Even if you have no desire to enter a race with the suffix -thon, a weekly run where you cover more distance than usual is a staple for all runners, no matter your goals or fitness level. It could be 18 miles, it could be 4 miles. "It's one of the most effective workouts any runner can do," says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach in Silver Spring, Maryland. "It improves endurance and cardiovascular capacity, which allows you eventually to hold a faster pace for longer distances." During the fall, when temperatures begin to drop, is the perfect time to lengthen your runs if you haven't already (try the Magic Mile Workout to boost speed and stamina). Here are a few ways to make the long run more effective and palatable.
Plan Your Route
"The more energy you put into worrying about the workout, the less energy you'll have for it," says Kathy Butler, who cofounded the Indian Peaks Running Club in Nederland, Colorado. Minimize any fretting by picking a route that makes sense for your personality. Do you run near your house, where you are more likely to cut it short? Drive somewhere to eliminate the temptation. If you feel more confident knowing you can grab water and use the bathroom at home, then do some loops close to home. Be warned: Out-and-back routes can be more mentally draining than a loop, since you have to cover the same ground twice. (Here are 4 Ways to Mix Up Your Workout for improved fitness.)
Long runs are often referred to as LSDs, or long, slow distance runs, for good reason. "Your pace should be conversational and your breathing comfortable," says Fitzgerald. "If you're struggling 2 miles into a 15-miler, you're going too hard." That said, if you're aiming for a PR in a distance race, run the last few miles (3 to 5 for a half, 5 to 8 for a marathon) of a long run at race pace to get your body used to the effort.
Break It Up
Once you're moving, break up the run into segments. "Think of the first half like it's a regular daily run," says Carl Leivers, an Atlanta-based running coach. "I let my mind wander and just enjoy it. I tell myself, 'I'm not going to re-engage my brain until, say, mile 9, when I might need a mental push.'" Running with a friend for all, or part, of the route will help the miles go by faster.
Eat and Drink
"If it's your first time running around 60 minutes, take a gel with you," says Leivers. "You may not need it, but it's nice to know you have a shot of energy if you want it." For more experienced runners, bring along some calories and hydration for anything over 90 minutes; aim to take in about 240 to 300 calories an hour, or about 60 to 75 grams of carbs.
The key is to start fueling early and do it consistently. "You'll minimize stomach problems if you don't dump a bunch of calories into your body at once," says Cassie Dimmick, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian in Springfield, Missouri, who recommends a small amount of calories every 15 minutes. (Supercharge your runs with these 5 Items That Give You A Boost.)marathon.