The Process of the Long Run: Practice Makes Perfect!

I’m in the peak training period for my upcoming marathon, which means I’ve got some really long runs to tackle.  As you train for longer distances, you quickly learn that each long run is an event in itself.  Every long run is a practice run for the big day.  Yes, these runs are the time to try out new fuel options or maybe even new gear, but for the most part, I have a consistent process I follow even when getting my practice on.  It is during these practice runs that I solidify the things I am doing right and, most importantly, I learn what not to do.

The first step in my process is figuring out how to schedule life around the long run.  I suppose it should be a process of scheduling the long run around life, but it just doesn’t seem to end up that way in my crazy, runner mind.  While I can debate with myself on this topic for a good 3-5 days before I actually run long, I almost always end up logging my long runs very early in the morning on the weekend.

Next, there is the preparation to run 15, 18, 20, or maybe 22 miles, depending what is on tap for that week.  My preparation always takes place the night before my run.  I’m usually out the door by 5:30 AM.  I don’t eat breakfast before my early runs, so I have to be sure to hydrate well in advance.  I have to do my best to eat a dinner that will fuel my run instead of cause me to be searching for the nearest bathroom or secluded spot in the woods on my run the next morning.  NOT FUN.  I need to have my clothes laid out and my fuel belt stocked with goodies (and by goodies I mean GU Chomps, Honey Stingers, and the like).  Perhaps most importantly, I need to make sure my Glide is in plain sight so I don’t forget to use it.  THAT would be a tragedy!  On the morning of a long run, I open my eyes, shut of the alarm (snooze is not an option), put my clothes on, brush my teeth, tie my shoelaces, and go.  I don’t stop to think about anything.  I’m on auto pilot.

Finally, I ask myself what I learned from that particular run.  I’ve learned countless tidbits of invaluable information from long runs in the past.  For example, I’ve learned that I want water when I want water.  I don’t want to wait for a water station or for a bottle of water I’ve stashed in the woods somewhere along my route.  Therefore, I wear my water belt and hydrate when I’m feeling thirsty.  I’ve learned that for every long run, Glide is not a “nice-to-have”, it is a necessity.  I put that Glide on in all kinds of strange places before I even put on my running gear.  If you’re a runner, you get it.  Chafing is not an option when it can easily be avoided.  I’ve experimented with petroleum jelly, vaseline, Aquaphor, you name it, and I’ve learned that for me, it’s Glide or die.

My most recent long run was the Eastern States 20 miler.  I was only due to run 18 training miles, but I figured I’d rather do 20 miles surrounded by a ton of people, including some great friends, and swap my training around a bit.  So I did.  The course was amazing, the scenery was beautiful, and I managed to get my best time yet for 20 miles.  However, the benefit to me of this race was not not the PR or the miles logged, it was learning more about what to do and what not to do on race day.

Here are 5 things I learned.

1.  Pants, capris, skirts, any attire you may choose to wear on your bottom half, might have that little plastic piece.  Since that’s the only way I can describe it, see the picture below.  Yeah, THAT little plastic piece.  Little did I know it would be the death of me.  It was in the perfect spot under my water belt to dig into my lower stomach area and annoy the &*$% out of me for the last 6 miles.  I didn’t even know what it was that was uncomfortable until I finished and realized what was to blame.  It actually bruised me!  I’d worn these capris countless times on shorter runs, but it was only during the 20 miler that I realized they are not long-run friendly.  Needless to say, I won’t be wearing those capris on race day.

My nemesis...THAT little yellow piece!

My nemesis…THAT little yellow piece!

2.  I still need to adjust how I fuel myself during the long run.  I have been experimenting for a while with different approaches to fueling my body.  It seems that I am missing something because it happened again this past weekend.  Right about mile 15 or 16, I felt myself getting more tired.  My GU Chomps and Honey Stingers were doing their job, but not lasting long enough.  Maybe I need to fuel more often?  Maybe I need to incorporate another type of fuel?  What is that boost I am missing?  I picked up some new goodies to try out this weekend on my 18 miler so fingers crossed!


Will this be the boost I am looking for???

3.  Don’t forget to apply Glide in ALL the right places.  For some reason, my brain short circuited in the middle of putting my Glide on pre-race and I forgot to apply it under my arm, along my bicep area.  That spot tends to rub against the side of my tank tops as my arms move during a run and this run was no exception.  For about 1-2 days after my run, I had some sweet chafing to show off.

Clearly this is not me, but OWWWW....GLIDE or die!!!

Clearly this is not me, but OWWWW….GLIDE or die!!!

4.  The face lotion I use that says it is SPF 15 isn’t going to cover it on a long, windy, sunny run along the ocean.  O.K.! O.K.!  I know this, but I honestly didn’t think about sunscreen because it was so cold when I left in the morning.  Lesson learned.  One sunburn and 800 freckles later, I will never forget actual sunscreen again.


5.  Running with “the pack” is exactly what I need.  I was reminded that when I am running longer distances and find myself running alone or with just one or two people nearby, I don’t like it.  I crave the push and competition of a group.  While I know that I am responsible for my own run, there is a part of me that loves the support of the pack and the companionship that comes with it.  There are certainly times that I find myself digging deep into my heart and soul for the energy I need to put one foot in front of another, but there is something to be said for the pure jolt of energy that can be gained by the simple act of running side by side, in stride, with another runner.  THAT can always keep me going the extra mile.

run with pack

What have you learned on your long runs?  If your tips or tricks might make me laugh, help me run stronger, or keep me from bruising or chafing, please share!  I’d love to hear from you!


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