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Beyond the marathon distance, 50k and 50-mile running events are where most people with ultramarathon aspirations begin.
All ultramarathon training programs involve incrementally increasing the distance of your long runs.
The training plan I recently followed for a 12-hour running event included doing several 20+ mile runs, consecutive weekends of running the marathon distance, and a couple runs over 30 miles.
Tips For Longer Training Runs
When doing long training runs there are no aid stations with sports drinks, food and fuel like an organized running event. You’re on your own.
If possible, it’s a good idea to get involved in a local running club. These clubs often organize long training runs with aid stations. But let’s assume this is not an option or that you will be doing most of your long runs without the luxury of aid stations.
If you are doing a 20, 25, or 30-mile training run, what choice do you have other than to carry as much hydration drink, food and fuel as you possibly can?
There are a couple other ways of approaching this without getting yourself too weighed down during long distance running.
Option #1: Break Down Your Long Run Into Loops
Let’s say you’re doing a training run of 25 miles. Break down the run into smaller loops, perhaps 6 to 8 miles long. The starting and ending point for each loop should be your parked car — where you will have everything you need. After running each loop, you can hydrate and fuel up as needed at your car. In this scenario, you only have to carry on your body the hydration or fuel you need to make it through one loop.
Here are some useful items to have in your car for your loops on long training runs:
- Hydration and fuel items – water, electrolyte drinks, food and energy gels, recovery drinks, and any other fueling items you may use.
- Cooler – one of the advantages of doing loops is the use of a cooler where you can keep your water and drinks cold. Trust me, drinking lukewarm sports drinks on a long training run is nasty. Having access to cold drinks and being able to pour cold water over your head on a hot day helps refresh you after each loop.
- Change of clothes – I always bring an extra shirt and socks on long runs. You don’t want to be running long in shirts and socks that are drenched in sweat. It helps to have something dry to change into on long runs. A change of clothes may also come in handy on a day that you are caught in the rain.
- Towels – it can be useful to douse a sports towel in cold water and use it to cool off your body. Having a dry towel is also useful for drying off between your loops and cleaning up after a long run.
- First aid kit – you never know when you’ll need the basics like a blister bandage or Neosporin. Having a runner’s first aid kit on hand ensures that you’re always prepared.
- Recovery drinks or fuel – start your nutrition recovery immediately after a long run. Don’t wait until you get home. Throw a chocolate milk in your cooler, bring along a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or whatever your recovery nutrition of choice is.
- Toilet paper – you never know when you might need it. By the way, when doing long training runs, it helps to know where the bathrooms or port-a-potties are along the route.
- Sandwich bags – if you’re carrying a phone in your pocket or fuel belt, bring along some Ziploc bags to put your phone in. This will protect it from sweat and rain.
My long training runs have always gone much better by using this loop strategy.
Don’t make the loops too long — which defeats the purpose of staying hydrated and fueled up.
Be as creative as you want to. Change up the loops that you run, but stick to the plan in terms of mileage for each loop.
Though all your drinks and fuel are in the car, that doesn’t mean you have to linger and waste time there. Get what you need and then get on to your next loop. Rather than standing around and hydrating and fueling, grab what you need and start walking as you drink and eat. Keep moving!
Option #2: Pack Smarter
There are also a few things you can do to pack lighter and last longer on long training runs:
- It doesn’t take much room to carry a bottle of electrolyte tablets in your fuel belt. This can be a useful option if you know where there’s a water source (like a water fountain) on your route.
- Check the distance ahead of time, and organize your long training runs so a water source can be accessed to refill your hydration bottles. Sports gels like GUs are small in size but big in delivering energy to your muscles on long runs.
- For something more substantial, pick yourself up a Clif Bar or something similar for a snack along the way.
And Always… Have Fun!
Here are a few final tips for making your long training runs more enjoyable:
- Make a special long run playlist and listen to the music you love while you run.
- Plan a post-run reward like a nutritious but yummy meal or treat.
- Announce your long runs on Facebook, and feel good about what you are accomplishing in your training.
- Make post-run plans with your friends as something to look forward to after your run.
- After a long training run, don’t feel bad about staying in, taking a nap, and vegging out in whatever way is good for you.
I’m over 40 years old, but I don’t give up easily. It wasn’t too long ago that I was exploring the idea of doing my first triathlon. If I can do it, you can too! I'm proof that with a little determination and training, you can get a great deal of fulfillment participating in marathons, triathlons… even ultramarathons.