The Long Run Routine

Long runs are the back bone of any distance runner’s training. Whether you follow a fancy schmancy training schedule with more heart rate zones than you can shake your Garmin at, or you prefer a more minimalist approach to your training, if you’re training for a distance event you should be long-running.

In a typical training plan long runs increase by a mile or two each week and peak a few weeks before your race day. For marathons, the longest long run tends to be no more than 22 miles, and in most instances it is no more than 20. Advanced half marathon schedules will peak at 14 or 15 miles, but beginners rarely exceed 10. And for a 10K runner 5-8 miles is often sufficient.

How long a long run is therefore is actually pretty subjective. For example, when I ran my first 10K the furthest I had run in training was 5 miles. Even then, I only did it once and the distance seemed truly epic. I didn’t have a watch with me that evening and I remember walking home past some al fresco diners, asking for the time, and disbelievingly calculating that what felt like forever had only been about 50 minutes.

Now I run 5 miles before breakfast and think nothing of it, but if most of your workouts are less than 5km, as mine were back then, 5 miles will not only feel like a really long distance – it’ll also seem like it’s taking a really long time. I’ve read a lot of blog posts from people who hate their long runs – the Fair Weather Runner is one that immediately springs to mind – and it’s this issue of time that pops up most frequently.

I also used to hate the long runs, mostly because I resented the time they took up in my weekend. But if you want to run long you need to train long, and so I developed my Long Run Routine. By developing a Long Run Routine those pesky long runs became occasions that my week moved towards, rather than obstacles in my weekend that I wished I could avoid.

My marathon training is cranking up a notch this week, and I’m preparing for my highest ever weekly mileage and my longest ever run (16 miles) next week. I think that my LRR is going to be more important than ever over the next few months, so if you have any suggestions for me to add to it do let me know. Here is the my Long Run Routine as it currently stands though:

1. Timing is everything
In my Long Run Routine timing really is everything. Unless I want the long run to dominate the day, it has to start early, and unless I want to run on 5 hours sleep, I have to get to bed early the night before.

It may sound a bit boring, but if I go to bed a little earlier the night before a long run I go to bed thinking about my run. This tends to result in me waking up totally in the zone. It also means that I wake up in plenty of time to get myself fed and watered and ready to go.

2. Carb loading isn’t just for race day
I carb load for my long runs, just like I would for a race, but on a smaller scale. Dinner the night before tends to be a meal that I know I can comfortably run on and I eat it at a time that I know works well for me (7pm-ish). I also have a breakfast very much like a race day breakfast:

  • porridge and a cup of tea 2 hours before running anything over 10 miles. 1 hour before if running anything less than 10 miles.
  • a bagel or wholemeal muffin 1 hour before running anything over 10 miles
  • pint of water and a cup of coffee to be finished before 45 minutes before running
  • few sips of water before leaving the house

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Lots of magazines and websites recommend using long runs as a chance to test your race day breakfasts, but I eat a race day breakfast purely because I know it’s enough to keep hunger at bay during the run! I don’t want to be ducking into Greggs at mile 11, do I?

From this week I have started taking gels out with me too, but more on that in another post.

3. Destination Known

Unless you’re nomadic at heart, it’s unlikely that you will enjoy a directionless run once you start to get tired. Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring my neighbourhood as much as the next person, but when I’m going on a long run I want to know exactly where I’m going. When I have a definite route I feel more able to push through the discomfort and finish the run. Having a definite route also means that I’m less likely to end up stranded in the suburbs, negotiating public transport home in sweaty clobber and letting my legs seize up on the back seat of the bus.

Yeah, that happened.

In the days before a long run I will plan exactly where I am going. There are plenty of route mapping websites that you can use to plot a route, check its distance and elevation profile. I use Map My Run (they also have a cycling sister site, Map My Ride, and your profiles will link), but have previously used Walk Jog Run. There is also a new running route site called Running Routes. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it seems pretty user friendly. All of these sites have a search function, so if you’re stuck for ideas about where to go you can browse routes that fellow runners have already logged in your area. You can also share your routes via the usual social media channels should you wish.

Once I’ve got my route I need to know where I’m going, of course. I don’t like to stop during the run to check maps on my phone so I keep it old school and write it on my hand. This has got a bit ridiculous in the past though…

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4. A purposeful plod
My long run routes are not incidental paths around London – they all have a purpose. It’s one of my techniques for dragging my ass along them. If I’ve had a week of tough hill sessions, I’ll run a flat route to the Thames. If my week has included a lot of threshold work on the flat then I suck it up and spend a couple of hours running over the hills of North London. If I’ve been stuck in the office all week I’ll be sure to weave through the parks. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of London life I run at an appalling early hour and check out as many tourist attractions as possible in an attempt to reclaim the city and remember why I love it so much.

When my run has a purpose beyond simply plodding I never cut it short.

In the past I have also given them a more tangible purpose and have literally run my errands. I’m not kidding. I’ve run 11 miles to a lunch date with a friend and I’ve run loops that finish at the supermarket so that I can pick up the groceries.

5. Recovery routine
I have learned that recovery is essential after a long run. I’m a bit of a zombie when I get home and it normally takes an hour or so to be in shape for any activity that requires focus and concentration. When time is of the essence it’s important to remember that the quicker you recover, the quicker you can get on with your day.

Sleep and rest is essential to recovery and I know a fair few runners who nap after their long runs. I occasionally do, but am not really much of a napper. Instead I tend to neck some chocolate milk, run a bath, put some dinner in the oven while I’m in the tub, get into some fresh clothes, have a quick nap if absolutely necessary, eat, and then get on with my day feeling smug. Previously I have combined some of these activities and eaten ice cream in the bath (relaxing? check. protein? carbs? check and check.) I’ve also started making my own recovery smoothies by blending a banana, milk, cocoa powder and ground almond. Mmmm…

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Do you love or loathe your long runs? How do you all get psyched up for them and how do you wind down afterwards? And do you have any advice for me as my long runs get longer?…

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6 responses to “The Long Run Routine

  1. I would say, Never underestimate the power of the ICE BATH!!! I am actually too chicken to put any ice in it, I find cold from the tap is bearable and still really helps. When you get up to 18 – 20 miles your body takes much longer to recover and that’s when you might find yourself considering the possibility. I wish you all the best with your first Marathon..

    • I know you’re right, but I don’t want to do it! I once cycled really far to the seaside, jumped straight in the sea and was the only one from our group to not have aching legs the next day, so I’m sure ice baths work, but… brrrr…

      How long would I need to stay in it? Make it quick, please!

      • I count to 30 seconds and that seems to be enough. Your experience after the cycle proves there is something in it!
        See how you feel after your 16 miles, you’ll know if you need to do it.
        Good luck

  2. I envy you your Long Run Routine! My running schedule often has to fit around my kids’ schedules, so I have to just do it when and where life allows! I’ve done a few 32km long runs on the treadmill in the past, when my husband was travelling for work and the kids were tucked into bed at night. Finishing up a long run at midnight is never fun, especially when you wake up super stiff the next day! Ah, whatever it takes to get ‘er done, right?! I’ve never gone to ice bath route, I’m more of a snack, soak, and relax in comfy temps kind of girl!

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