Happy race season, runners! You know what that means – the runs are getting longer to prepare for those big races on the calendar. Especially for half and full marathons, the long run is the most important run of your training plan. And since endurance is your most important asset for ANY race distance (at least for distances longer than 1 mile), a long run can really benefit any runner.
This can be very exciting, because you’re gaining confidence and mileage with each weekend long run. But due to their length – in time and distance – they can be daunting or difficult. Especially if you’re making any of these common training mistakes.
Here are some common mistakes and how to make sure you are prepared for your next long run.
Mistake #1 – Running Your ‘Race Pace’ For A Training Run
If you have an upcoming race on the calendar, you probably have some idea of a time goal in mind. It’s natural to rationalize that if you can run your long runs at that ideal pace, that that will best prepare you for the race itself.
That’s actually a very common misconception. Long runs during training should actually be SLOWER than expected race pace. By up to several minutes per mile.
Why? Because running slow makes you fast! Read more on that here.
A good training plan builds upon itself so that you are prepared to run your best ON race day. NOT during each and every long run leading up to your race. You can easily overtrain if you are trying to run your race pace every weekend – especially during long runs.
Since most of your weekly mileage should be done at an easy pace, and long runs make up a lot of mileage, make sure most of your long run distance is done at a conversational pace where you heart rate can remain low and your breathing is controlled.
Mistake #2 – Building Distance Too Quickly
Everyone comes from a different background when it comes to running, but especially if you’re a beginner, make sure you’re building your long run slowly, week by week.
Even if you feel like you can complete a longer distance, I would recommend not over-exerting yourself.
A few weeks ago on an 18-mile long run, I felt amazing when I was done! I knew I could have done 1-2 more miles to round up to that beautiful 20-mile mark. But I didn’t. Because it wasn’t worth the risk.
The longer your run, the more your form breaks down and your body depletes its nutrients. Running long can significantly increase your risk of injuries. So it’s best to do just a little bit more than the week before and build gradually. That will ensure that your body can recover for the next quality workout on your schedule.
Mistake #3 – Running Long Too Frequently
Sometimes we have to push a long run back…it’s inevitable. Weekends can be busy, so maybe your 10-mile run works better on a Wednesday night. But then Saturday rolls around for your 11-miler and you’re pushing that long distance again after just a few days.
For most of us, that’s not enough time to recover between long runs. 7-10 days between long runs is ideal for most people. Many of us do 7 day cycles – simply because we have more time on the weekends for longer distances. However even elite athletes (who have the luxury of time when it comes to training) often times have 10-14 day cycles between long runs.
If you happen to miss one or two long runs in a training block, don’t fret. They say “the most important training day is tomorrow”, so don’t get hurt by overdoing it today. It’s probably better for you to skip a run day, and be fully recovered for your next long run.
Mistake #4 – Not Taking Nutrition Seriously
I’ve heard this plenty of times: “I run so I can eat whatever I want!” If that’s your mentality to stay at a certain weight or level of health, go for it! But if you’re training for a race with a specific goal in mind, you may want to rethink your nutrition strategy.
While I am not a nutritionist, there are some general rules when it comes to long-run nutrition.
If you want to perform in a long run, fueling beforehand is key and the timing of this is crucial. You’ll want to wait 2-3 hours after a meal (or 30 minutes to 2 hours after a snack) before beginning your long run. It’s best to eat something easily digestible, but that can be different for everyone, so you’ll need to experiment with fueling sources during training.
Common foods for runners are oatmeal with sliced banana and nut butter, Generation Ucan bars (my preferred pre-long run snack), an egg scramble with sweet potatoes, or Larabars.
For exercise lasting over 75 minutes, it’s recommended that you fuel on the go. Again, you’ll want easily digestible food for energy. This can either be in the form of a high fat product if you’re fat adapted, or a higher carb snack, like an energy gel.
Some suggestions here (beyond the standard gels or store-bought running fuels) are Generation Ucan drink mix or bars, Larabars or RX bars, homemade energy bites, nut butter or coconut butter packets, or even 100% fruit juices.
After your long run, you’ll want to stimulate recovery. To build muscle and recover, good sources of protein and carbohydrate are crucial macronutrients to have. Different studies argue the magic “window of time” that you should eat in post run. The most important thing is to eat when you’re hungry and get enough calories in for that whole day. To run well, you have to be eating enough calories for energy. Don’t skimp on meals, especially after hard workouts, if you’re looking to perform well in your race!
Suggestions here would be any balanced meal with good sources of protein, quality carbohydrates, and a serving or two of healthy fat. My blog is full of recipes that can work for that post-long run fuel!
Mistake #5 – Not Practicing Post-Run Recovery Techniques
Recovery is just as important as training itself. Your body doesn’t adapt while you’re running – it gets stronger and better while you’re RESTING. So be sure to practice recovery techniques post-long run to stimulate that recovery and make you a better runner.
Although studies haven’t definitively found compression gear to “work” for long runs, anecdotally, it’s a great recovery tool. Compression socks or leggings can help increase blood flow and allow your lower extremities to recover well after a long run or hard workout.
Right after a long run, I love putting my legs up on a wall and sitting there for a few minutes. Since I’m on my feet for 2-3 hours, this is a great way to flush the blood away from my legs immediately. This helps to reduce acute stress and inflammation that will occur post-exercise.
As mentioned in the nutrition portion of this blog post, nutrition is important post-long run. Nutrient dense carb and protein sources are crucial to speed up recovery. If you’re serious about recovery, you’ll want lower-glycemic foods so that a high-sugar load is not causing more inflammation to your body. Although your body is more “primed” to handle higher carbohydrate after your run, only give it as much as it needs to refuel and recover for the day.
Healthy fat sources are also great to reduce inflammation and give y
ou the necessary calories your body needs post-long run. You’ll want to avoid unhealthy sources of fat (vegetable oils found in dressings and fried foods, margarine, low quality meat and dairy products, highly processed foods, etc.)
Great post-run recovery food sources are meals that include ingredients like wild-caught salmon, sweet potatoes, pasture-raised eggs, avocados, organic nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, berries, bone broth, quinoa, black beans, and any fruits and vegetables.
Although complete rest is necessary after a hard effort, you don’t want to stay stagnant for too long. Blood flow is one of the most important aspects of recovery. During a long run, your blood pools in your legs. To trigger your body to adapt to stressors that you’re placing on it (exercise here), you want to allow that blood to go back to circulating normally through gentle movement.
This can be easy walking, yoga, stretching, swimming, or anything else that doesn’t cause more stress to your muscles.
Running long can easily dehydrate you. Your body is using or sweating out the water you’re able to give it, and you can only drink so much while you’re running.
After a long run, you’ll want to drink plenty of water to flush out your system and allow for greater blood flow in your muscles. You can also consider replenishing with electrolytes, or add some salt to your water or foods, to maintain balance. Make sure your pee is back to a light yellow color within a few hours of your long run. If not, keep hydrating!
After a long run, ice baths are a great way to help stimulate recovery. After a long run, your muscles are very warm and overworked. Ice can help to quickly cool those muscles down, reduce inflammation and tissue breakdown, and increase blood flow.
You’ll want to experiment if this is helpful for you, though. Your body may be better off naturally responding to other post-run recovery techniques. This is a quick way to reduce inflammation – but sometimes your body’s natural recovery processes don’t need this “serious” of an intervention.
Avoid these mistakes and implement the tips above and those long runs should go off without a hitch! Add in a good playlist and a good warm up and cool down, and you’ll be good to go. Good luck getting those miles in and let me know if any of these tips helped YOU with your running 🙂