Marathon Training: 10 Tips to Prepare for a Long Run
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As I’m currently in the midst (and pain!) of marathon training, I’ve found myself getting into a bit of a pre-run routine when it comes to preparing for a long run, so I thought I’d share on here in case the things I’ve picked up are of use to anyone else.
As some of you may be aware, I’m currently training for my first marathon (Manchester Marathon in April) to raise awareness and money for the Scoliosis Association UK (you can sponsor me here!)
I’ve been running regularly for a few years now, but before I started the marathon training, the furthest I’d ever ran, was a half marathon distance (13.1 miles).
The thought of upping the miles during the marathon training was (and still is!) very daunting.
I’ve been training now for about 10 weeks (you can follow my progress over on my Instagram or Strava) and have been doing long runs (10 miles +) every weekend. So far the longest training run I’ve done is 20 miles!
These long runs are still relatively new and scary to me as previously, the longest run I would have done in training would have been around 8-10 miles during half marathon training.
I think what I have very quickly realised, is that there is a lot to marathon training and it’s a big commitment. It’s more than just going out for a run. It affects your whole lifestyle, diet, sleep and personal commitments.
You need time to prepare properly and, perhaps more importantly, time to recover after each long run. Most people can’t just go out and run 16 miles without preparing the body and mind and also having the right equipment/kit.
Failing to prepare could result in injury or burning out during the run and not being able to complete it. Fail to prepare = prepare to fail!
My Top 10 Tips when Preparing for a Long Run
Running long distances takes it out of your body and so it’s very important to get as much rest as you can in the days leading up to the long run, as well as the night before.
Hydration is crucial when preparing for a long run, not just on the day of the run but on the days leading up to it. I would recommend drinking plenty of water and limiting alcohol intake in the days leading up to the long run (I personally wouldn’t have any alcohol the day/night before a long run).
I also use Hydration Tabs the day before and morning of a long run to ensure I’m as hydrated as possible.
It’s also important to carry enough water with you during a long run. I would recommend using a hydration vest rather than a running belt during long runs but this is something that is personal preference and can be experimented with during training. I find the vests comfier to wear than the running belts, which can bounce up and down and rub.
The hydration vest I have is the one below:
3. Carb Load and Nutrition
This is the part I like the most! In the days leading up to a long run, it’s important to eat high carbohydrate foods which will give you plenty of energy for the long run. I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to nutrition, I’m just sharing my own experiences, but I like to eat foods like porridge and pasta and try to up my calorie intake in the days leading up to a long run by eating extra snacks, such as bagels, nuts or fruit.
As well as upping the carbs, it’s important to eat healthy in general while marathon training, as running long distances in the cold and rain can give your immune system a battering. The last thing you want to do is get so run down that you catch a cold or virus which can set your training back.
Foods that I like and eat a lot of include:
- Oily Fish like mackerel and sardines
- Beans – Kidney beans etc
- Nuts and Seeds
- Protein Bars
Since marathon training, I have started taking cod liver oil, vitamin C and multi-vitamins. I also make my own protein shakes with protein powder, milk and creatine which can be good for muscle recovery.
I get my supplements from Bulk Powders.
My favourites are the Complete Multivitamin Complex, Vitamin C and the Protein Powders.
4. Plan your route (with others!) and break it up into sections
A useful tip is to plan your route the day before and familiarise yourself with it the night before so you know where you are going. There are many apps you can use to plan a route, a recent favourite of mine is Just Draw It or the Strava route builder is good.
Even better, if you are in a run club and can join in on organised training runs, or have friends to run with, even if they can join you for part of your run. Longer runs are so much better with other people than on your own, as you can keep each other motivated!
Another tip is to break your long run into sections so the thought of it is not so overwhelming. One tactic I have used in the past is the “Parkrun sandwich.” This is where I’ve ran to my local Parkrun, had a break, then ran Parkrun, had a break, then ran back home. Breaking the run into sections like this can really help it become less daunting.
5. Prepare your gear the night before
One thing I’ve quickly realised during marathon training, is how much gear is needed and how much you need to take on your long runs with you. I find it less stressful if I make a list and get it all ready the night before, which also saves time in the morning and leaves more time for warming up and stretches.
These are the items I would normally take with me:
- Running vest
- Headphones – I love the AfterShokz headphones, they are a lifesaver on long runs as they let you listen to music, and hear/chat to others.
- Some change/bank card just in case
- Fuel – energy gels, sweets etc
- Ibruprofen – running long distances HURTS
- Light waterproof running jacket
- Buff neckwarmer
- Ear warmer headband
- High vis and headtorch if you are going out early when it’s still dark
- Recovery drink to leave in the car – like a protein shake/lucozade
- Hoody/jacket to leave in the car
6. Have a good breakfast
I try to eat a good breakfast two hours before a long run (although some people would say an hour before is fine). I have always eaten about 2 hours before and this seems to work for me. If I have a long run early in the morning, I will normally prep some overnight oats the night before so that they are ready to eat in the morning. I will eat them a couple of hours before the run and then go back to bed for a bit. About half an hour or so before the run I would then have a small snack, like a banana.
It’s important to practice the breakfast routine during training and find out what foods and timings work for you, as everyone is different and has different preferences and pre-run rituals! If you find something that works for you during training, then stick to this on the day of the marathon.
Never try anything new food/nutrition wise on marathon day!
7. Warm Up and Stretch
It’s crucial to stretch regularly during marathon training – I really like Runners Yoga on YouTube. Regular stretching and also using a foam roller on your calves regularly can help to prevent tight sore muscles and injury.
Additionally it’s important to do some cross training and strength training on your glute muscles to build strength and avoid injury.
Just before a long run, it’s absolutely crucial to warm up to prevent injury. There are many YouTube videos on warm up exercises for runners. The ones I tend to do include a short walk/jog, leg swings, lunges and squats. It’s important not to do static stretches on cold muscles, these are best to do when cooling down.
I would recommend creating a pre-long run warm up routine that you can remember and sticking to it each time.
8. Practice your fuelling
Fuelling during long runs is important to prevent you from burning out and not having the energy to complete the run. The long training runs are an ideal time to practice fuelling, in terms of what works for you, ready for race day. There are many options and everyone has different preferences. I have tried many different energy gels and currently I quite like the Hi5 energy gels as I find them easier to swallow when running than some of the others.
Some people don’t like gels though and find that they upset their stomach. In this case you could try energy chews such as Bloks, energy bars or even just jelly babies.
I tend to have an energy gel every 4/5 miles and this seems to work for me. In between, I will have a few sweets like Sports Jelly Beans or Haribo. The main thing is, find what works for you and then stick to it on marathon day. Never try anything new on the day of the race!
9. Test your race day gear
Similar to the above section, the long runs give you the perfect opportunity to test the gear you are planning to use on race day and see how it feels. This should include your trainers, running vest/belt and running clothes. If anything starts to rub/chafe during training, consider trying something else before race day. If a running belt starts to rub during a 12 mile run, imagine how it would feel after 26!
Similarly, make sure you have enough space to fit all your gels/fuel and water in your belt/vest and if not consider trying another option. The training is all about trial and error, as it’s best not to try any new gear on race day.
10. Plan your pace: keep it SLOW and stay consistent
This is very important. The long runs during marathon training should be SLOW (for you) and at a consistent pace. It’s important to decide and agree (if running with others) what pace you’ll be doing your long run at and stick to it. It can be tempting to start out quick when you are feeling fresh, but remember, you have a long way to go and risk burning out or injury if you go too fast on these runs.
The long runs are more about building endurance and getting your body used to moving for a longer period of time. Therefore, they should be done at a speed where you feel comfortable and can talk. This will be different for everyone but a guide would be to aim to do these longer runs 1-2 mins slower per mile than your usual pace.
Post Long Run Recovery Tips
After a long run, it’s very important to recover properly, to reduce the risk of injury. I will write a separate post on this to add more detail but some things I do (or aim to) on the day (or days) following the long run include:
- Cool down and stretch – pretty much straight away after the run.
- Have a recovery shake – usually within 15 minutes or so of finishing the run. This will include milk, banana, protein powder and creatine.
- Yoga/Foam rolling – to help the sore muscles and calves
- Eat a recovery meal – with lots of protein and carbs
- Have a bubble bath – with lots of Epsom Salts to aid muscle repair
- Have a sports massage – if the run was especially intense, longer than usual or a race, I will usually have a sports massage in the days following the run. During marathon training, I have been having sports massages every few weeks to help break up the lactic acid (and it can also help prevent injury)
- Recovery walk – the day after the run, a recovery walk / light jog can help break up the lactic acid and prevent tight muscles.
Also, don’t forget to treat yourself – marathon training is a huge commitment and the long runs are tough on the mind and body!
It will hurt, but trust in your training that you got this.
So there you go, these are the things that I do prior to, during, and following a long run. If you made it this far, thank you and I hope you enjoyed/benefited in some way from the post.
Writing this has made me realise just how much is involved in marathon training and also, how much I actually know. I’m not an expert by any means though and these are just my views based on my own experiences.
I would love to hear your views, experiences and things that work for you in the comments below.
I’m running my first marathon to raise awareness and money for the Scoliosis Association UK, please sponsor me! You can do so here.
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I had scoliosis surgery in 2010 and blog about my experiences living with scoliosis. My aim is to raise awareness of scoliosis and help and inspire others with the condition.