I’ve run more than 40 marathons. That means I’ve likely racked up more than 600 long training runs in preparation. Through much trial and error, I’ve learned how to make those long training runs quite enjoyable. Adopt these and run happy!
Schedule it. Great long training runs take a little bit of planning. All in all, you are likely looking at giving up 4-5 hours on your Saturday or Sunday. At the start of the week, I schedule my long run. I set my start time and schedule a favorite partner. If this means locking in a babysitter or negotiating with my spouse, I do it. If this takes adjusting my evening or afternoon plans, I do that too. Then you can even start planning your favorite post-long-run meal!
Plot your course. As marathon training mileage increases, I have to start modifying my typical running routes. I hate the feeling of being tired in the middle of a long run and having to plot my course on the fly. I turn to Google Maps or Map My Run to plot a course before I run. This way I know the general mileage and can put that part of my brain on autopilot.
Time your run. When does your marathon actually start on race day? Get familiar with running at that time. This means fueling up prior, hydrating along the way, and eating afterward. The first year I ran the Boston Marathon, my wave started at 12:05pm. As I lined up in my coral, I realized I’d only eaten a banana—my typical “early morning quick fuel” before I hopped out the door. Needless to say, that wasn’t enough for 26.2 miles by 3 p.m. If you are running an early morning marathon, plan a few of your long runs at the same time to practice eating and drinking prior and during, and getting your body used to this routine.
Carry water. Too often I invite a friend to do a long run with me, and they show up without any water. Usually they say, “Oh I’ll be fine, I’ll make up for it when we are back.” Wrong! In those cases I spend the last hour of my long run at a slower pace with a partner that “just doesn’t feel well.” Especially on these warmer summer and fall training days, hydrating during a long run is key.
Eat. Even though you’ll be back to your house or car after your long run, don’t wait until it’s too late for a snack. Use your training runs to test what you plan to eat during your race. You don’t need to worry about extra snacks slowing you down when you are just out for fun. I stuff my water bottle holder, running shorts pockets, and even a small plastic bag with snacks for the duration of my run. You don’t have to eat it all, and you can experiment with what sits well and makes you feel fueled. You’ll know just what you need to take on race day. My standards: Turkey Jerky, my favorite PowerBar, and Ginger Chews. Random, but I know they work for me.
Don’t wear new gear. Have you gone to a race expo, loaded up on “new fun running gear” only to wear it the next day and realize something isn’t right? It’s not what you are used to! For races and training runs alike, wear the gear you know and love. That’s the gear you should wear for your marathon. I stick to the same sports bra, shorts, and socks that I tested in training.
Don’t start out too fast. You got a good night’s sleep and you’re out with a good running buddy feeling fresh. Start your long runs at an easy pace. You can pick up speed as you loosen up. Your body and fuel reserves will thank you later.
Pop the salt. I take 1-2 salt tabs every hour during a marathon. I do this on long training runs too. But, every runner is unique, and it’s imperative to experiment during training to see what your body needs and responds to. The day of your race is not the time to start experimenting with salt tabs, nutrition or hydration!