Long runs: Plan ahead to make your marathon training a success

Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport
Weekly long runs are the cornerstone of marathon training. At first, they're not so bad. When you're only increasing your mileage 10 percent a week to slowly build your base while keeping your chance of injury low, it doesn't seem like much.

But after a few weeks, those 10 percent increases really add up. Once your long runs reach 12-plus miles, they can be tough to get through unless you plan ahead.

Start experimenting

Use your long runs to experiment with different clothing, hydration and food options so you can figure out what works best for you before race day.

Clothing: Choose clothing that wicks moisture and fits comfortably. On runs that last a couple of hours, some chafing can usually be expected. Use petroleum jelly or a product like Body Glide on friction-prone areas such as your feet and upper thighs.

Women should watch out for chafing around the seams on sports bras. Guys should make sure their nipples are protected -- Band-Aids are a simple solution that can prevent chafing.

Hydration: To stay hydrated, you'll need to drink every 15 to 20 minutes. A sports-drink mixture diluted with additional water will keep you hydrated while providing your body with the carbohydrates it needs for longer runs. You can simply carry a water bottle, or use a water bottle fanny pack. Another option is the Fuel Belt, which securely holds 5-ounce flasks around your waist.

Food: For runs lasting more than an hour, you should ingest about 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Energy gels digest quickly, and they're easier to consume than energy bars on the run.

Minimizing the impact on your body

You can get all of the endurance benefits of a long run while doing a few simple things to help minimize the impact on your body and speed up recovery.

Slow down: Your long runs should be one or two minutes per mile slower than your race pace, which will help decrease your chance of injury and allow for a faster recovery.

Run on soft surfaces: Try to plan your route so that part of your run is on soft surfaces such as gravel, grass or dirt trails, which will help reduce the pounding on your body.

Take walk breaks: Jeff Galloway, former U.S. Olympic team member and marathon runner, recommends taking a one-minute walk break every mile during a long run to give your muscles time to recover, making it easier to go longer distances. A simple way to incorporate walk breaks into your run is by taking a one-minute break every nine minutes, and using the time to drink or consume an energy gel.

Mind games

Thinking about running 15 or 20 miles can be daunting. If what they say is true, doing a long run or a marathon is mostly mental, rather than a physical struggle, so don't psyche yourself out by focusing on the distance.

Break your run into segments: Instead of thinking about all 15 or 20 miles of your long run, think about your run in 5K or 10K segments. Walk breaks are a great way to mentally break up your run as well, because then you only have to focus on the next eight or nine minutes of your run before you get a mini break.

Concentrate on your goal: Keep your goal (the marathon) in mind when things start to get tough. Visualize yourself doing the race successfully, and imagine yourself crossing the finish line to help you get through the tough spots in your long run.

Run with a friend: Running with a partner helps the miles go by faster, and certainly adds some fun to a long workout.

Preventing soreness

Your workout isn't done as soon as you finish running the last mile. It's important to prevent soreness and injury so that you can continue your training.

A cold bath: After a long run, cool off your legs by taking a cold bath (if you can stand it) or by simply running the garden hose over your legs for a few minutes to help reduce swelling.

Ice: Painful or sore muscles should be iced after your workout for 10 minutes at a time. Icing longer than 10-minute intervals could be harmful to your skin and muscles.

Stretch: Stretching after running (rather than before) can help decrease your chance of injury.

Anti-Inflammatory drugs: Ibuprofen can help reduce the pain and swelling of an injury. Follow the directions on the label for the right amount to take.

Food: Shortly after your run, start eating. Your body needs carbohydrates to help speed muscle repair.

Rest: Take one day of complete rest, and possibly another of active rest (with light, easy exercise) after your long run to give your body a chance to recover.

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