Whether you run solo or in a group of people, a long run is a long run. The rewards are many (finishing is high among them) but getting through the distance is not always an easy thing.
In my long runs I’ve thought of some strategies on how to tackle this beast (there’s plenty of time to think). I get nervous before long runs. My breakfast sits funny in my stomach and, although I know the distance is within my capability and I can get through it in whatever way (I can walk if I really need to), running a long run is like a race for me. I don’t give it my all physically, but it takes all of me mentally to get there.
1. pack a picnic basket, sortof.
Nutrition and hydration are crucial to learn for a long run and before a race situation. Experiment with what you are ingesting and practice it often. A good snack can make or break the success of a long run. Bring a water/fuel belt, carry a hand-held, plan your route along water fountain stops, and stash your pockets, hat or underwear with whatever you are going to eat to give you calories. Information on rules of hydration vary (calculating sweat rate, drink to thirst, volume per hour of exercise) but generally speaking you will need to drink more than you think. Start early in your run and keep the calories and hydration flowing into you.
2. phone a friend
Whether you run alone or with a group, you still have to actually do the run. Group running provides support, motivation, distraction and company. If you run solo, try enlist a friend for part of the route to keep you company. Even having someone tag along on a bike can provide enough distraction to keep up your pace and find a second wind.
(If you do run solo, try mixing up different podcasts, playlists, or listen to audio books to give you some variety and distraction. It’s a great way to multi-task as you get a workout done.)
3. enjoy what you see and do
You’ll be out there for a while, make sure you take in your surroundings. Enjoy the views, the scenery and take note of it. I used to charge up a mountain side to get to the top, and never really saw “the forest for the trees.” Running takes you a lot of places you wouldn’t normally go – be thankful for this and open your eyes to it.
4. break the distance up into breaks
A long distance is a long way. Breaking the distance up into chunks is a much easier way to mentally manage a run. However you want to slice up your run is up to you. You can go by distance (10K + 10K + 6K), by roads, where you will eat or drink, by hills, by the farthest point away from your start so that the rest is all just “downhill” to home. Approaching the run with smaller increments to tackle will go a long way to easing your mind through the distance.
5. while away the pain — it’s probably just boredom.
It may get uncomfortable out there and you may want to stop. Don’t confuse boredom and frustration with pain, however. If you are really in pain you have probably already stopped to do a self-check. If you are bored, or frustrated with having to keep going, give yourself another 10 min. The feelings will likely pass and you will be another mile or two down the road already. Cheers to that!
6. dress for success (avoid chafing)
It’s fun to look cute out on the road and trails, but after the sweaty mess of a few km’s in the heat, who’s really looking, or caring? Wear clothing appropriate for running (wicking, dry-fit, etc) and avoid chafing, hot spots and blisters by lubing, taping and wearing appropriate socks.
There are other things to consider that will help you get through a long run successfully. Much of it is personal preference and is found through experimentation. Pay attention to what you do each week you head out: How much did you run the days before? What did you eat for breakfast or dinner? Where are bathrooms located on your route?
Whatever you can do in your prep to make things ‘run’ smoother will leave you more time and energy for the actual doing, and recovery.
As I finished today’s long run (29km / 18 miles) I was again reminded of how mentally challenging a run can be. Physically I knew running was faster than walking and that kept me going. But being on my feet for so long was getting tiring. I knew I had the choice to continue or quit and with the support of my running buddies, we all finished.
Remind yourself that you always have the choice. It’s up to you what you want to do with it.
*Have you ever pushed yourself past the point of quitting? Was it more mental or physical? How do you approach a long run?