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How to prepare for a long run – 18 steps to make your long runs successful!

Your long runs are essentially your mini versions of race day. When you follow a regimented long run preparation list, you’re actually forming a habit so that come race day you’ll be prepared. Week after week you’ll repeat these steps so the night before your race you will be doing all this stuff subconsciously.

How do you prepare for a long run?

Here are 18 steps to make sure you’re prepared for your weekly long run:

1. Get some rest

Sleep is one of the most overlooked factors in performing successful long runs. When you’re about to hit the road and tick off your miles, you need to be rested. Inadequate rest increases stress, messes with your will power, and drains your mental stubbornness, and allows you to be more susceptible to calling it quits earlier than you should. Turn off the lights and get some sleep.

2. Layout your running gear the night before your run

Getting used to laying out your running gear the night before a long run will do wonders for you the night before your actual race. You’ll get used to seeing all of the items you layout the night before a race. A few of these items will be your running clothes such as shorts, shirt, socks, shoes, base layers (if it’s cold), as well as other things. For a complete race day checklist of items to bring for your race (both and pre and post-race) check out this race day checklist.

Make sure that your gear is clearly visible so that your eyes make contact with the gear in the morning. Mentally, this helps set the stage of the day’s activities.

3. Your fuel source needs to be ready as well

This is almost more important than remembering your running shorts. Calculate how much energy you need for your long run and then set it out the night before your long run. If you meal prep make sure that your morning meal is made and ready to go.

4. Charge your tech gear

Some of your runs will last 3 hours or longer if you’re training for a marathon. Make sure to charge up the devices you need to take along for your long run. I’ve had many GPS watches die on me mid-run because I forgot to charge it the night before. To make sure my devices are charged, I carry a spare charge cord in my car and charge my watch on the way to my running route.

5. Check the weather

You’ll want to dress for the weather especially if it’s going to be cold, rainy, snowy, icy, or extra hot. Instead of not training for instance, when it rains, I encourage you to go forward and train. Training in adverse weather conditions will make you a more prepared runner on race day. climates because on race day it could be raining. If you’ve never run long distances in the rain your run could quickly take a nosedive.

6. Know thy route before running

It’s a good idea to keep your long runs on the same route. First of all, if you lose power to your devices and you’re running a brand new route, you might wind up into some trouble. Second, when you run the same route you can more easily spot other people or individuals that you would normally see along your route. This is something more important to women than men.

7. Don’t drink alcohol the night before a long run

I know this should go without me having to say this but refrain from alcohol the night before a long run (preferably 2 nights before a long run). If you run when you’ve had a few too many beers and it lingers over into the next morning your body isn’t going to respond in an orderly fashion.

Here are four reasons you shouldn’t drink the night before a long run:

  1. First of all, your body won’t be properly hydrated.
  2. Two, instead of your body trying to shuffle energy to the right parts, like your legs, it’s too busy trying to rid your body of the poison we call alcohol roaming around in your bloodstream and liver. This is the main reason you might feel sluggish when you’re running with a hangover.
  3. Your blood pressure might be higher if you drink the night before a run causing your body to work harder than it needs to.
  4. Your body doesn’t rest as well because it is trying to get rid of toxins and instead of regenerating blood cells and restorative tasks.

I’m all for drinking beers after long runs and races, just try to avoid them especially the night before your long run. For a more detailed post on running and alcohol check out the good, the bad, and the runguly about alcohol.

8. Wake up and feel the dawn

I’m not an early bird runner that wakes up at 4 am and out the door 30 minutes later. If you are one of these birds, I am envious. As long as you get your miles in it’s ok to run them at different parts of the day. I can’t argue that the morning is a great time to get your long runs in. Your family is still asleep, it’s nice and cool outside, and it’s the only time you can fit a 3-hour run into your schedule, right?

9. Put your running clothes on as soon as you get up

Before you eat, throw on your running clothes and shoes. This helps to kickstart your mind and body into letting it know that your about to go running. It’s a tiny trivial thing to do, but sometimes this little bit of motivation is what gets you out the door to run.

10. Use the bathroom

I can’t stress this enough, when you’re starting your long run routine you need to go ahead and eat as soon as you wake up. If your runs are in the middle of the day try to eat at least one hour before you go on your long run. When you start training your body when to accept food, you’ll also be training it when to use the restroom. There’s nothing worse than being on a long run with no visible bathroom and you need to go, like 5 minutes ago. I know because I’ve been there. Use the bathroom at least once before logging your miles.

11. Eat a small meal (300-600 calories)

Your body needs fuel for your long runs and your race. Again, you’re training your body to run long distances as well as training your body to accept a meal prior to running. Make it a simple meal such as a bagel, oatmeal, and a spoon of peanut butter. I would avoid fruits prior to your long runs because of the fiber. A large warm rolled pancake spread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is absolutely delicious and weighs in at about 300 calories.

12. Apply the anti-chafe cream

If you’ve never experienced chafing before, you’ll thank me later for this one. Something that I was completely clueless about when I first started running long runs. I would experience a nasty, road rash on the inner thighs of my legs on runs lasting longer than 10 miles. The pain would take a few days to subside. To prevent this from happening lube your body up with anti-chafe cream.

Key spots to apply anti-chafe cream are between the legs for men and women. The nipple areas for men and women. Women are usually a little more protected than men are in the nipple area. Also, some people chafe on the underside of the arm next to the armpit. This type of chafing is more of a sign that you’re holding your arms to close to your body when they swing back and forth. Give your arms and body some distance between them.

13. Go to the bathroom again – Just in case

If it didn’t work the first time try it again one more time. Nothing kills a run more than having to go to the bathroom and there’s nowhere to go.

14. Long run = fueling test time

If this is your first set of long runs during your first half or full marathon training schedule, you should be testing your fueling. For runs lasting less than 60 minutes you shouldn’t need fuel during your run. Runs lasting between 60 and 90 minutes you’ll probably want to go ahead and fuel especially to start testing out your energy fuels and what jives with your system and what causes GI issues. Finally, Runs that last longer than 90 minutes are when you’ll always want to be testing mid-run fueling during your training.

In short, your body spends anywhere from 400-800 calories an hour and your body can only consume and oxidize around 250-300 calories per hour. Your body will never catch up with what it spends during a long run or race. While every runner is different and some runners can easily absorb 60 grams of carbohydrates an hour, other runners might only be able to absorb 20-30 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

This is why it’s important that you test out how much fuel your body actually needs during a race. For instance, I can only consume about 40-45 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This is roughly 2 energy gels per hour. Some runners will only be able to eat one gel per hour, while some runners can stomach 3 gels per hour (which is about the maximum number of gels your body can digest and assimilate per hour)

For a more precise fueling strategy on how many energy gels to take check out this post, how many energy gels do I need on race day?

15. Meditate

how to prepare for a long run

This is a quick, 5-minute, visualization technique to help calm your mind and focus your efforts on simply running. You don’t have to be in any type of lotus position, in fact, you can do this right before you go for a run – standing up. Set a timer for 5-minutes, clothes your eyes, and concentrate on seeing yourself successfully nail your long run. Continue seeing this success over and over again. The last-minute of the meditation, try to clear your head of any thoughts. If a thought appears in your head pretend that you attach a balloon to the thought and it drifts away out of sight. Clearing your mind of thought is the hardest part of meditating.

16. Warm-up?

Yes, I put a question mark next to the heading title. I’ve warmed up by simply walking for 5 to 10 minutes as well as performed dynamic stretching for 10 minutes before running on my long runs. As long as you’re warming your body up in any form, you should be good to go. If you’re skipping walking or dynamic stretching and simply running as a way to warm up your legs, make sure that you’re taking that first mile light-footed and easy.

If static stretching bad for you? Static stretching is a muscle hold for a specific amount of time followed by a release. Dynamic stretching doesn’t involve any type of hold. I recommend that you only static stretch after you’re warmed up cooling down. There are ongoing studies that suggest that you should only static stretch after you’re warmed up (Reason Not to Stretch). The only time I perform static stretching is if my muscles are tight or have knots that need to be worked out. When I do static stretch it’s only after I’ve warmed up for a mile or two of walking or running.

17. Run your long runs on the same day of the week your race will be on

This isn’t a necessity, but this could help set your body into recognizing that on Saturday, you’ll be running your long run. If it’s Saturday and it’s not your long run then your body won’t care that it’s race day because it’s already used to running long on that day of the week. Anything you can do to stack your habits, you should take advantage of it. You’ll be able to form better habits and stick to them longer.

18. Have a post-run snack

Preferably with protein and carbs to help your legs begin to repair muscles and refuel your glycogen stores. Grab a banana with some peanut butter, or eat a power bar.

Are you struggling with your long runs?

Check out this in-depth post of how to strategically approach your long runs.

Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 13th half marathon race. 

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