Some people choose to eat pancakes on Saturday. You choose to run for 3 hours (…and then eat pancakes). You are a distance runner. You pound out your five, eight and ten mile days during the week, and when the weekend comes around you know it’s time to get serious.
Twenty-mile runs may be nothing new to you. Or, this may be your first attempt at training for a longer race. Regardless of how many miles you’ve clocked in your lifetime, long runs are never particularly easy. Each run has its own set of challenges to overcome in order to meet your goals. As you consider how to improve your distance training, remember that there will most likely be runs that you don’t finish. And it isn’t the end of the world; each run, completed or not, is a learning experience. The point is not merely to arrive at the finish. Running is about pushing through the challenges in order to meet your goals, and seeing yourself become stronger as you do.
We have our fair share of distance runners here at the ‘House who were happy to share their wisdom with us regarding the common challenges they face and the strategies they use to keep themselves going.
We begin with the obvious; running for 20 miles is exhausting. While your body is often capable of finishing, you don’t always feel that way. And physical fatigue is not the whole story – mental fatigue is a very influential factor as well, and at times can make the endeavor seem impossible.
- Decide prior to your run that you are committed to finishing. Prepare mentally the day before; know why you’re putting in the miles, acknowledge that the run will be challenging, and then set your mind on completion.
- Know your limits. It is crucial to realize that pushing through a difficult run is not always the best choice for your body or your training. Injury or damaging setbacks can occur if you choose to push through fatigue to an inappropriate extent.
- Listen to your body. Fatigue can be your body’s way of telling you that it needs replenishment, especially if you are feeling tired earlier or more often than normal. Re-fuel with a gel or other form of nutrition to ease the fatigue.
- Hike the hills. There may be steep sections of road or trail that you choose to hike rather than run in order to reserve enough energy for the remaining miles. When considering your route, customize your run by choosing in advance when you will run, walk or hike.
Hours of running, week after week, can easily get old. In an endurance sport, a blasé routine can potentially lead to boredom or lack of mental stimulation, which in turn allows you to focus that much more on pain and fatigue.
- New Routes. Mix it up a bit; running in the same place every weekend doesn’t challenge your mind like a new route does. Instead of leaving from your front door, drive somewhere. You may even consider traveling a few hours away to make a day trip out of your training run.
- Try Trails. Road running promotes a very consistent motion – same surface, same stride, same occasional car passing by. The varied terrain, surrounding wildlife, and challenging footing of a trail is a great antidote for boredom.
- Music. Plug in your headphones and start groovin’.
Your body will be the first to tell you that nutrition is a big deal when you run for hours on end. Countless issues, such as stomach problems, fatigue, cramping, and loss of mental clarity can arise from lack of adequate preparation or improper replenishment.
- Try new foods before training. This may take some time to figure out, but knowing what works and what doesn’t work for you will pay off. Pay attention to how your performance is affected by types of foods, amounts of foods, varieties of gels or energy chews, and timing of replenishment. 90 minutes in on a run is a general guideline for beginning the consumption of gels or food. Glycogen stores are depleted around this mark, so your body will start to burn fat instead of glycogen.
- Prepare well. Plan out your pre-run meals in advance. We recommend simple carbs such as toast or oatmeal, paired with something such as a banana and peanut butter. In addition, plan out your fuel intake during the run and always bring a little more than you think you need. Consider how you will store your food during activity: packs, pockets, etc.
On race day, the goal is clear and motivation is often at its peak. The adrenaline, the fans, the excitement, and the reward of a finish line can all contribute to a heightened sense of perceived energy. But those factors aren’t true of your training days, leading some to feel that certain long runs prove more difficult than the actual race. It can be easy to lose motivation and forget your ultimate goal over months of training.
- Envision the race. Mentally think through the race during your run – “Where will I be in the course on mile 14?“, or “How will I be feeling during the final stretch come race day?”
- Reflect. Think back to when you initially set your goals and remind yourself of why you set them. Remember the hard work that you’ve put in since setting the goal and use it as motivation to continue.
- Finish line treat. Give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the run; a great meal, relaxing time in the sun, or anything else that is refreshing to you.