The Long Run
While the long run is discussed in detail in the marathon training chapters of this book, the key points regarding this important workout are highlighted here. Similar to marathon training, the long run is the most important component of one's half-marathon training for teaching the body to both mentally and physically tackle the challenge of completing a race of 13.1 miles or longer. For the purpose of this discussion, the distance of a long run is considered to be 10 miles (or longer) or a run that lasts more than 90 minutes.
The long run also provides an excellent opportunity to experiment with a variety of concerns, such as shoes, nutrition, and pacing. Above all, long-distance training schedules must be designed so that runners are rested prior to undertaking their long runs. Runners who complete at least two long runs of 10–12 miles prior to a half-marathon are better prepared to face the challenge ahead of them.
The majority of runners who experience difficulty in completing their long training runs fail to prepare adequately for these critical workouts. The following guidelines enable you to prepare for and complete your long runs safely and successfully. Completing all your scheduled long runs in turn greatly enhances your chance of performing well on race day.
Don't split your long run! If your training schedule calls for a long run of 10 miles, you must run the distance at one time rather than splitting it into a 5-mile morning session and a 5-mile evening run.
Pace and Time
Run at a conversational pace by starting out slowly to conserve glycogen. As a general guideline, particularly for runners whose primary goal is to finish the half-marathon comfortably, the pace of your long run should be approximately 1–1½ minutes slower than your present 10K race pace. You should be running so that your perceived exertion level seems easy and relaxed. Put another way, if you wished to carry on a lengthy conversation with another runner, you could easily do so without gasping for air.
There are two major reasons you need to run at a relaxed pace during the long run. Most important, you are conserving glycogen and glucose (your energy sources, converted from digested food stored in your working muscles and blood supply). Running at an easy pace also reduces the possibility of incurring an injury. This is particularly important since you are probably building your mileage to a level as yet unachieved. This in itself puts stress and strain on your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
As you focus on your pace, also consider running for cumulative time, approximating the distance you travel. For example, if your easy-run pace is 9 minutes per mile, run for 90 or so minutes for your 10-miler rather than finding a course that is exactly that distance. Doing so enables you to have more flexibility and spontaneity in regard to the route you choose to run. Schedule some long runs at the same time of day the actual race will be held to familiarize yourself with running during that time frame and also to develop a pre-race routine that feels comfortable to you.
Should I do long runs with others?
For your long runs, either run with friends or find a group running at your pace. Running with a group makes the long run more pleasurable and easier to accomplish than running alone.
Running Form and Upper-Body Considerations
Although there is no need to alter your running stride, you need to focus on keeping your upper body relaxed and loose. Remember, tension is the adversary of all long-distance runners. Tension in the arms, shoulders, and especially the back drains energy and makes running more difficult. It creates stress that detracts from the main focus—running. Shake out your arms and shoulders regularly to combat tension.
Carry your arms close to your waist or hips to conserve energy. Also avoid unnecessary armswing, particularly laterally across the body. Remember, this is wasted motion and energy expenditure, and it also puts extra strain on your hips.
Water and sports drinks are your lifeline in completing these long runs. It is very important that you drink fluids every 25–30 minutes while you are running, regardless of weather conditions. For runs that are more than an hour long, you also need to drink sports drinks such as Gatorade® or Powerade® to fuel those working muscles, keeping them functioning optimally.
The half-marathon is an ideal race to use as a marathon tune-up. It provides an opportunity to experiment with a variety of factors, such as pre-race routine, nutrition, and pacing. Additionally, you can to some extent extrapolate your marathon finish time from the half-marathon distance. However, marathon predictor charts have less reliability if you haven't completed at least two runs of over 20 miles.
Don't rely on your thirst mechanism to send a signal to your brain saying “I'm thirsty!” If you wait until that point, you will not be able to consume enough fluids to catch up with your hydration needs. Doing so puts you at greater risk of heat illness. In short, dehydration is one of your biggest enemies. Many beginners fail to grasp this and ignore opportunities to take in fluids. Don't pass these up. Drink!
Realize that long runs are sometimes difficult to complete and that you may experience some bad patches in the later miles. Persevering through these stretches helps you to develop mental toughness, a skill that is essential during a half-marathon or a full marathon. Use imagery, mental rehearsal or visualization, and self-talk to develop mental toughness.
You might want to engage in some other activities after completing your long run and half-marathon. Do some light cycling or walking later in the day to loosen up your legs. Also consider using therapeutic techniques such as dipping your legs in cool water immediately after the run or getting a leg massage over the next couple of days to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
For example, to make the run seem more doable, try to mentally break the course into sections. That is, mentally run from one landmark to the next instead of thinking of completing the entire 10-mile training course. When you reach the first landmark, then mentally think of running to the next, and so forth.
If this seems like a real hurdle to you, review the sections on yoga and meditation. These are practices proven to help athletes stay focused and run better, with improved breathing techniques and mental acuity.
A cardinal rule of long-distance racing is: Don't try anything new or leave anything to chance on race day. Use all training runs as opportunities for experimentation.
Finally, after the run is over, continue to drink fluids (water, sports drinks, and juice are all good choices). Also eat some more; you've earned it! As soon as possible (ideally within 15 minutes of the end of the run), have something to eat to replace depleted glycogen stores. Research has shown that to avoid muscle fatigue the next day, carbohydrates should be eaten as soon as possible following long-duration exercise.