As runners start gearing up for Spring marathon training, many will find that the long run features as part of their traditional marathon training programme. As the distance increases and the time that it takes week-on-week, it’s easy to fear the long run.

The long run shouldn’t be feared, I was re-acquainted with the “Long Run” over the Summer through my training for September’s Berlin marathon and tried a few things to keep it fresh, interesting and most of all to help me enjoy it. Here’s a few tips and suggestions from my experience of the long run and the hours that I’ve spent marathon training. Hopefully there might be something to help you with yours…

parkrun

Start line at Kesgrave parkrun

parkrun is great (I think it’s so great that I wrote a blog post about it a little while ago)! It’s a free, weekly, timed 5km run that happens across the world at 9am every Saturday morning. All you need is your barcode to get a time, take a look at http://www.parkrun.org.uk for more information if you’re not familiar with the concept.

I’ve recently been finishing my long runs with a parkrun. Running with with friends and other runners is great after spending couple of hours out running alone. It’s also a perfect opportunity to inject a bit of speed into the long run, depending on how you want to pace it. When incorporating a parkrun I’ll adjust the time that I set off to ensure that I’m our of the door early enough to get in the required miles beforehand. If I’m running 20 miles I’ll need to cover at least 17 before I arrive at parkrun for 9am. Ensuring that I’m at parkrun for just before 9am adds to the challenge and makes the run interesting – pacing and route planning have to be spot on!

This also means that your long run is out of the way early in the day and you can spend the rest of the day with family, friends or doing whatever else you like to do on a Saturday!

For more variety you can also make the long run into a parkrun sandwich, with miles before and after. During my training for Berlin, I tried to run parkrun fairly hard to see how my legs cope with some added pace at the end of a long run in the hope that this would help me on marathon day – instead of my body getting used to fading at the end of the run, it would be used to be pushing on a little harder.

Podcasts

Headphones and App

Listening to music whilst running is one of those things where runners will always have mixed opinions. I don’t always listen to music when training, sometimes on easy runs I will but I find that fast paced sessions are hard to do on my own whilst listening to music. However, if I’m going to be out there for two or three hours then I’ll download music or podcasts onto my phone.

I find that songs and music can be a little hit or miss for me on the long run, depending on my mood! Ensuring that you have a playlist set up that is long enough for your entire run is essential to save you from having to sort it out mid-run. I sometimes find that music can become a bit repetitive or if it’s the wrong genre, it can really put me off. This is where podcasts come in… podcasts really take my mind off the running, listening to good and engaging conversation helps to capture my mind instead of just thinking about the running. Marathon Talk is a personal favourite of mine, but there are others out there and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about running, see what you can find on iTunes by searching for a subject that you enjoy.

You can also find various podcasts on the BBC iPlayer or audio books on Audible.

Explore new routes

Strava Route Builder

Do you often run the same route? Mix it up by looking for new routes. If you’re used to pounding the pavements, give trail running a go or vice-versa, you never know you might enjoy it!

Apps, such as the Strava route planner can help to identify footpaths and can be used for mapping out runs and calculating distance. The OS Maps app is also good for seeing where footpaths go and if you’re a subscriber of Trail Running Magazine, you get access for free. Play around with these apps and see what you can come up with, don’t be afraid to try new footpaths – as long as you can re-trace your footsteps, you’ll be fine, just be careful!

Run with others

Running with friends

Running with others can be so much more interesting than running on your own. If you’re used to doing a lot of solo-running, try finding someone of similar pace to run with. Having someone to run alongside, someone that you can laugh and chat with will make the run go much more quickly. When training for previous marathons, we have got a group of friends together of similar pace and all headed out early on Saturday mornings for our long run. The route is chosen by someone different each week to give it some variety and it’s possible to end up with six or more people keeping you company.

Recently in Strava’s best of “Powered by Strava apps“, Pace Match won the number one spot. You connect to the website via your Strava account and it identifies other runners who run your routes at a similar pace. I’m yet to give it a go so can’t vouch for the accuracy or how good it is, but thought I’d give it a mention as part of this section.

These are just a few tips and suggestions that have certainly made my long runs more varied and enjoyable. If you have any of your own suggestions, leave them in the comments below.