How to Find your Groove on Long Runs

Oh the long run. Like a regular run only nerve wracking, fear inducing and generally anxiety producing. Well this post will get you started on finding your long run groove. I probably watched it and don’t remember is but its what comes to mind when you think of the movie ‘how Stella got her groove back.” That’s what you need to do, find your groove which can be more than a little personal.

And that’s totally ok! Long runs are just for you and your training. Whatever your reading about long runs on pintrest and blogs, including this one, take it with a grain of salt. We want to read so much about them because they are the cornerstone of our training programs and stand out as such in our schedules. As you read through your training plan those long run distances seem to standout and scream at us. To a large extent all that matters is that you get them done. The long run in general is about time on your feet and building your endurance for race day. What that all boils down to is that you can do it your way!

long runs

Long runs are physical, really physical but they are also a mental challenge. Training for my first 1/2 I had only run 10k’s and ONE 12 km run one glorious day. I remember scrolling through my plan and looking at the distances, the 14 km run less than a month away stuck out like it was a neon sign, the 18 km one a few weeks later seemed impossible at the time. I remember doing my first 8 km run the first week (no big deal) just fixated on the one coming 28 days later. Once you find YOUR groove a lot of that just goes away. After completing a few longer runs and once your in the zone the mental barriers seem to fall away.  This post deals with the physical stuff which contributes to lowering the phycological stress they bring on but the mental aspects of long runs too.

Throughout this post I’ll be telling you some things that work for me and how I arrived at them. However I will also be suggesting some alternatives. I might even delve into why some of those things don’t work for me. Now just because they aren’t part of my particular groove doesn’t mean they won’t work perfectly for you! And I mean that! Not in they way beauty youtubers say it might work for you about makeup they don’t like. Try all the ideas whether they work for me or not. You’re meant to find your groove not fall into mine.

Definition: What is a long run?

At one point in my running career, like the first five years, running 5 km would have been long for me. I always ran 3 or 4 km and was tiered when I was done. A long run is one that sounds long for you. That could be 3 km all the way up to the 32 km long run in marathon training and beyond.

Old school stickler types say after 10 miles or 16 km it’s a long run. I contend they get long, long before that. 10 km is long for me, it’ll take me more than an hour and 8 km is pretty long too. If it sticks out to you as a somewhat daunting or even impossible distance it’s long for you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking about a 5km training run as long and treating it totally seriously if it seems long to you!

Gear: What to wear?

A lot of people will tell you to wear your best race stuff, others stuff your okay wearing out fast, still others say wear what’s on its way out any way.  I tend to wear my favourite stuff my pink stripped running skirt (with attached shorts) and the matching bra along with my nike skate board tee. I picked it all up at the thrift shop I like the peach stripped skirt because I feel like my belt moves less since there is an extra layer over the area. The matching bra is really light and well it matches.  I always start in the tee even if I know I won’t be wearing it for long. If fog rolls in or the sun starts to set and I’m cold I like to have it. Plus it folds up small and tucks in the back of my sports bra and wicks away the sweat while it’s there. Plus I think I look cute in it and there is a good chance I’ll know half the drivers that pass be while I’m out there in my small town.Sneakers: For some this is a non-issue your just going to wear whatever sneakers are in the rotation next, which of course it totally fine. If you’ve been injured in the past or are doing the long term rehab thing you might look at your long run as an opportunity to aggravate that. I wear my best shoes for my long runs which are also my race shoes, so they are fast. I feel like I should make it a point to wear those to minimize the stress on my body. Because these are also my fastest shoes, (currently adidas Women’s Adizero Boston Boost 5 ) I have a hard time holding myself back pace wise. So I curate a fairly slow long run play list specifically for long runs which I wrote about here. I’m not sure if shoe companies make shoes especially for long runs. I’m also not sure if I would pick them up if they did. But I would probably at least swing by and check them out. Some runners might have a special, favourite pair of kicks just for long runs as part of their motivation.

Pace: I am in every way an average to slow runner. My 5k time is about 5 minuets faster than the average female in my age group, my 10k is 1 minute faster and my 1/2 time is about 6 minuets slower than the average woman my age. My global average per km over the last 5 years is 7:30 per km. I aim to run my long runs about 8 min/km but I usually end up a bit faster than I hope for. Conventional wisdom is that you should aim for about a minute/km or 1.5 minuets/ mile slower on long runs than your typical training time.  I never seem to be able to slow down that much so instead I focus on maintaining a pace that means I am cool to be singing along and breathing through a closed mouth. You decide how to pace yourself but keep in mind that as your training runs get longer doing your long run too fast means you won’t have much left in the tank for the rest of the week.

Probably my only innate running ability is to be able to run a negative split. Experts suggest that running the second half of a race faster than the first is necessary for turning in your best performance. That being said I never ever won a running race, negative split or not. It can be good practice for race day to work on running a negative split during your long runs.

Mind Games: Many runners find it helpful to break down their long run into smaller segments, at least in their minds. Lots will think of a 20k run as four 5k’s or two 10k’s. Others will turn off or not look at how far they have gone until a certain point in the run preferring instead to just hammer out the miles oblivious to how much is left. Still others will leave technology at home and just get it done, perhaps with an old school iPod for tunes. I work it out as percentages per km.

Back in the day I used to guard really, really busy three hour open swims filled with kids who weren’t generally, how do I put this, disciplined? Most of them were also poor swimmers. It was an open dollar swim weekday afternoons in a hard neighbourhood. My boss thought it was a good idea to say yes to everyone since it got kids off the street for a few hours each day. Sometimes we were over capacity and people took turns swimming and sitting out in shifts. I totally agree that the was the right thing to do but it was tiring and stressful to guard. He also staffed the swim well and you got a 10 minute break every hour since he understood what he was asking us to do. So each minute worked out to 2% of each shift. This seemed to make the time pass faster but also you gave you something simple to focus on while still letting you stay present in the moment.

By accident I fell into the same habit on long runs. For example this weekend’s long run was 14 km so each km was 7%. In my mind it’s 7%, then 14%, then 21% and 28% done. Weirdly I can’t seem to relax and enjoy until I get to the half way point. It might be that it’s now less in front of me than behind me or that I’m now at my furthest point from home and there is really no choice but to go back. At the halfway point I actually start to enjoy it! Before that it can be torture. I think I don’t want to be doing this, this is so long, failure seems imminent and generally feel anxious. At the halfway point it’s like a switch flips and I start to feel powerful, fast and like a happy runner. Knowing this I try to look forward to the halfway point during those first gruelling kilometres. Of course this is only a mental thing which really can be the toughest part of long runs!

All you need for long runs vs what you want to take!

FuellingIf you are training for any distance longer than 10k you’re likely to need to fuel on your training runs even if you’re not planning on fuelling during your race. Again conventional wisdom dictates that you take in fuel about every 25 minuets starting at 45 minuets into any workout that will be longer than an hour. However if your workout is likely to be just over the hour mark you can probably skip it if you want to. Now it’s not that exact a science and this might be one of the most personal aspects of a long run. What you eat, when you eat and how you know when are all VERY specific to your person. For most a longer run will look something like this, first three km you don’t really enjoy, it’s a bit hard and your feeling somewhat bad for yourself. Then you hit your stride, you get in the zone and start to feel like a gazelle, even if you still look like a wounded seal, oh that’s just me? Then at some point down the line it start getting harder again, tiered starts to be a feeling your having, even if you don’t want to admit it. This is about the point you want to start taking on fuel or just before.

If you keep going and going without some energy intake you will eventually bonk, that’s what we call it in mountain biking anyway. I think a more universal term is hitting the wall. I’ve experienced mild forms of this a few times even though you are running your perceived effort is much greater than reality. You feel every step is up hill, it gets really hard and sometimes you can’t catch your breath and your heart is racing even though you’ve since slowed down considerably.  In more extreme instances this can go from unpleasant to dangerous as some will experience disorientation, dizziness and shortness of breath. For me I start thinking about a good time to start feeling around km 7, then I try to get some in every 4 km after that.

So what do you eat? Most people use commercially produced gels, goos or beans. There are lots of options though some common ideas are gummy candy, dried fruit and nuts. Personally when I first had to fuel on runs the idea sort of freaked me out. I can have an upset tummy generally and this sounded like a good way to bring that on with no where to go or hide. I ended up settling on raisins, not because I’m healthy or anything crazy like that. Actually I literally never eat raisins in life but it ended up working for me. I first tried gummy candy since you know it’s a major dietary stable for me but I hated they way it stuck to my teeth when I was running. I did want to avoid the commercial stuff for two reasons the biggest being that I’m cheap and the second that any place to buy them is about an hour away. I could see having gels on hand for long runs as adding a two hour item to the weekly to do list.

Whole foods are a great, convenient healthy and cost effective option. What ever ends up working for you is totally fine but experts suggest looking for something with lots of calories, simple carbs in the form of sugars and nothing too fatty as that can cause you to get tummy upset which would be less than ideal.

Hydration: My longest long run ended up at 20 km. I was running at the very edge of the water I could carry. I wore a hydration belt that held 1.2 litres of water in two bottles. I would half freeze the second bottle so that it would be a little cold. Since I was preparing for a race at the very start of October by last long run was September 20th. It was the slight cooling off that time of year that let me get away with not developing a more robust stratagey. A bit earlier in my program it looked like I would have to. Now this isn’t so personal, water is water after all. Some of my options would have been to buy a bottle along the way. Stash some water bottles along the way in advance (I planned on attaching notes so they wouldn’t be picked up) or switching to a camelback system. For the direction I was going to find cooler air I would have had one option for purchasing water which would have come at an inconvenient time. Ideally I would have just popped into a friend’s house and filled up.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 11.46.31 PM
Water, water every where but not a drop to drink

Timing: Most of the runners out there will aim to run their long training runs on the weekend simply because of work commitments other days. For those that get really, really sore the next day Saturday can be preferable to Sunday. Early mornings can be a bit easier to get done since just waking up a bit earlier than you normally would, or at work time can let you get it done and avoid the heat of the day. This also probably mimics the time you’ll be running your actual race. I ran mine on Sundays afternoons or early evenings to avoid some heat but also so that I was totally awake and avoid any potential GI issues. This also provided me with a bit of motivation since if I didn’t start by a certain time I would run out of daylight.

Motivation: It’s hard to find a reason to get your long run done week after week. One thing to remind yourself of over and over again is that your long run each week is what is building your endurance for race day, so it’s important. While many like to run in new places, I liked to go over the same route and extending my turn around point week after week. The fact that I would be running the same route just a bit farther than I had before gave me comfort and made the distances seem more doable. You can also reward yourself when you return with food or a movie or whatever works for you, say a hot bubble bath. If you love wine grab a nicer bottle to enjoy when you return, take your self out to dinner. I actually have a friend that calls his favourite pizza shop during his run and has them there within minuets of his return home. Now that’s genius! Occasionally honey would have a treat for me when I returned like flowers or veggie burgers on the grill so the chance that I was returning to something like that was pretty powerful too. You can also let yourself do ridiculous fun things you would never otherwise do like eat veggie burgers in the bubble bath for example.

Feeling prepared: Part of the issue with long runs can be fear. Fear of being so far from home using such a slow mode of transportation. You can lessen this feeling of vulnerability by taking certain things with you even if you never use them. That being said it can be a delicate balance between preparedness and overpacking. I always took a t-shirt even if it was too hot to wear as fog and a cold ocean breeze can be really local and unpredictable. I always took $5 and some tp for self explanatory reasons. I made sure my phone was fully charged should I need a pick-up. Others bring taxi fare however we just don’t have taxis so… You might also consider where bathrooms are located along your route. We have literally no public bathrooms on my route but… all the beaches have outhouses which turned out to be very appreciated on long runs. My other option was to knock on the doors of people I knew along the way all sweaty. That and one time I used a bush.

Hopefully you found something here that can fit into your long run groove. Do you have any long run rituals or tricks that are specific to you?

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