This is Part 1 of a series about one of the hardest – but most important – training runs – The Long Slow Run.
In this article, I’m going to take you through how I do my long slow run. Plenty of advice out there will give you the low down on the science e.g. glycogen, heart rates and such. But often they are light on the practicalities. This post is going to discuss in some detail what I’ve found works for me. Or how I do the Long Slow Run.
The Long Slow Run: What is it good for?
The LSR is important as it trains your body to:
- stay running for long distances
- build the ‘strength’ in the legs needed to go the marathon distance
- practise pacing, hydration and fueling strategies
Without the long run, I don’t think I’d have the conditioning I need to go the marathon distance.
Where and when do I do my Long Slow Run
Time wise, it’s a big committment. Including getting ready, running and recovery, it can take 2-4 hours. That’s a good chunk of anyone’s day. That’s why I plan them for a Sunday. That’s my least busy day. I tend to run in early to mid afternoon. This is because I’m really not great in the mornings…
Personally, I prefer to keep to do this run on pavements and during the day time. This means I’m always well-lit and visible to other road users. Some people like to disappear into the hills, which is fine, but not my cup of tea. There is also the fact that I tend to run street marathons, so I like to ‘simulate’ this run on streets.
Let’s look at how I prepare.
Preparing for the LSR: Day before
On Saturdays, I make sure to indulge in a little light carbohydrate loading. Most of the time, I stick to a diet that’s light on wheat-based carbs. This is because I have discovered grain-based foods are bad for my digestion.
This means I now mostly avoid pastas, breads and rice. Where I can. However, for my running, Pasta is very efficient way of carb loading. Whatever I’m cooking for dinner before a long slow run day, I’ll try to mix in some whole wheat pasta.
I’ll explain later why putting extra fuel in the tank is important.
Day before: light exercise
Saturday’s usually the start of my running week. I tend to take Friday’s off to rest. What this means is I try to do a light run – usually 5-7k – at a relatively easy pace. I think of these as my shake out runs – seeing if everything still works! I also make sure to do a decent warm down – mixing in my Pilates with some stretching.
Preparing for the LSR: Sunday is Runday!
Wake up, stretch, put on my shoes and run…naah, not quite. I’m usually a slow riser on Sundays. I wake up and make some breakfast – an omelette or scrambled eggs – with coffee. Then, I wait at least four hours before getting ready for my run. Gives me time to get my chores done.
This means I have given my body fuel – in the form of a meal – and enough time for it to get out of my stomach. Once, early in my running career, I tried running after a large breakfast. It got a bit messy – I had to find a convenient bush to be sick into.
At least I was able to rinse my mouth clean afterwards from the water bottle.
Before I get dressed for the run, I do one important thing. I prepare my ‘chemical’ recovery foods. This is in two parts:
- an electrolytic recovery drink to re-hydrate with. I sweat like crazy and this restores the essential salts a body needs
- protein shake – if I know I won’t be able to eat within two hours of the end of my run, I prep one of these bad boys. Protein is important as soon as possible after the run to help rebuild your muscles.
I put them in the fridge and then forget about them till later.
Getting ready to go..
Getting dressed for a run isn’t that complicated. I use a ‘technical’ running tee-shirt. To me it means synthetic materials that are good at wicking the sweat away and don’t et heavy and clingy like cotton. They’re relatively cheap these days as well.
The most important part to cover properly is the feet. I’ve got odd feet. I wear two paris of running socks and size 14 trainers. Picking trainers is slightly – only slightly tricky and I’ll talk about them again. Here’s mine – beauties, are they not?
Finally, the last thing I need to wear is to protect me from two painful enemies: sweat and sun. If you are of a nervous disposition, skip the next paragraph as we’re talking about lube!
Chafed nipples are damn sore. They happen to me on longer runs (7k or above) when sweaty, sticky shirt abrades against my poor chest. To reduce the friction and avoid the pain, I use petroleum jelly – such as Vaseline. Some runners have to attend to other chafe-prone areas, such as crotch or pits. I’m sufficiently blessed with body hair in those spots for it not to be an issue.
If you skipped the last paragraph, it’s safe to return as we’re talking suncream. I use a good water-proof suncream that’s designed for sports use. As well as head, neck and shoulders, it’s good idea to make sure legs and arms are done. I once got sunburnt on the back of my knees because I missed them with cream.
I use a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch to track my run. You can use any number of apps on a smart phone. Word of caution. The reason I use a GPS watch is because of a mishap with my last smart phone. I was trying to turn off the app when it slipped and SMASH! Touch screen glass all over the Wokingham Road in Reading (just outside the George pub at Loddon Bridge). After that, I decided to invest in an entry-level GPS. I do a lot a running so I felt I could justify the expense. And I’ve not broken any more smart phones. Well, not while running.
Tying the laces – nearly out the door
For this run, I decided to write my run plan on my arm using a sharpie. It’s below the GPS watch in the photo.
I had some specific goals in mind for this particular run. They were:
- Match water intake to Christchurch Marathon watering stations (every 5k)
- Practise taking carb gels at 8k and stretch target of 16k
- Try to maintain average 5:30 mins/km pace
Writing this stuff on my arm with a Sharpie is crude – but effective. When I was into my run, I knew I’d struggle to remember the finer details but I could read my arm. If you look at the photo, you can see where I used sweat to smudge the figures and as a way of ticking each point off.
Water, water everywhere and too much to drink…?
I’m deliberately focusing on training around the marathon water stops. In my last couple of races, I brought water on my back in a Camelback And I reckon I overindulged. Not only did I really need to pee several times – costing me previous minutes – but it was extra weight and tiring weight. I plan to have a 750ml bottle with me on the run but not the 3l (and thus 3KG) of extra weight.
The marathon has the water stops at 5k intervals. The plan is to train myself to drink only at these water stops.
Is it time to start running yet?!
Few last bits and pieces – keys, iPod (listening to educational audio books instead of music at the moment. Two birds/one stone) and some cash in case I bonk and need to buy some snacks to get me home.
GPS on? Check. iPod on? Check. Keys? Check – (this did happen once. I came back to my house and realised I had forgotten my keys. I had to go and run for another 30 minutes before my flatmates were back in the house. I live alone now so I TRIPLE check). Time to start running!
In Part 2, I’ll talk about the long run and most importantly, about how to recover from them.