Top Ten Ways to Screw Up Your Long Run
By Rick Morris
Your long run is the staple of your distance running diet. Those weekly or bi-weekly long efforts do a great job of improving your muscular endurance, metabolic stamina and mental toughness. Sounds all good – right? Well, maybe not. While the results of your long endurance runs are usually beneficial there is always a way to mess it up. We’re distance runners; we mess stuff up all the time. With that in mind, here are our top ten ways to screw up your long run.
The Need for Speed
There are three really good reasons for doing a long run. To improve your pure endurance, increase your mental toughness and the pure joy of running. A really bad reason is to improve your speed. Don’t do these long efforts at too fast or hard a pace. You will crash and burn before you reach your goal. You will also trash your muscles making quality runs in the near future an impossibility.
OK – You don’t want to go out too fast, but you don’t want to turtle it either. Long runs are easy efforts, but they aren’t a stroll in the park. Find the middle way for long run success. It’s also a good idea to include some goal pace running in a long run if you are training for a marathon or ultra marathon. So go easy but don’t go to sleep.
More is Better
We all want more. More is better – right? Not always! If your longest recent long run is 10 miles, it would probably be a mistake to go out and do a 30 miler. Make your increases in time or distance a bit more gradual. The middle way rule pays dividends here also. Increase your distance enough to provide a challenge and training stimulus but not so much that you destroy your body.
We love our running watches, don’t we? I used to, but several years ago I donated every watch I own to charity. I found that I was becoming an unthinking and unfeeling slave to the watch. This preoccupation with pace can do a great job of really screwing up your long run. Running by pace alone can send you along at a pace that is actually too fast for your current conditions. Heat, humidity, trail conditions, your stress level, your level of physical recovery and even the amount of sleep you got can affect how your body reacts to your long run. Instead of staring at your watch, stare at your inner voice. Listen to your body and your common sense. Run by feel to get the most out of your long run.
Flatten it Out
I have been a running coach for many years and one thing that I hear runners say over and over again is that they want to do their long runs on flat terrain. They really think that is wise to avoid over training or running at a level that is too hard. I think that flattening out your course does a great job of screwing up your long run for several reasons. First, very few races will have totally flat courses. Doing your long runs on only flat terrain doesn’t prepare you for the more rolling or hilly conditions. Second, running at a steady pace over flat terrain uses the same muscle fibers over and over again. Those nonstop muscle contractions end up in causing premature fatigue. Running on terrain with various inclines and surfaces will incorporate different muscle fibers giving your overworked muscles a brief respite to recover. Third, a course with incline and terrain changes keeps you more mentally motivated and alert. On the other hand you could sleep run through your long effort. That would do a first class job of screwing up your long run.
Follow the Leader
Distance running is a solitary event, but many athletes like to do their long runs with a friend or group of friends. There’s no question that running with a group provides some camaraderie and mental stimulation that makes the time pace more quickly. However, you can really screw up your long run if you follow some friends that are at a higher level than you are. You will run too fast and crash too soon. Even if you’re the fastest runner in your group, follow the leader can mess up your long run. You may consciously or subconsciously slow down to wait for your friends. Major mess up!
Follow the Fad
Some people love fads. I hate them! It must be the rebel in me. That being said there is one particular fad that does a world class job of screwing up your long run. That fad is the low carb eating fad. Despite what you may hear about low intensity long run pace burning mostly fat, you still need a tank full of carbohydrates for a long run. You need those carbs to fully burn the fat for fuel. If you don’t have enough carbs in your body, both your pace and your endurance will be circling the drain. You might even be lucky enough to burn up some muscle as your body attempts to compensate for your lack of sufficient carbs. A nice double whammy of screwing up your long run and your body.
We Just Don’t Drink Enough Water
I really get tired of people saying we just don’t drink enough water. Yep, it’s true that you need to stay hydrated, especially when doing a long run or running in high heat conditions. But you can become over hydrated. Drink only enough to replace lost fluids. Over hydrating with pure water can be an especially unpleasant problem during long runs. You are using up electrolytes in your body when you run. If you are replacing lost fluids with pure water you can become hyponatremic or have low blood sodium levels. Not only will that screw up your long run but it can become a very unpleasant and in severe cases, a life threatening condition. So only drink enough to replace lost fluids and be sure you consume a sports drink containing electrolytes during your longer efforts.
Many of us do our long runs on the weekends when we have a bit more time for running. That’s a great idea, with one small problem. Friday and Saturday nights are sometimes late ones that often involve body abusing partying. As a result we may get a late start on our long run after sleeping in. During cool and cold weather seasons you can get away with that, but during warmer weather those late starts can result in running in hot weather, especially during the most difficult final miles. That hot weather does a first rate job of screwing up your long run so maybe consider skipping the late night and the sleeping in. Get an early start with your long run and avoid the long run destroying heat.
One of my pet peeves is the pre long run carbo loading tradition. I don’t know how this myth got started but it has become ingrained into many runners heads (and stomach) that they need to eat massive quantities of carbs and other foods the night before a long run or marathon race. If you want to screw up your long run then by all means continue to chow down and pig out the night before your long run. You will be sluggish and inefficient during your long run. And that is only if you can stay out of the porta potty. Eat normal quantities of the foods you are accustom to eating the night before a long effort. You will be strong with a full fuel tank rather than bloated with an overstuffed tank.