How to survive the long run (in six easy steps)

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.)

English: park pic taken by me

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?


14 thoughts on “How to survive the long run (in six easy steps)

  1. As a part of the training for my job we build up our distances and the weight we carry on our backs, culminating at 10 miles with 60lbs wearing issue boots. Hydration is a big issue, so i used to carry a camel back that I stuffed into my pack. Then when we hit 60lbs I found I no longer had the room, so wore it under my pack. This, it transpires, was a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE mistake! When I bit on the mouth piece the pressure of the pack sent a jet of dioralyte rich water ricocheting of the back of my throat, and up and out of my nose… … … as you say, experimentation is everything.

  2. Ah, chafing. That was a huge issue for some of my friends this past weekend. Sometimes you just can’t slather on enough Body Glide. And sometimes there are places you didn’t even know you needed to apply Body Glide–until it’s too late.

    • Yes, separate container of Body Glide for those special parts. And between the heat and the sweat it feels like you need to re-apply mid-run. Nothing like getting in the shower after to realize you missed a spot.

  3. The body glide is so important! The shower after the long run really points that out! I love the audiobook for the LR – I get totally immersed and don’t hear my body’s normal “wah wah wanna stop” routine.

  4. Pain. And what the military used to call: Self-inflicted injury.
    We each seem to have our own pain thresholds.
    Mine is pretty low by the standards of athletes and several of my
    non-athletic friends, one of whom would rather have a root-canal
    without anaesthetic, than face the ‘needle’.

    Why do we do this?
    Why do athletes in particular work so hard to push bodies beyond thier natural limits?
    There was a piece, this week, on the net about the Canadian Olympic rowing team, and how they learn to over-ride their bodies natural signals, and to push themselves to the point of collapse.
    And I’m reminded of the British professional cyclist, Tom Simpson who, after collapsing en route during the Tour de France, said: Put me back on my bike.
    And died.
    Extreme. But he was a doper in an era of routine doping.
    So where do We each draw the line?

    And Distraction.
    I understand that Zen students learn to observe, to sit with pain, to avoid any
    distraction that might take them “out of the moment”.
    I’ve tried it. Not very successfully.
    It’s a different response: Avoid. Distract. Focus. Which ….?

    Presumably there is no right or wrong in this.
    But why do we do self-inflict pain to start with?

    • I think it’s a threshold we strive to reach and achieve in our sport, or in life. I think there are obvious extremes, and that’s more stupidity or testosterone or drive to over-achieve. I’m not sure what pushes people past that point.
      But I know that for myself, I appreciate that I can do more. If I push myself, than my results are better. By choosing an option where I opt out of discomfort or some kinds of pain, is a kind of avoidance. I know I can do more and must choose *that* option instead.

  5. Thank you so much for the tips. I’m newer to running, and I’m training right now for my first half-marathon. I have a long run of 8 miles scheduled tomorrow, and I think I will try the audio books. Looking forward to reading more from someone with much more experience than myself.

      • I am still reading some of your older blog posts. Two of my most favorite things, excellent writing and running. Your wisdom and determination are truly inspiring. Makes me want to go out and run right now. I really needed this motivation after a tough week of training. Strange how we find things just when we really need them, huh?

      • Thanks for your kind words.

        I think it does work that way: we find what we need when the time is right.

        Keep at it with the running. It can be a slog at times, but also a whole lot of fun. 🙂

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