Long runs are one of the most powerful tools in any distance runners training arsenal. But there are many common mistakes that runners often make when going through long runs. In this article, you will learn 6 top tips for better long runs so you can avoid common mistakes and set yourself up for running success.
What is a long run and why do them?
A long run is any extended distance run significantly longer than your normal training run distance. Though long runs typically sit within the 5-to-25-mile range, what makes a long run depends on each person and their individual level of fitness.
A 25-mile run might be considered a long run by someone who typically runs 4-8 miles in training whereas a 10-mile run would be considered a long run by someone who tends to clock up 2-3 miles during training.
Long runs are a highly effective means of training the body for long distance, and they are a staple of any half-marathoner, marathoner, or ultra-marathoner’s training schedule.
By running longer distances, runners can condition the body to sustain the effort for prolonged periods of time. Essential for race day.
Don’t make common long run mistakes
Like with with anything worthwhile, there are potential pitfalls that runners can fall into when taking on long runs. As an avid runner who has used long runs to train for half-marathons, marathons, and even an ultra-marathon, I have and learnt from these mistakes the hard way.
You may read through the 6 top tips that I’m about to share with you and spot some of the mistakes you have been making. You may read through them and realise that you haven’t yet made the related mistakes but will now be more mindful to implement the advice that I’ll be sharing.
Whatever the case, my aim is to arm you with as much for the right knowledge as possible so that you can immediately put it into action and have a more successful running life. Okay, without further ado, here they come.
6 top tips for better long runs
1. Run at a slow pace
To have a successful long run, you should run at a slower pace than you usually do. Long runs are all about conditioning the body to sustain a physically demanding effort for a prolonged period. This will mean that the cardiovascular system needs to get used to operating at a certain heart rate (or heart rate zone) for a long amount of time and to do this it needs to gradually adjust.
Imagine if, to revise for an exam, you decided to try studying half the entire exam book in one session. You’d very quickly get burnt out and tire, and it wouldn’t be long before you lost the motivation to study again. Instead, it’s much better to study slowly over a long period of time and gradually build up your knowledge. Long running is the same. Rather than going on an all-out dash, run at a slower pace than usual and gradually build up your fitness.
A common mistake that runners make is to start the first segment of their long run much too quick before tiring, slowing down, and having a miserable experience for the remaining three quarters of the long run. Don’t be this runner, I did this too may times when I was starting out and its not fun.
Instead, take the time to gradually build up endurance by running slow. As you get fitter overtime, you will naturally get faster, and it will feel easier thus what is now your fast pace will soon become your slow pace. But you need to gradually condition yourself to get there by running slow on long runs first.
2. Fuel up properly beforehand
When you are running a longer distance than you normally would, its crucial that you eat and drink sufficiently beforehand. Before heading out of the door, make sure that you consume enough calories of the right foods and drink enough water.
Try eating healthy carbohydrates before a run such as granola, porridge, blueberries, and wholegrain toast. Eating properly before your long run will set you up for success so make sure that you make it a habit and leave yourself enough time to do so.
Can you imagine going on a 100-mile road trip to an important destination, maybe a business meeting or a holiday, without putting petrol into your car or without topping up the oil? Of course not, that would be a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Instead, you’d prioritise fuelling up your car. You’d also be diligent to check your fuel levels continuously. Long-runs are no different.
A common mistake that runners make is to start a long run without having eaten or drunk enough. Whilst the first 3 miles or so are usually fine, it isn’t long before this nutritional error catches up with the runner and they burn out. I know this because it happened to me when I was starting out. I didn’t take the time to prioritise a proper meal before a long run and I paid the consequences.
Instead take the time, 20 minutes or so, to have a proper meal and drink before you head out of the door for that long run. You will be thanking yourself later, trust me.
3. Be strategic with your long run nutrition
To have a successful long run, you need to be sure to follow a specific plan for your nutrition. Before the long run, make sure you have stocked up on all of the nutrition that you will need and that you have a clear idea in mind as to when you are roughly going to access them during the run.
Long runs, though typically less intense than shorter distances like 5Ks, puts big demands on the body’s energy reserves. Whilst running you burn calories in the form of fat and glycogen, and as a part of this you lose water and various bodily salts. As a result, your energy supply gradually depletes throughout your run, so it is vital that you are strategic about replenishing your energy.
You should be sure to take enough water to satisfy your hydration needs so a couple of water bottles are ideal. Energy gels also make for an incredibly convenient method of hydrating on the go. On the food front, I’d recommend a range of foods including bananas, dried fruits, energy bars and even sweets. I also like to bring salt pills on my long runs to replenish my bodily salts as I go, which made a massive difference when I completed my first ever 100km ultra-marathon.
A common mistake that runners make is that they don’t think about their long run nutrition ahead of time and it is often a last-minute rushed affair.
You’re probably thinking that this all sounds, but how on earth am I going to bring all of those items on a run? I only have two hands and a couple of pockets at best. The good news is that you don’t need to use your hands at all to carry these nutritional items. All you need is a decent running backpack. Running backpacks allow runners to carry all their essentials whilst on the move in a comfortable manner. Simply put, they are a game changer.
Get yourself a good running backpack, plan your nutrition in advance, stock up on all the items that you will need and then execute your plan during your long runs. Not only will you enjoy the long run experience more, but you will also experience better long run performance.
4. Plan your route in advance
Planning your route in advance is an absolute must for long runs. It will give you a clear path to follow and a clear destination to follow, which will make your life a lot easier.
Think about when you want to get somewhere by car. You often have a specific destination in mind, and you may either know the way or you may use a GPS system to get you there. You don’t aimlessly go wondering around in your car, hoping that you will find a worthwhile destination to get to. In fact, you decide upon a specific location where you want to go, and you also have a clear way for getting there.
The same is true for long runs. Say you wanted to run to a nearby town that you hadn’t been to before. A smart thing to do would be to get onto Google Maps or the Strava route builder, work out the exact location where you want to go, and then planning a route for getting there. Once you have this, all the ingredients are there for a fun long run with a route adequately prepared in advance.
A common mistake that runners make is to decide to go out on a long run without a particular route in mind. Therefore, they either spend lots of mental energy mapping out a route on the fly or they get lost after taking an unknown turn into a new neighbourhood. I know this because I have made this mistake in the past and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not fun having to use your phones Google Maps to retrace your steps to get your bearings when you want to focus on running.
Instead, take 5-15 minutes before the long run and plan your route in advance. It will increase your level of certainty and rather than pondering what turn you will be taking next; all the thinking is done in advance, and you can focus on enjoying your long run.
5. Wear the right clothes for the weather
Wearing the right clothes is an essential ingredient in the recipe of long run success. Long runs mean spending lots of time (sometimes hours) outside, to enable you to clock up the desired mileage. All this time spent outside means inevitable exposure to the elements.
Wind, rain, hail, fog, mist, light snow, sunshine. Regardless of what the weather is looking like on the day of your long run, you need to be wearing the right clothes.
If it’s cold and raining, wear a long-sleeved technical top and a lightweight running jacket. When its boiling outside, slap on some sun cream and sport a vest, shorts, and a pair of sunglasses. For foggy and misty mornings, wear luminous clothing and equip yourself with flashing lights to stay safe. Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ This is true when it comes to wearing the right clothes for long runs.
A common mistake runners make is to not look at the weather forecast before their long run. Though checking the long run conditions takes a few seconds, not many runners do it and it can create huge problems.
I remember that I once didn’t check the weather in summer and went out without my hat and glasses. It then started pouring down with rain and I had impaired vision throughout the long run as a result. Had I checked the weather in advance, I would have been sure to wear glasses and a hat which would have drastically improved my visibility.
Instead, be smart and check the weather in advance so that you can wear the right clothes for your long run.
6. Prepare your equipment
There are lots of logistics involved in making sure that your long run is a success. To make sure that the logistics are well organised, equipment preparation should be high on your priority list.
Ensure that you have long run checklist that covers everything you will need. Use it to prepare yourself the night before the long run and use it to double check everything just before you go. An example of a long run check list is as follows:
- Coat (weather dependant)
- Glasses (weather dependant)
- Charged mobile phone
- Wallet including cash
- Luminous flashing armband
- Energy gels
- Energy bars
- Salt tablets
You might be thinking that a checklist is a little over the top, but I can assure you it’s a wise idea. Think about when you make a recipe for a cake. How do you ensure that you have all the correct ingredients to make the delicious treat? The ingredients list becomes a checklist, as you use it to both shop for what you need and right you start the cake baking session.
Imagine if you didn’t have this checklist and you tried to just rely on memory to gather the ingredients. I don’t know about you, but my memory isn’t amazing. I’d be sure to forget something, and the cake would not turn out nice.
A common mistake runners make is to try and remember everything that they need for a long run which depletes energy and creates the risk that something is forgotten. One of my least favourite memories of a long run is when I ran 13 miles from my house, intending to get a train back but when I got to the train station, I realised that I had forgotten my wallet.
Big fail. This resulted in me having to run all the way back with limited water and supplies which was not fun. I learnt my lesson the hard way and always use a checklist for my long runs now.
Long runs will improve once you implement these simple tips
There you have it. 6 top tips for better long runs, inspired by all the mistakes that I made when I was just starting out. None of the tips I have mentioned are ground-breaking, nor are the difficult to implement. However, if they are not taken on board then the chances are you will have an unpleasant long run experience (or two) just like I did and learn the hard way which I don’t recommend.
Thank you for reading and happy running
All photos by Pexels