On March 13, 2013 at approximately 12:59 p.m. MST I sat at my office computer anxiously refreshing the Pikes Peak Marathon registration website waiting for the site to open at 1:00 p.m. Five minutes later, I was done. I had successfully registered for the 2013 Pikes Peak Marathon. "Awesome Paula," I thought to myself, "Now what?"
Like most runners, I suffer from selective memory. My first marathon was the Chicago Marathon in 2011, and to this day I have successfully blocked all memories of 20 mile road runs on hot summer days and only remember the runner's high I had when I crossed the finish line. Selective memory makes it easy to sign up for races, such as the Pikes Peak Marathon, on a whim in the middle of the winter, only to face the realities of training later.
Around the end of April as ski season was finally winding down in Colorado, I realized with a sinking heart it was time to put away my skis and dig my trail running shoes out from the bottom of the closet. Marathon training time was here, and the dreaded long run was about to return to my life. Though there are many different approaches to training for a marathon, the one inescapable part of all plans is the long run.
I'll be honest, even as a former cross country runner, I have always struggled with long runs in marathon training plans. When I first started training for the Chicago Marathon, I found them unbearably boring. Luckily, in the past few years I have discovered some coping mechanisms that have made long runs much more enjoyable and fun. Really!
- Measure your long run by time instead of miles.
One of my favorite ways to train for a marathon is to go on training runs for time, not miles. I find that by taking the pressure off of myself to reach a certain mileage I can run smarter and usually get more out of a training run. Some marathon training plans call for 10 miles one week, 12 the next, etc. Instead of running a certain mileage it is also equally helpful to run for 2 hours one week, 2 hours and 15 minutes the next week, etc. The most important thing you are getting out of your long runs is time on your feet in conditions similar to your race.
- Map your run out ahead of time.
Heading into your long run with a clear plan is a good way to ensure success, and make sure you don't waste extra energy worrying about where to run. Planning ahead of time also allows you to plan the route to your liking. Prefer out and backs? Like doing laps around a local park? Want to make sure you have ample drinking fountains along the way? The long run is your oyster!
- Reward yourself with fun snacks.
A training run, rather than race day, is the best time to experiment with nutrition and hydration. Try a fun new gel flavor, a handful of chocolate covered espresso beans or a packet of almond butter. This will give you something to look forward to while running and help you figure out what you want to use on race day! Additionally, this allows you to practice the art of eating while running, which we all know is harder than it looks.
- Recruit a friend. Or two.
Long runs are so much more enjoyable with a friend or two. Misery loves company! Recruit a friend for the whole run or just a section. If you don't know anyone else on the same training cycle finding someone to run with you for even five miles of the run is still helpful and keeps you accountable. Also be sure to check out local running clubs and stores, which often sponsor weekend running groups and organized long runs.
- Use a race as a training run.
Substituting a race for a long run is a fun way to log miles, simulate a race environment and build confidence. While training for the Pikes Peak Marathon I signed up for the 14.5 mile Mt. Evans Ascent road race a few months before the marathon. I tend to push myself harder in a race than a normal training run, so using a race in a training plan is a good way to ensure quality miles. Plus sometimes you even get a cool race T-shirt out of it! Although as a female those times are rare. What is with the boxy technical T-shirts at races these days?
Using these methods I did in fact survive all of the long runs on tap for the training cycle for the Pikes Peak Marathon this past summer. And now I have my sights set on a 50-mile race next summer with even longer long runs because, you know, selective memory.
What are your favorite tips for surviving long runs?
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Paula Mahlburg is a Colorado Girl who, after a stint in Missouri, has returned to Denver, CO where she loves climbing mountains, running long distances and watching the Bachelor. Find out more about Paula on here blog Return to the Motherland.