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10 Secrets to a Successful Long Run

August 23, 2010

No photographers on my weekend's long run, but this is me in signature capris (see #4) on a rockin' good run--Eugene Marathon 2009--when I set my 26.2 PR

Just call me the Britney Spears of running as, ooops, I did it again: Ran longer than intended. Got myself all turned around in a hilly, deserted cemetery and ended up running 20.5 miles instead of scheduled 18. Yet I felt great on the run and afterward. It got me thinking about what I’d done so I could repeat it on other go-long forays leading up to the Portland Marathon. Here are my top 10 secrets to success.

#1: Ate well and didn’t get parched the day before. I always pay close attention to my night-before dinner selection (this time I loaded up on pesto-pasta salad at potluck picnic for twins’ preschool graduation), but this time I also had a protein- and fruit-packed smoothie and several big bottles of nuun-flavored water during the day.

#2 No booze. I think a glass of vino or a beer the night before a long run is fine for some folks. But I rarely drink and it messes with my sleep, so I teetotaled.

#3 Got plenty of shut-eye. I wanted to stay up with Jack, instead I hit the hay at 9:45 p.m.

#4 Wore capris. You know me: I love my skirts dearly. But I find even the best lubing efforts can’t keep chub-rub in check much past 16 miles. Lucky for me, it was somewhat chilly and overcast most of the run, so I didn’t overheat.

#5 Remembered to chomp caffeinated gum for 10 minutes before hitting the road. Studies have shown caffeine reduces perception of pain in athletes. I don’t normally ingest caffeine, except before a race or long run. I’m a believer.

#6 Stayed well hydrated and fueled during the run. I had two 10.5-ounce bottles on my Amphipod belt, and I stopped at two water fountains to refill them.

#7 Splashed water on my forearms and face at those blessed fountains. Few things make me feel more refreshed and reinvigorated than getting the sweat off my arms and face. Ahhh!

#8 Started refueling as soon as I walked in the backdoor, including having a new favorite—chocolate soymilk with Whole Foods soy powder in it. I put it in a water bottle and shake it for all I’m worth, making it seem almost like a frothy shake. Followed that up with toast and jam, then a banana with almond butter.

#9 Wore a pair of 2XU Compression Leggings all day (under jeans) and part of the night. Oh, yeah, I rocked the look, let me tell ya… But I’m a believer in compression socks or thigh-highs for recovery.

#10 Kept a positive attitude. About eight miles into the run—after climbing steady hills for nearly four miles and before getting sorta-lost—a feeling came over me, and I knew I had the run in the bag. I literally said to myself, outloud: “The hard part is over. Just maintain, and you are golden.”

What are your proven tools of success on challenging runs?

41 Comments leave one →
  1. KarenM permalink
    August 23, 2010 7:56 am

    Don’t have any tips (you’ve covered all of mine!), but wanted to say that I love running in cemeteries! We have a cemetery here that dates back to the Civil War and I love running in there – it’s beautiful, shaded, hilly, and no traffic!

  2. August 23, 2010 8:36 am

    Those are great tips! Great job on the run…and going the extra miles. Where do you do your long runs in Portland. I did 18 miles at Lief Erickson trail…it was tough.

    I will for sure being looking at the list and doing some of them I haven’t in the past before my next long run. Thanks again.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 2:48 pm

      Great job on doing 18 on Leif. Isn’t it FUN to feel a part of the lead-up to Portland Marathon? Running on Saturday, I felt like part of a movement or something. It was very motivating.

  3. August 23, 2010 8:38 am

    Thanks for the tip, never heard about the caffeinated gum before.

    • Mari C. permalink
      September 15, 2010 2:33 am

      Me too… I love gum and coffee so what a great combo;-) I will definitely try on my first Half Marathon this month:-) Great tip…

  4. August 23, 2010 9:13 am

    Because my longest run to date is 6.3, I don’t really have any usable tips. Sure, I could tell you how I stuff Kleenex into my sports bra for easy retrieval for nose blowing, or how Jack Black’s version of “It’s a Long Way to the Top” always laugh out loud at the 5-mile mark, but how useful are those as tips, really?

    I will say, however, from this day forward, I will only refer to you as Leggy Bowen Shea.

    p.s. I know you’re holding a gel in your hands in the awesome race day shot, but from a distance, I thought you were carrying a gold chalice, possibly full of Crunk, ala Lil John. And I thought: she is SUCH a bad ass.

    • August 23, 2010 9:14 am

      …always MAKES me laugh out loud, it should read.

    • August 23, 2010 10:35 am

      Cathy- Remind me not to read your comments when I’m in a meeting! I have the visual of you pulling out the Kleenex (which I’ve seen you do without missing a beat, by the way). And I can’t help but think of stuffing my bra, a la junior high days….

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 2:50 pm

      As usual, CZ, you are slaying me! I’m not a bad ass: Just very determined. Also, realized at mile 14 the predicament I was in and that there was NO shorter way home. So I just decided I wouldn’t look at my Garmin very often b/c KNOWING the overshot mileage only made matters worse.

      And when we meet, I’ll be sure not to hug you TOO hard, for fear I’ll smoosh your stuffed boobs! “:>)

  5. Michelle permalink
    August 23, 2010 9:15 am

    Great tips! I’m in full agreement with you on them, especially #4 – I’ve had that exact same experience. Just getting out the door is the hardest part of a long run to me. Once I’m out there I just turn on the auto-pilot. I do like to listen to This American Life for the first half of a long run, and then music for the second half. The change-up helps, and when I turn on the music it always puts a little extra spring in my step.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 2:51 pm

      I was allllllll about mixing up what I listened to on Saturday. Almost to the point of obsessign about it. Realized toward the end that as MUCH as I love the brothers, “Car Talk” does not help me keep my pace up. I switched to Kid Rock (as in, the skanky musician) and suddenly I was running nearly tempo pace! (Granted, it was only half-mile from my digs…)

  6. August 23, 2010 9:32 am

    Love the tips.

    Right now my biggest tip is rest. On day #106 of my streak, I am beginning to feel the need for some. I think it’s a mental tireness mostly but it is a reminder that cross training is a way to stay active everyday without fatiguing the body. Soon I will have to fight against my entrenched habit and NOT run that day but crosstrain.

    If you create a habit in 21 days, you create an obession in 106!

  7. August 23, 2010 9:40 am

    So far, my best tip for long runs is to have a partner. I know my limits and my limits are long runs by myself. I can do them but I don’t enjoy them. I don’t want to run when I don’t enjoy myself (at least not over 6 miles LOL) so I definitely prefer long runs with someone (aka my husband).

  8. karen permalink
    August 23, 2010 9:49 am

    I think of like a topic for the day. So for instance today my firstborn started Kindergarten so I thought of him and what I needed to do and how fast he has grown up—tomorrow it might be what I need at the store or what to buy for my Dad for his bday. It sounds lame-o but when I need a distraction from the pounding, its there. I also HAVE to have a 150 cal snack before a run and I need my ipod with podcasts (adam corrola, and the one that rips on the Food network). I like sections of my run, the thought section, the dancing/rapping to music in my head section, the spacing out section, the laughing at a podcast section and finally the what do I get to eat when I get home section. Makes it all do-able. Thanks for the gum tip-stoked to try it.

  9. Heidi permalink
    August 23, 2010 10:44 am

    For me, not thinking about the distance on the super long runs makes them bearable. If, at the beginning of the run, I let the thought that I will be doing 18-22 miles creep into my mind, I notice every twinge, ache, discomfort, bug – you name it – and I suffer and hate it and wonder why in the world I ever started doing this. But if I zone out and only focus on getting through the next mile or over the next hill or whatever, I can find my zen place and it is so much more doable. This summer I did a lot of super long runs in the heat, and by not focusing on the distance or how much further I had to go, they seemed easier and more painless than ever before.

    • Rosalyn permalink
      August 23, 2010 5:20 pm

      This seems so common sense after thinking about it, but Im super excited for my run tomorrow just so I can try this!!!! I love the effects of running. How it makes me feel accomplished, how I know I have done something great for my body, BUT I HATE almost every minute of it. Im constantly trying to talk myself out of it but I think these tips will help me greatly!

  10. August 23, 2010 11:14 am

    Great tips! I think you’ve got it covered. I’ll add that I go into long-run day with my head totally around the distance. I make myself believe 20’s gonna happen before I take the first step that way I don’t try to weasel out of some of it.

  11. August 23, 2010 12:02 pm

    Sarah you are a rock star! For me, a successful long run requires a really good iPod mix, preferably a new mix I haven’t listened to a bunch of times already, with lots of upbeat, fast music (the more britney and madonna, the better).

  12. August 23, 2010 12:28 pm

    Congrats! For me, apparently, the key to a great long run is knowing that some lady on the other side of the country is going out there for a very similar effort with very similar goals. Cheers, SBS! Let’s continue to rock this fall marathon training.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 2:54 pm

      Yeah, baby!! Fist-pump of solidarity from 3,000 miles away.

      And, all jokes aside: I honestly DO think of RLAMers while I run, and race. Pre-book, I vividly remember thinking of inspiring emails some of our earlier followers sent me. Like Mary in Louisianna telling me the marathon was a 26.2-mile victory lap celebrating all my hard training.

      This virtual community bolsters us all “:>)

  13. August 23, 2010 12:54 pm

    Sweet. Glad you had a such a great run. I’m working up to a half at the end of Oct. and am having a harder time with the mid-week longer runs. Today a friend joined me and that got me over the hump!

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 3:37 pm

      Sarah Jane–
      I hear ya: I also find mid-week long runs the toughest. Something about 10 miles on a Thursday just feels kinda wrong…

  14. Michelle permalink
    August 23, 2010 2:14 pm

    podcasts! why had i not thought of podcasts??
    now, if the humidity would just. go. away., i could run like the wind.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      August 23, 2010 3:37 pm

      Ohmygoodness, Michelle, you and I are cut from the same cloth: I didn’t clue into podcasts until this round of marathon training. Now I SWEAR by them, doling them out like treats on certain runs! “;>)

  15. Terzah permalink
    August 23, 2010 3:59 pm

    I loved this post. I’m going to print it out and hang it in my bathroom for inspiration/reminders.

  16. August 23, 2010 4:28 pm

    Yes, podcasts! Wait Wait don’t tell me is GREAT, except I often laugh at unfortunate moments (let’s say, running past a church right after a funeral with all the people standing around….oops).

    My other tip is just to underline another of Sarah’s….that eating carbs the day before makes a big difference. An extra biscuit (or three), bread at dinner, etc. Especially when it’s over 10 miles.

    Mostly I love long runs because they give me an excuse to go at a slow and comfortable pace, and just enjoy the day and my run.

  17. August 23, 2010 5:17 pm

    Loved this!

    I try not to focus on the total mileage and instead focus on small portions at a time. The span of a song,making it to the next major marker,enjoying my surroundings,etc.

    I am now a compression convert. I’ve been sporting compression socks after my long runs and I feel like my legs feel fresh MUCH quicker.

    P.s. Check out The Boring Runner podcasts on itunes or podbean. He is pretty new to podcasts,but does a great job and always includes some peppy music.

  18. Rosalyn permalink
    August 23, 2010 5:22 pm

    Podcast, what a GREAT topic. Which ones do you listen to when you are running. I dont have any so which ones do you recommend!!!

    • Rhonda permalink
      August 23, 2010 6:03 pm

      When I was training for the Avon 2 day, I swore by podcasts. Wait Wait, Fresh Air, Selected Shorts are my favorites. I’m going to have to try it for running. I haven’t run 45 minutes yet, but I may be able to do it with podcasts.

      • Jackie permalink
        August 23, 2010 6:24 pm

        Yay for walkers!!! I started my obsession with endurance events with the Breast Cancer 3 Day. Now I’m all about the running, but it began with the walking. You are going to do great. Keep on running 🙂

    • Robin permalink
      August 23, 2010 9:23 pm

      Love “This American Life”

  19. Gloria permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:05 pm

    I just found out that I can download audio books free from my local library. I am so excited to combine running and “reading,” two of my favorite things, on long runs.

  20. Rhonda permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:10 pm

    Maybe there should be a RLAM podcast. . .just throwing it out there.

  21. julie permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:23 pm

    Hey – those are great tips! I have my firrst 20 miler this Sunday. I’m getting that gum. Now, what are those arm sleeve thingys your are wearing in that photo, please? I wear capris too, and despite my best slathering of bodyglide, I still chafe under my arms. It’s starting to really get to me. I would love to have some sleeves to help with that. I didn’t know about them.

  22. Jackie permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:26 pm

    I run for the snacks! I pop shot bloks at 45 minutes & every 30 after (with lots of water) & then around mile 13 I do some “real food” (my trainer’s words) such as part of a Clif bar. Breaking it into smaller segments has made my long runs really doable.

  23. joanne godfrey permalink
    August 23, 2010 7:39 pm

    the memories of past long runs/successful runs and how it made me feel and those who i have seen run their best (big sur) and PR (eugene) (ahem, sbs) keep me motivated and smiling….kinda like a staircase building up to more…

  24. KathyinMN permalink
    August 23, 2010 8:00 pm

    #10 rings true for me. There is usually a point on my long run where I know I have it. I also am a believer in caffeine and I rarely drink alcohol during my heavy training months. And Podcasts are my savior. Love Joe Rogan, Bill Simmon’s sports report and a host of others that make me laugh out loud during my runs. If I had to listen to the same play mix I’d go batty. And for treadmill days-I’d like to thank Survivor, Project Runway, Top Chef and the Amazing Race for giving me something to watch that allows me to run 13+ inside when I need to.

  25. August 23, 2010 9:56 pm

    Agreed! I chew gum on the morning of a race – more because it is morning than any other reason. I recently learned that peppermint soathes the stomach. Now, even though it may be psychological, I have to chew my minty gum to calm any fears that my stomach may react during the race.

  26. sarah permalink
    August 24, 2010 4:39 pm

    Thanks for the great post! Super tips I should be more mindful of. I will be paying more attention to these for Hood to Coast. Keep up the awesome blog, for runners, by runners…thanks RLAMer SBS!!!

  27. August 25, 2010 11:01 am

    I’m going to try a podcast this weekend for sure! I’m all about trying those compression leggings! i love my socks and I’m always wishing they went a little bit higher!!

    Part of what gets me through a long run is when I’ve knocked off several miles I think if I quit I’m just going to have to start over the next day and run the full distance… might as well keep going since I got through a lot of it!!

    I too, am motivated in knowing you guys are out there training the same distance!!

  28. August 30, 2010 11:36 pm

    Having the right fuel during the run… I’m in love with Honey Stingers right now, both the gel and chomps. YUM and no upset tummy since Honey is my go to morning fuel (usually on Sweet potatoes or apples and even sometimes in my oatmeal) but I just tried Chocolate #9 and other than the chocolate that ends up all over my hangs (you look like a total nerd licking your hands too but why let Belgium chocolate and agave go to waste?).

    ALSO if you are planning a long run by yourself maybe ask a friend to be your bike assistant. My friend Jen is going to cruise on my cruiser on Friday while I pump out 12 miles before we head to the mountains for a weekend of lake play.

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