It's that time of year when people training for the Dublin Marathon will be doing their long runs. The long run is vital to any training programme from 5k to marathon.
People who run marathons generally are advised to do up to 20-mile runs in preparation. Yes, it must be done. The long run builds endurance and strength and teaches you how to cope with fatigue. It also builds mental toughness to help you manage the discomforts with running a marathon, and you can experiment with different fuelling options so that, when race day comes, you know what works best.
When I started training for my first marathon, I moved to Dublin. It was fun to meet a new challenge of running further than I had ever run before, but on the other hand, hours of long, slow running can get challenging if you are doing all of the training alone. I was lucky when I moved to Dublin to meet up with great people to train with and show me the different loops around the Phoenix Park.
Running with someone or with a group of people can make your long run much easier and the time goes by much quicker. You are less likely to skip a run if you know you are going to meet someone. Be careful though that you do your long run easy and don't get carried away with someone else's pace.
Long runs are time spent on your feet and you will get no medals for doing your long runs too fast. In saying that, you don't want to be doing your long runs with someone who is not running fast enough as you might not be reaching your potential. Become familiar with the pace that is right for you. I think it is a good idea doing smaller loops as it seems less daunting, rather than going for a point-to-point run. It allows you to leave water at a given point so that you are keeping hydrated. In the days leading up to your long run, pay close attention to your water intake so that you are well hydrated before you set out.
If you have children old enough, you could get them to go on their bike and they can keep you company and carry your water. An added bonus is that they are getting exercise too.
Practising fluid and nutrient intake during your hard training sessions is essential for race-day success. You need to practise the skill of drinking from a cup while running fast and you also need to train your stomach to handle liquids and perhaps gels without getting those dreaded cramps!
I recommend you mix group runs with solo ones. Stick with people when you are going really long and need the support and companionship. I am a great believer in doing some training on your own, so you can practise pacing yourself. It also helps you manage the fatigue and discomfort associated with racing and develops your own mental coping strategies.
Also, you need to make sure that you have eaten well. Sometimes people do a run without eating beforehand and this really will take from your performance.
When you complete your long runs in a glycogen-loaded state, you will increase the chance of completing the run to the best of your ability. Also increasing your carbohydrate intake before long runs helps with recovery after a run by reducing muscle fatigue and improves the consistency of your overall training.
Every now and again you can do a short run without eating, but in the long term, it is best to break the fast from the night before.
There is no doubt you are going to feel tired at stages of the long runs. Positive thinking can go a long way in helping you get to the end. You need a positive mental attitude going into these runs and distance running is much easier when you fuel your mind with positive mental thoughts. A lot of people like to let their minds wander when they run and that is okay to a certain extent, but a lack of focus can drain your energy.
Training for a marathon is a big commitment, but it will be well worth it when you cross that finish line in October.