By Mark Enstone, Coach
As well as gently adding mileage to your legs, we can use our long runs for various other things too.
Firstly, they should be enjoyable, an opportunity to run with friends, or make friends, or, sometimes, the opposite, grab some quiet "me time" in a hectic week!
If you haven't raced recently, or haven't raced an 'A'-race recently, the approach of race day and its arrival can sometimes be a source of nervousness. Race day itself can bring enough new experiences as to be distracting to your actual running! One approach to lessening any adverse impacts of race day excitement is to do "dry-runs", or simulation, of race day. Practice the non-running aspects, as we practice the running aspects. One approach is to do other races beforehand, races we extend lesser importance to, B- or C- priority races. In addition, we can use our long runs to practice some of our marathon day, race day, pre-run regimen.
Before getting to the similarities, there are some differences between our weekly long runs and a race day, your marathon day:
1. You will be excited/nervous on race day and hopefully not nervous on long run day.
2. You will run your marathon at MGP, you will race it; you will not, need not, should not be racing your long runs. You should be doing them comfortably and easy.
3. You do not need to get to your long runs an hour or more before they start (10-15 minutes is ample).
4. Parking and meeting friends and family shouldn't be such a hassle at your long runs.
5. We have different nutrition goals during long runs vs. races.
Still, there are some similarities between race day and long run day. Given the adage of "nothing new on race day", long run day provides you a great opportunity to practice doing those common things. Then, come race day, many of your actions and activities will be familiar, comfortable, removing a source for some of the pre-race jitters, allowing you to focus on other important things:
1. Starting the day before a long run -- well, earlier and always, ideally -- make sure you are hydrated adequately.
2. The evening before a long run, eat a dinner that won't hamper your long run. This isn't the evening to experiment with that new ethnic restaurant you read about in the Chronicle or to eat deep fried protein, if that isn't normally what you eat.
3. Lay out your long run clothes before you go to bed.
4. Get to bed early.
5. Use the long runs to practice waking up early, eating shortly after waking up, handling any pre-run bathroom issues, getting out the door and to the long run on time. Being on time means less pre-race/run stress.
6. Use the long runs to practice drinking. This is one of those "see what works for you" issues. Use the long runs to see what your needs are. A rule of thumb is that one swallow is 1 ounce, so drink 4-8 ounces every 10-15 minutes. Weigh yourself pre- and post-run to make sure your water weight loss isn't indicating too much of a hydration deficit.
7. When the long runs get longer than about two hours, when you start to consume calories on the long run, practice/experiment with different options to, again, "see what works for you". The ingredients of different manufacturers' gels differ slightly, some flavors may be more palatable to you, or agree with your stomach better than others.
8. Use the long runs to get used to which of your running gear is best for longer runs. Shirts, shorts, jog bras, socks all fit slightly differently, some that are fine for track workouts, shorter easy runs, or even short long runs, might start to rub/chafe after, say, 10 miles, 12, 16 or 20 miles. The same is true for shoes. You might start to notice that one pair is better for you for longer long runs. Which socks/shoes give you blisters? Which don't? Or maybe, regardless of shoes/clothing, you notice you get chaffed on any long runs over, say, 14 miles. If so, now you know to use Body Glide for 14+ mile runs. Use the long runs to be observant, start to choose what you'll wear for your marathon.
9. Use the long runs to develop a habit of monitoring your body. Toes-up or head-down, run an inventory of yourself. Notice whether your eyes and face are relaxed, is your head in a neutral position, are neck and shoulders relaxed, are your hands gripped, flaying or relaxed, is your arm-swing nicely back and forward, symmetric, or waving all over the place, are your elbows at 90-degrees, is your core engaged, is your breathing easy, rhythmic, is your heart rate where it should be, is your stomach okay, are your hips rotating, is your gait symmetrical, how do your legs feel, your quads, your knees, calves, ankles, is your foot-strike mid-sole, is your cadence high enough, any hotspots developing on toes or feet?
10. Use your long runs to practice pacing and negative splitting. Run the final mile quicker than the first mile; the second half of the long run quicker than the first half -- achieved not by going ruinously fast to finish, but by going pleasantly easy to start.
11. I hate to mention it, but some races are not only putting "no iPod" rules into their race rules, but are actually enforcing those rules to the extent of DQ's (disqualifications). Given that, do you want to practice long runs without tunes?