How Do You Get Through a Long Run?

The tweets, facebook updates, and blog posts have begun – all discussing fall marathons and the initial couple of weeks of training for these races. That means weekly long runs are starting – by mid-summer, there’ll be plenty of 20+ mile runs being completed in preparation for the upcoming races.

One question I’ve been asked repeatedly is how I get through long runs – week in and week out – without getting burned out.  When I was training for the NYC Marathon and the Knickerbocker 60k (concurrently), I had successful training runs up to 30 miles.

Long runs during marathon training are just as much based on mental strength as they are on physical strength (if not more).  So how do you mentally survive running 14+ miles every weekend for a few months??  Here are some things I do to get me through my long runs:

  • Break up the run.  Once the run begins, I try not to think about the total distance I have left to run until it’s well under half.  Being at mile 2 of a 22 mile run is a bit intimidating and can easily throw off your concentration.  When I ran 30 miles on my 30th birthday, I broke the run up into 6 – 5 mile increments.  I focused on 5 miles at a time (which coincided with a 5 mile loop that I was running on). Each time I finished five miles, I told myself that I only had to make it through the next 5 miles.  5 miles is totally manageable.
  • Concentrate on one mile at a time.  Focusing on just one mile and the pace I want to hit makes my goal pace seem more manageable. I tell myself that I have to run the next mile at x:xx pace – as soon as the mile clicks on my Garmin, I start working on the next mile.
  • DON’T be a slave to your Garmin.  Constantly looking at your pace and distance will make the miles drag on. One of my recent tricks is to keep my Garmin on the main display so all I see is the current time.  I get a vibrating notification when I finish a mile – that’s the only time I see my pace.  This may not work if you are trying to hit very specific times during your long run, but since I am running based on how I feel rather than pace, it doesn’t hinder my run.
  • Pick a new route.  I always enjoy runs where I am exploring or covering new terrain, so I often try to leave certain routes or areas alone during the week and save them for the weekend long run.  Just this past weekend, I ran a point-to-point route that I had yet to run – the miles FLEW by because I was enjoying my new surroundings.
  • Let your mind wander. Think about the rest of your day,  what you are going to eat/drink when the run is over, maybe an upcoming vacation or trip – whatever will keep your mind distracted.   When I was training for my first ultra, I had about 5 miles left of a 28 mile trail run – I was tired – and starting to get hungry (for real food – not just gels).  My husband was my roving support on his bike and told me that he would get me one of my favorite indulgent foods when we got back – KFC!!  That was all I needed to hear.  I spent the last few miles thinking about fried chicken, potato wedges, and biscuits.
  • Listen to Music. As I’ve discussed previously, I am a huge fan of having music on my runs.  It keeps my mind occupied and makes me happy.  For me, there is nothing better than when one of my favorite songs come on my IPOD and I get pumped up and pick up the pace during mile 20 of that long run.
  • Envision success.  Picture yourself running the last few miles of the marathon you are training for.  When I was training for the NYC Marathon, I did a few runs in Central Park to get used to the hills.  I ran the same route that the last few miles of NYC Marathon follows.  I envisioned myself coming into the park,  I saw and heard the crowds, I actually could feel the adrenaline of race day!  And would immediately get a boost of energy and excitement.
  • Allow time in your plan for rest/recovery/low mileage days. I follow the hard, hard, hard, easy rule for long runs.  For example, I’ll run 16, 18, 20 miles three weeks in a row followed by an easy or off week where I’ll run 10-12 miles.  The following week I’ll run 20, 22, 24 miles.  Knowing that I get that easy long run day helps me push myself through the current run.  Going back to my previous high mileage also gives me a buffer week in case I am sick, scheduling conflicts arise, or just need a week off from the long run.

In the end, do the things that you enjoy – if you prefer music over running “naked”, bring your IPOD; if you enjoy running alone vs with a group, then make it a solo run.  Make the run as enjoyable as possible for yourself !!

Do you do anything on long runs to help get you through the miles? 

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    49 thoughts on “How Do You Get Through a Long Run?

    1. I still have a hard time with this! Well before I’m even close to getting tired/worn out I actually get bored first!

      The best way I found to combat this boredom was planning a long run with stops in between that featured a physical activity or a scenic opportunity that would allow me to walk around.

    2. Great tips! I have yet to run a full marathon, but I ran a half and the training could get tedious at times. Not sure if I ever want to run a full, especially since I’m in nursing school & my training fell off last year. Having said that, I have started over (did 9.4 km yesterday and it felt great!), so never say never! My best feeling is when I’ve zoned out in my head so well that I’m not even feeling the kilometers pass me by! Love your blog!
      Karen Sugarpants recently posted..Where’s My Labia?My Profile

    3. I don’t run with music outside. I want to hear what is going on around me. Having music on prevents one from hearing approaching vehicles, dogs or others. Even during races, you can’t meet and talk with folks if you have earbuds in and music cranked. I know i’m the odd man out her but running with music is just not for me unless I’m on a treadmill. I listen for birds, and other wildlife and love what I hear. Other tips are spot on. Training for my 4th through 6th marathons.

    4. This is awesome advice! And it goes for any run, long or short, I think. For me, breaking up the run helps a lot, as does ‘running the mile I’m in’ because if I jump ahead and start thinking of further down the route, or the next hill or whatever, I get all mental. Or worse, I start thinking of the NEXT run and how tired my legs are. Not a good combo 😉
      jobo recently posted..A twist on the summer bucket list.My Profile

    5. Love your tips. I use a lot of them myself! Another thing that helps me is to think of the long run in terms of time, not miles. If I tell myself I am running for three hours (instead of 20 miles) it seems less daunting.
      I also enjoy podcasts and lately I’ve been listening to Ultrarunner Podcast. They have some great interviews (Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek to name a few) that are very interesting and informative.

    6. I’ve recently started training with a Garmin, so I still get a kick out of all the features, but I like the idea of using it just as a watch and listening to your body. I’m working on getting to that point.

      I LOVE my long runs. You have so much time to think. My usual mental progression on a long run: topics for blog posts, fantasizing about coaching my family (i.e. mom, sisters, cousins) to become runners, fantasizing about winning the lottery and what I would do with the money. You know, the real deep stuff of life.
      ama_runs recently posted..Goldilocks and the Marathon Training PlanMy Profile

    7. Currently I’m training for my first marathon. I have done several 1/2 marathons, so this going past 12-13 miles on one long run is just not something I can comprehend…yet; but I can see it, I can envision running 20 miles. Thank you for your tips; I don’t run with music outside because I live in a rural country setting and I dont like people or cars sneaking up behind me; I like to be really aware of my surroundings. My weekend long runs, I run with my partner @KSGrube who had ran two if the five 1/2 marathons with me. We are doing our first marathon together..and I’m excited!
      Jenni @skidoorn2000

    8. I love my long runs.. weird? maybe, but it if I go out for let’s say 10 miles, I am still very much in my head and thinking “I need to finish laundry” “My son needs to wear a blue shirt for PE on tues.” “My husband is a savant but can’t open a bag of chicken nuggets..WTF” things like that, but on runs longer than an hour I let it all go, it’s like a vacation for my brain, especially when I’m on the trails.
      Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..6 Summer Running EssentialsMy Profile

    9. Great ideas! My favorite thing for getting through a long run is just to zone out, quite honestly! I have enough craziness in my life, I don’t use my long runs as a time to feel pumped up or excited about anything. I let my mind wander like you do, and then I try to just let it go blank as much as possible. I like to call it “zen running”. 😛 Music often helps too, and I even sing out loud a lot. It sounds ridiculous to the other people on the trail, but I don’t really care and I claim it helps my breathing, hehe.
      Trinity recently posted..My niece, my next mary, and MizunoMy Profile

    10. I do a lot of what you do. I also like to “house hunt” on long runs and I vote on which ones I would buy/not buy. I do the same w/ holliday decorations.

      My other fave thing to do is write haikus. The only problem is I usually forget them by the time I get home.
      Lisa recently posted..Strange RunningMy Profile

    11. Great tips! I’ll have to keep them all in mind once I start putting on the miles :) I already know my current running route is going to get old fast, it’s a 4 mile loop but I’m hoping i can dip into Queens and do some exploring.

      • The 4 mile route may not be the worst thing to use for some of the long runs – you can have water and/or gels at a certain spot along the route that way you don’t have to carry everything with you! =)

    12. Great article, Michelle! I find breaking up my run is best for me and just letting my mind wander. The objective for my long runs is miles – so I only glance at my Garmin every once in awhile to see the miles, not the pace. Keep up the great work!

      • I got into a bad habit of literally staring at my Garmin for most of the run b/c I was so wrapped around the pace. While the pace is important, it’s not hte objective of the run (like you said)…I’m too tempted to keep staring at it which is why I only let the current time display! LOL

    13. Great tips, Michelle! I love the advice to break it into smaller segments. And I usually do not run with music, but am lately finding that I like it on longer runs- I’m able to zone out and not worry so much about pace or distance. I’m still unsure about a fall marathon, but am running with a group who is starting to train for one, so I might go along with them for now until I can decide!
      Laura recently posted..Do you incorporatre plyometrics?My Profile

      • YAY for a fall marathon! Haha =) YES – the music totally allows me to zone out. I sometimes sing alone to the songs or just get lost in the music and I just run at an even pace!!

    14. I had to tweet this. Everything on here is something I’ve used/done to get myself through the long runs. I can’t say, however, that music helps me. I used to run with my iPod all the time, but now the moment I put it on, my head feels clouded. I lose my concentration. My longest run will be 10 miles tomorrow (for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Longest Day cause), and I’m hoping that because it’ll be the hottest day of the year, of course, my husband will bike behind me so I can hit the pavement early. :)
      Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run recently posted..Monday Runspiration – 5 Weeks Out – We’re All FightersMy Profile

      • Thanks, Melissa!! Sometimes I shut the music off if I feel like I just want some time alone with my thoughts – or I’ll keep it really low so it’s more of background music =)
        Good Luck today!!!!!

    15. I do a lot of what you do, break up the run, use music, etc… I also will plan part of the run w/ a friend. Last year during my marathon training my friend was training for a half, so I’d go run 10 miles or whatever I needed to, and meet her for the last 10. I really enjoyed the alone time, but also looked forward to the company. The other thing I do is download podcasts – I get tired of my music from time to time and like to switch it up, I have a few podcasts that I enjoy and listen to them on long runs, that or books on tape. Then I bring out the music for races, and find that it really get’s me going to listen to music that I haven’t been hearing over and over again for months before a race.

      • The friend trick is a great idea – I should have mentioned that! I’ve done that with my husband before – my first 28 miler, I ran alone for the first 7, he ran the middle 14 with me, and then he followed me on his bike for the last 7. It was awesome and totally allowed me to break up the run in my head =)
        I’m going to look into the podcasts – so many people have suggested it! Thank you!

    16. I am TOTALLY taking your advice on breaking up the run into smaller increments — I have a 7 mile route that I LOVE. I plan to use that to get to my 14 and 21 mile training runs and if I can think of it as “just” my 7 miler, it’ll make each loop around feel far less daunting than thinking ok I’ve just run 7 miles of 21, oof. Awesome advice!!
      Jess recently posted..On hunger vs. habit.My Profile

      • A 7 mile route is fantastic to use for marathon training. Mine was 2.5 miles out and 2.5 miles back…so 5 miles total. I liked it b/c I always told myself that if I didn’t feel right or whatever, I could stop after 5, 10, 15, etc. There are usually times during the long runs where I plan to stop short (maybe at 15 instead of 20) and then when I get to the point where I either continue running or go home, I realize I feel okay and just tell myself I can run just 5 more miles. It works!!!
        PS. Love following your marathon training already =) =)

    17. I was just thinking about this last night as I was falling asleep! (Great minds think and MilePosts yesterday:-) I was thinking about the spring 2013 marathon Im planning on running in may. As I was laying in bed I was visualizing myself crossing the finish line in 3:30 (my goal time) and then I had this thought: Why do I always visualize the race and it’s “glory moments.” Why don’t I visualize the long runs? Think about the 20 milers I’ll be doing in the dead of winter, think about going at a slow steady pace, think about the route and what are some good 20 milers around our house. I was actually thinking of doing a post on visualization and how we often are told to visualize success in races, but never training runs. Maybe if we visualized the training runs we wouldn’t dread them so much? This is one thing I do the night before a long run. I visualize myself getting out of bed, getting dressed and getting out on the road. It helps me wake up in the morning and not make excuses and go back to bed.
      Sarah recently posted..Achieving Balance after BulimiaMy Profile

      • Sarah – you are so right. I do so much visualization for the marathon but don’t really spend too much time doing it for long runs – which is interesting b/c some of them are just as long (at least in time) as the race will be!!
        I am going to give this a try for my next long run (post-baby!) =)
        What spring marathon are you running?

        • I plan on running the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine the second to last weekend in May. It’s not to far from where we are, a small BQ with a great, fast course. It’s a smaller field so you can really run your own race without worrying about crowds. The only draw back is few spectators, but I’ve heard that the ones who do come out make up for it. And fewer spectators make for easier access for family members to the course.

          Sarah recently posted..Learning from Your TrainingMy Profile

    18. I agree with you completely. That is exactly what I do to get through a run. If I break it up (or run a new route and have no clue what the mileage is because I don’t have a Garmin). It is awesome. A new playlist is always a key as well. It’s hard to have the same song over and over to motivate you.
      Laura recently posted..Eating Wheat Free and Hitting the WeightsMy Profile

      • If I make a playlist, I play it over and over again until I’m literally sick of all the songs! One trick that I do now is just shuffle all the songs on my IPOD. I end up skipping quite a number of them but it’s like a new playlist for me each time I run =)

        • I have to use the shuffle option as well.

          I love refreshing my play list though. I love such a wide range of music. I use the Shazzam app on iphone. If I hear a song that I want to add, I tag it and it creates a list on my phone for me to download next time!
          Laura recently posted..My Fitness Bucket ListMy Profile

    19. I do a lot of the same things you do.

      Sometimes, I’ll even slip in a podcast or two to the playlist. I can get lost in a book on tape pretty easily and it can make the time fly!
      Katie @momslrb recently posted..As Seen On TVMy Profile

      • I haven’t tried podcasts yet but I’ve heard a lot of people mention them! My concern is that my mind often wanders when I’m running and I find that I tune out everything – even the music that I’m listening to…if I do that with a podcast, I feel like I’ll end up missing so much information!

      • It is for me too, Alex!! I often don’t make playlists – I just shuffle the songs so I’m surprised but what comes on. But I need my music! LOL

    20. Thanks now I’m craving KFC. LOL! But seriously great tips. I learned that breaking up long runs really do help me. In the past half marathons, when I was at mile 9 -10 and tired, I always thought about how easy it is to run a 5K so I mentally psyched myself out and so far have been able to run strong in the end. :) I hope it works for the full marathon!

      • HAHA. I know. Everytime I hear KFC, I crave it =)
        The 5k trick is a great idea – a 5k is a walk in the park so as long as you just tell yourself that’s all you have left to run, it seems more manageable! A lot of people I know break up the marathon into 3 parts – first 10, second 10, 10k…You’ll figure out what works best for you during the long runs!

        • Thanks I will definitely keep that in mind when I start hitting those long training runs and for the big day. eeekkk!!!

    21. I’m stuck in 6 miles, for the next miles there is no power anymore! :(
      Lately my stomach did not allow me to add some pace!.

      Thanks for sharing, that’s great information for me! :)

    22. I do a couple of things:
      -planned breaks every 45 minutes or so to have GU, Honey Stinger Chews, or whatever. I actually look forward to these!
      -listen to the NPR show This American Life for an hour. I can download the podcast and learn about something or hear funny stories which distract me.
      -plan vacations
      -plan blogposts in my head – if only I could figure out a way to remember then to actually write them later!
      fionarwbl recently posted..Hills and Long Run Hatin’My Profile

      • I should have mentioned blogposts!! I started doing that too when I started this blog =) I can’t tell you how many great posts I’ve written in my head only to return home and totally forget them! LOL