How to Prepare for a Long Run
How do you prepare for a long run? A reader who downloaded our marathon training plan recently asked this question. More specifically, she asked
…the one thing I’m still a little unsure about is how to prep for a long run. Sleep, food before/during/after, water, what else would I need to know?
Great question! I remember feeling this way when I started running longer and longer distances, too. Aside from the specific training benefit that a long run provides, it’s also a dress rehearsal for the big day. The routine and discipline of the weekend long run gets my mind ready to focus on running 26.2 miles. It is a chance to prepare and test out all sorts of non-running elements.
I believe that what happens on race day is a result of all of the disciplined behaviors you create over the course of the preceding months. If you practice and test things now, it can eliminate potential race day problems and jitters because your brain thinks, “I’ve done this before. I know what’s coming. I can do this!”
Below are 7 tips to help you prepare for a long run.
1. Set Everything out the Night Before
Since I typically run first thing in the morning, I like knowing where everything is before I go to bed. On the morning of the long run, I can focus on the run, not looking for clean socks.
Here’s a handy list of the things I layout the night before:
- water bottle
- GPS watch (make sure it’s charged!)
Keep in mind that your long run is an opportunity to test out your gear and fine tune your race day kit. If it chafes or gives you blisters during an long run, find something that doesn’t.
2. Plan your Route
Make sure you know exactly how far you are planning to go, and exactly where to run. There’s nothing worse than getting lost and running extra few miles at the end of a challenging distance.
3. Go to Bed (Early)
Jennifer recently wrote about how sleep has helped her become a stronger runner. Start building better sleep hygiene practices if you want to run better. This means going to bed early!
In fact, getting more sleep a few nights leading up to your long run will really help. Try waking up early and starting your run around the same time as the race to simulate race day.
4. Get Up (Early)
During my most recent training cycle, I preferred waking up about 90 minutes before I started my long run. It gave me enough time to wake up, eat, and go to the bathroom (a few times).
If I woke up later or didn’t give myself enough time, I felt sluggish and it was harder to get going. I also often needed to find a restroom somewhere within the first 5 miles. Not a big deal if you plan for it, but if waking up late and searching for restrooms become a habit on long runs, those same things might happen on race day.
5. Eat and Drink
Much like the night before a race, I avoid fiber and make sure to eat a meal higher in carbs, but not to the point where I’m stuffed. The morning of my long run, I eat the following:
- 1 whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and honey
- 1 banana
- 1 - 1/2 cups of strong black coffee
This menu provides me enough calories (400 - 500, generally what you need) to make it through the run and doesn’t cause stomach issues. They key is figuring out what works best for you (and how much time you need to digest - see #4).
I also drink 8 - 12 oz of water as soon as I wake up. I like to put a glass of water on my night stand and chug it like a frat boy before getting out of bed. This is a daily practice.
6. Go to the Bathroom… a Few Times
Not sure this needs more explanation.
Train your system to get used to going before you run. This may take years to master, but it is an important component of preparing for a long run. Remember, a marathon or half marathon is just a really long run!
7. Practice Fueling
This is one of the trickiest parts of running long distances and the long run is where you get to experiment. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, because everyone has unique needs during a long distance effort.
As a general rule, you should consume some form of carbohydrate when running longer than 60 - 90 minutes. Even then, you may want to pick one long run to intentionally “bonk” during training.
There are a myriad of different ways to get those carbohydrates. GUs, blocks, chews, sport drinks, and a host of other candy type products. Never take one of these with anything but water; it can turn to sludge in your stomach.
After trying a whole bunch of others, the Power Bar PowerGel, Tangerine flavor is my favorite. When I prepare for a long run, I make sure to have 1 or 2 with me, along with water.
After the Run
Lots of good, nutritious food.
I drink a big glass of water as soon as I finish and have a power smoothie within 30 minutes, usually before a shower. Then, I always splurge with a massive breakfast. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein, which helps to repair muscle, and carbohydrates, which will help to replenish your glycogen stores.
Afterwards, I usually take a little nap.
Other Random Tips
I asked two fellow runners if they had any additional tips. Interestingly, we all pretty much do the same things (with some minor differences).
Ben does a mini carbo load a few days before his long runs. He says,
If my long run is going to be more than 20 miles, I will eat lots of carbs on Wednesday and Thursday, and then a fair amount on Friday. I make sure I am hydrated all week, especially in the summer.
Scott said he doesn’t stress out too much about the long run. This helps him to stay relaxed. He did say,
I pull the liners out of my shoes and clean out rocks and other crap. Maybe not uncommon but possibly not top of mind.
What tips and tricks do you use to prepare for long runs? Do you have a specific meal or routine, or do you wing it? Has putting emphasis on your long run preparation helped you on race day? Share with us in the comments below!