The long run is truly the bread and butter of an endurance running program. It teaches your body how to spend time on its feet, how to utilize fat as a primary fuel source and is a dress rehearsal for the big dance. The secret in perfecting your long runs is to keep it simple and avoid making these common training mistakes.
More: How to Tune Up Your Running Training
1. Running too far too Quickly
Soon after you commit to a half or full marathon, it's time to train. Excitement from the target can encourage runners to tackle longer runs than their bodies are ready for at that point, which can quickly lead to aches, pains, burn out and poor performance down the road. The greatest way to assure your success on race day is to follow a plan that starts from where your current fitness level and mileage is.
For example, if your longest run is 4 miles, you'll want to find a plan or create one of your own that starts no higher than 5 miles for the first long run. This may not look all that exciting. However, the goal isn't about how many miles you tackle each week; it's about getting to the start line healthy, fresh and ready to rumble. Start from where you are and you'll perform well, recover better, and have fun along the way.
More: How to Speed Up Your Running Recovery
2. Running too Fast
The difference between running for fitness and training for a long-distance running race is one stays consistent week to week (fitness) and the latter builds and progresses throughout the season. Because of this progression, it is important to vary your effort level as you train. In other words, run at a pace that is easy and conversational. If you can talk while you're running the long run, you're at the right effort. If you can't, you're running too fast. Avoid trying to run the long runs by a pace or target time. This sets you up for the race pace training disaster where you feel great for about four to six weeks, then things start to crumble when your energy levels decline, your body aches, and performance begins to suffer.
3. Fueling With too Much Sugar
Sports drinks and other on-the-run fueling products such as gels, beans and Clif Shot Bloks were originally invented to supplement your energy intake. Your body can only take in so much energy in the form of sugar, and when you exceed that level, it causes nauseau and stomach upset. The idea is not to replace the energy lost while running but to only replenish some of what is lost. This, I believe has been lost in marketing translation.
Everyone will have their own unique menu for fueling on the go. Some go with sports drinks only as it contains both sugar, electrolytes and fluid and is easily digested. Others go with sports drinks plus a gel along the way. Still others go with the simplicity of water, use electrolyte tabs such as Nuun and Succeed or gels as their main source of energy. Confused yet? You should be. Endurance fueling has become as intimidating as selecting a cereal at the grocery store. Keep it simple and target to get in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour for runs longer than 60 minutes.
If you are on the lighter side, lean toward the lower end of the range and vice versa. Practice this in training to identify which products agree with your system. Avoid mixing a sports drink with a gel or beans, as all of these products are designed at about a 6 to 7 percent sugar concentration to allow for quick absorption rates. If you mix sports drinks with a gel, this increases that concentration level and you'll develop sugar belly. You can also develop this condition if you take in too much sugar during the run. Keep track along the way, and you'll develop a recipe that works for you. Look at the carbohydrate content on the label. Aim for an hourly rate on the low end of the range, and tweak it from there. You'll avoid a lot of issues along the way and take in only what you need to replenish.
More: Nutrition Guide for Runners
4. Running by Pace Rather Than Feel
The easiest way to bonk during a long run is to run it by a pace. Pace is only the outcome. It's not the target. When you run by feel (effort level) and stick with a conversation-pace effort, you'll always be in the right zone for that day. This is because there are a variety of things that affect performance and turn your normal easy 10:30 pace into a hard run.
Running on a very hot day will be much harder on the body. Lack of sleep, stress, training fatigue from other workouts and more can affect your performance. If the goal is to train in the easy effort so you can cover the distance and recover efficiently, you can't pin this running goal on a specific pace. Doing so can lead you to over training and under training and will rarely keep you in the optimal zone. Listen to your body, do a talk test, and stick within the easy zone when going the distance.