Better in the long run…

The single most important run of the week when training for the marathon is the ‘long run’. Those of you who have read the past few posts know that my long runs hadn’t been going too well in recent weeks but I persevered. I am glad to report that the last two long runs have seen a substantial improvement in terms of my physical condition and my mental state.

Last Sunday I completed a strong 20.2mile run. It was my quickest 20m training run. Then on Saturday just passed I completed a ‘decent’ 18miler. This brought my total for that week to 50miles. So what is it that makes the long run so tough – no matter how many we do? How can we feel great for 14miles then have a shocking deterioration almost instantly? These questions fascinate me as do most physiological aspects of sport.

To complete worthwhile long runs runners have a lot to learn about their body and its reaction to various stages of a run. The only way to do this is to torture yourself with numerous painstaking long runs. There is no short cut.

I recently read an excellent article on nutrition in the days prior to a long run. The advice was not revolutionary but it certainly helped me. Essentially it said to pay much more attention to what we eat in the 24-48hrs prior to a run as opposed to worrying too much about the day or morning of the run. We should get our carbs in early to increase our bodies ability to store the glycogen needed to perform over long distances. We know this of course, but I was a little too preoccupied with what I ate on the day itself. So long as we don’t eat too heavily or do anything foolish the last dish shouldn’t really matter. It is the stores over the previous 48 hours that our body uses. This has been fairly liberating for me as I used to carefully choreograph what I ate on the morning of a race. Now I ensure that I eat less as opposed to over stuffing myself in the hours before a long run….safe in the knowledge that I ate the right stuff over the previous couple of days.

Thinking about what we eat the days prior to a long run should certainly see us through it, but of course we need to re-fuel during the run. This is often made to sound like a very simple formula and indeed it should be. For instance, we burn carbohydrates so we replace them with more carbs. We can only burn 60g per hour so don’t take more than this and so on. I take lucozade sport with me and some hi-five isogels. I have reduced the number of gels and keep them until relatively late on (e.g. mile 15 of a 20mile run) as I find they have a tendency to upset my stomach. The nutrition is taken on gradually to replace lost fluid and carbs as we go.

However, for most of us it far from simple. Our bodies are different. For instance, I need to take an energy drink from about 20mins in. Many people don’t need this until after the hour mark. Why am I different? I sweat bucketloads. Simple. So I need to replace the lost fluid. Secondly, I have to take a teaspoonful of salt in my energy drink. Why on earth would anyone do something so crazy? Simple, I sweat bucketloads and my sweat is particularly salty. We all have different levels of sodium in our sweat. If I lose loads of sodium I am further diluting it by taking on water or energy drinks (these only have a trace of sodium) and this can lead to cramps at best and severe illness in extreme cases. This caused me to feel very ill throughout the Dublin Marathon in 2010.

I learned what my body needs by doing my long runs. This is essential for adequate marathon training. Even now, training for marathon six, I am still working out what gives my body the best chance. For example, getting hydration right is key, but we can also over-hydrate. In short, no matter how you feel, get the long runs in every week. If it is going really badly look at it as a mental test as well as physical. Take careful mental note of how your body feels…Is it your legs? Is it your stomach? Do you feel heavy and lethargic? Finish the run and don’t feel despondent. Learn from it. Do things differently next time – starting in the days prior to the run. You will soon learn what works well for you

Don’t duck the 20 milers…it will be better in the long run 🙂

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2 Responses to Better in the long run…

  1. Henry Runs says:

    Great advice! I am training for my first half-marathon but I have wondered what kind of nutrition and hydration changes/additions I will need to make when I start going longer.

  2. Pingback: 2012 Renewal — Be smart with your water, electrolytes, and calories when going long distance « Run, Walk, Live in Springfield, Virginia

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