrition tips for marathon season, including basic nutrition, mid-run fueling, and pre-run/post-run nutrition.

It’s no secret that running a marathon is a pretty easy way to lose weight. You simply are burning thousands more calories than the person sitting on the couch. I am frequently asked about how to diet while marathon training. For most runners, this is not a smart idea. Your body and brain are put through a lot of stress during marathon training months, and depriving yourself serious calories can leave you feeling tired. You can also accidentally cut nutrition you need, leaving your body weak and unable to improve for your task at hand – 26.2 miles. Therefore, I suggest eating a sensible and well-balanced diet while training, and any extra body fat will probably disappear due to training, as long as you aren’t suddenly overeating. Instead of going on a diet, think of your body as your machine and yourself as an athlete – because you are. It doesn’t matter how fast you are going to run on race day, you are preparing your body for a marathon. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Foods that give you the fuel and nutrients you need to feel good, energized, and fueled for training. Fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs and lots of water should make up most of your diet. Focus on eating well and don’t make anything off-limits.

For your long runs and race day, nutrition can be what makes or breaks your morning. Mid-run fueling can be tricky, as everyone has different sweat-rates, and everyone’s stomach and nutrition needs are different. Personally, if I am running a 3:00-3:30 marathon, I’ll consume 1 GU every 30-40 minutes (usually 4 GU per marathon), and I grab a cup of water every 20 minutes and take a few sips. For me, this is usually enough to get me through a marathon without feeling too zapped, but also not water-logged or sick. If conditions aren’t ideal, I may take more nutrition. I’ve sometimes used GU with caffeine and other times without. Whatever I end up training with most is what I go with on race day. That’s one example. The longer your out there for your race, the more fuel you’ll need. Other runners prefer Gatorade or Blocks over Gu-like products. On your training run, try to practice what you’ll do on race day. Nutrition is recommended for runs lasting about 90 minutes or more. Any runs of less time shouldn’t require mid-race fueling as long as you are hydrated pre-run and refuel after your workout is complete.

  • A word about mid-run nutrition – yes, there are calories in nutrition – about 100 calories per serving. These calories are very much-needed on your long runs, so DO NOT skip them because you are watching your figure. However, if you are using GU for every run you do, even easy 3-5 milers, you may end up gaining weight. Those supplements simply aren’t necessary for short runs and are therefore empty calories.

What you eat before your long run can lend itself to a successful run – or can make you suffer. Just as you should think about your general nutrition fueling your body as an athlete, you need to be aware of what you are consuming pre-long run. You don’t need to go crazy with the carbs (your body can only store so much glycogen, and the rest will simply be wasted), but you DO want to make sure you eat simple carbs. The night before a long run, I may eat pasta, pizza, rice, or potatoes. The morning of my run, IĀ eat a bagel or toast with a little peanut butter, a banana with oatmeal, or pancakes. Just give yourself a few hours between your meal and your run. How much time you’ll need is going to vary per person. It is also very important to be consuming water the day before and the day of your long run. Just as it takes a little time to digest and process carbs into glycogen, it takes our bodies some time to hydrate. Chugging a liter right before your run will not help you.

Post-run, it’s important to get nutrition into your system as quickly as possible. Your body, depleted of nutrition, will go into recovery-mode soon after you finish your run. Therefore, consuming something with carbs and protein and some sugar is great. You will also need to drink some water and perhaps a bottle of Gatorade. Personally, I love a tall glass of chocolate milk, a bottle of Gatorade, and a big glass of water as soon as I’m finished my long run. After that, I’ll eat a meal. Unlike some runners, my stomach is rarely a mess post-run and I always have an appetite. I’ll eat anything from a burger with fries and a beer to a big salad topped with some form of protein. Other times I’ll opt for a big plate of pancakes or a bagel with cream cheese and lox. I go with what I’m craving. If your stomach is sensitive and you don’t have an appetite, at least get water and something like chocolate milk into your system. That’s far better than nothing. Remember, in order for your legs to recover as quickly as possible, you need nutrients to do so.

Again, this is just a starting point. I could dive into the different components of endurance nutrition in a far more detailed and nerdy way, but at least you hopefully have some sort of understanding of why certain choices should and shouldn’t be made. Remember that what works for one runner may not work for the next, and so you should always use your long runs as your “dress rehearsals” for race day. Good luck, and happy running!