By now, you’re probably ramping up your long runs in preparation for either the marathon or half marathon. Hopefully, everything is going great! But even if it is, it’s likely you’ve had at least one long run that didn’t go as well as you had hoped. Prepare for your next one by brushing up on some key long run challenges and solutions:
Dehydration: If you experience symptoms like lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, chills, constipation, dark urine, or slowing or stopping of the sweat rate during your long run, chances are you are becoming dehydrated. Follow these hydration guidelines:
- Every day: ½ ounce of water for every pound of body weight per day (includes liquid in food)
- Two to three hours before the long run: 17-20 ounces of water or electrolyte drink
- 10 to 20 minutes before the long run: 7-12 ounces water or sports drink (glycogen + electrolyte)
- During the long run: 7 to 10 ounces sports drink (glycogen + electrolyte) every 10 to 20 minutes
- Post-long run: Replace 120-150 percent of fluid loss with water or 100-125 percent of fluid loss with a sports drink (glycogen + electrolyte)
Heat/humidity: If you’re following the hydration guidelines and still experience dehydration symptoms, you may be trying to run in conditions that are dangerously warm and/or humid. Marathon performance degrades by at least 10 percent in temperatures over 85 degrees. Depending on the humidity, temperatures over 80 degrees can be dangerous for a long run, especially if you aren’t acclimated to the heat. If the long run forecast calls for these types of conditions, consider these options:
- Start early. Get the majority of your run in before the heat of the day. Avoid 80+ degree temperatures by starting at 5 or 6 a.m.
- Run on a different (cooler) day. Doing your long run a day or two earlier or later won’t ruin your training plan – just adjust your other runs that week accordingly. Remember, your long runs are most important in training for the marathon or half marathon, so adjusting other runs to have long run success is a good trade-off.
- Find a shaded route. Running in the shade helps you stay a little cooler on days that are hot, but not too hot.
- Run on an indoor track or treadmill. I know it’s boring, but at least you’ll have conditions under which you can finish your long run. If there are Excessive Heat Warnings (or Air Quality Alerts, especially if you have breathing issues), this may be your only option.
Low energy/fueling issues: If, during your long run, you feel hungry, irritable, shaky, dizzy or confused, you may not be fueling adequately to maintain your glycogen stores during the run. Follow these guidelines for long run fueling:
- Two hours before the long run: Eat a simple carbohydrate, low-fiber, low-protein snack, such as a bagel with a small amount of peanut butter. You’ll need to experiment a bit with the pre-run snack to see what works best for you and your digestive system.
- During the long run: Ingest 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour via a sports drink (glycogen + electrolyte). See the hydration recommendations above.
- Within 30 minutes of a long run: Refuel with a protein- and carbohydrate-rich snack, such as a fruit and yogurt smoothie or a bagel with peanut or almond butter.
Gastric distress/upset stomach: If you are getting nauseous or experiencing stomach cramps, diarrhea or constipation, you may need to adjust your pre-run eating. To avoid digestive upset during long runs, it is best to avoid sugar, high-fiber, lactose-containing dairy and dietary fat prior to your long runs, at least until you understand how your digestive system responds to these foods. During your run, keep your tummy happy by avoiding caffeine and excess sugar. Keep in mind that constipation can result from dehydration and that diarrhea can result from heat exposure.
Mental fatigue/boredom: If you’re just getting sick of running for so long and want to stop, you may be suffering from mental fatigue or boredom. To combat boredom, try these tips:
- Run with a group/running buddy. This can provide great distraction for you mentally and can help the time pass by more quickly.
- Try visualization. Visualize running in your actual goal race. Think about the supportive crowds and how proud you will be when you finish that race.
- Take a more interesting route. You may want to vary your long-run routes. If you are using the same trail as you ramp up your long run you may be getting bored with the course. Try a new route, but make sure you have a strategy for fueling and hydration based on that new course.
Running out of gas/pacing issues: If you are slowing considerably at the end of your long run, you may be starting out too fast. If you are a new marathoner and aren’t trying to do a specifically paced long run, start slower than your long run goal pace for a few miles. This should allow you to finish strong.
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