How to survive a long run

One of the main differences between marathon/half marathon training and training for a shorter distance, such as a 10k, is the long run. For half marathon training this is usually 10-12 miles. For the marathon, it’s 18-24 miles.

You don’t normally run the entire distance mainly because the recovery time usually outweighs the necessity. You don’t want to blitz the next week’s training because you’re still getting over the long run. If you’re quite a seasoned runner who’s run a few half marathons, or indeed full marathons, then when training for a half marathon this isn’t as risky. But certainly you wouldn’t usually go over 24 miles when training for a marathon. Personally if I get to 18 miles I’m quite happy.

There is the genuine fear that you don’t know if you’ll be able to “make it” in the actual race, but usually, as long as your training has been reasonably good, this is unfounded because on race day you’re tapered, fuelled and have weeks of training behind you. Plus you’ll have the adrenaline and crowd that will help push you along.

But during those weeks leading up to the race day, those long runs can feel really tough. You’re reaching distances you might not have reached before, or haven’t been around for weeks. Your body isn’t used to it. You’re not as fresh because you’re deep into training and the mental fatigue of, “here we go again” is strong.

*Waves* that’s where I’m at. Mental fatigue. Dreading the long runs. De-motivated. Tired.

IMG_4268The struggle is real (God I hate that phrase)

I’ve learnt from experience though that this is all part and parcel of the marathon (and half marathon) game. Even if I wasn’t doing Chester, I’d still be training for the Reigate Half and the long runs would still be hanging around each weekend, waiting to be ticked off my training plan. So how do you survive the long run?

It’s all about preparation and mental trickery. Preparation is fairly simple (for those of us who don’t have children, of course). Get enough sleep, eat enough good food, drink enough water before, during and after. OK a lot more goes into it than that quick sentence but for this post I want to focus on the mental trickery. It might not work for you, but here’s what works for me:

Using the same route

For each long run I pretty much have the exact same eight mile base. From there I can turn around and go home (10-12 miles) or carry on (15 miles plus). This might sound counterintuitive, but I often find that by running this same route each week can really help make things fly by.

I guess this is because I’m so used to the route that my brain just switches off. I don’t have to think about where I’m going, how to get the miles or do any mental calculations. I just go through the motions. The route is so familiar to me that my brain doesn’t really process it anymore and I can zone out.

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Switching up your route

And entirely different to the first point, perhaps choosing a completely new and different route will help you get through. If the same old route just seems so boring to do again, perhaps you need a change of scenery. Choose a route that has interesting features and things to look at. This doesn’t necessarily mean beautiful views or nature though. For example, there’s one road I love to run down because the houses are huge. I love being nosy and looking at them and just marvelling at how much they must cost. This takes my mind of the run entirely. But make sure you have your route planned out so you can just follow it without having to think, “where can I go now to make up the miles I need?” as this can be frustrating and exhausting when running.

Keep close to home

I find that if I choose a route that goes so far away from home it feels so much longer, whereas if I do a winding route closer to home it doesn’t feel as bad. It’s like psychologically I know at any point I can just go home. If I’m miles and miles away from home it feels like such a journey to get back. The distance literally stretching out ahead of me.

Special long run playlists or podcasts

I have a special “Running Playlist” on my phone. I won’t listen to any of the songs on that list other than when I’m running. If one of those songs comes on the radio, I turn it off. Yes, it’s that strict. I find I’ve associated ‘magical running powers’ to these songs that I don’t want to waste on a non-running scenario. Though this sounds like fluff science, it’s not. Association is a powerful psychological tool. I’ve associated speed and hard efforts with those songs that I don’t want to mess with.

I also only ever listen to the BBC 5 Live Film Review podcast when I’m on a long run. I won’t play that podcast any other time. It’s one of my favourite podcasts to listen to and I look forward to each episode. So by using that happy association it helps me get over the dread of the long run. Instead of thinking “urgh I have 15 miles to run” I can swing it around and think “but at least I get to listen to the new podcast”.

Milestones

Give yourself some milestones to look forward to and break the monotony that’s going on. I don’t use gels when I’m training, but during a marathon I’ll look forward to mile eight because that’s when I get to have a gel. It’s not exactly party-time but it’s something different from what’s been happening. Choose a gel (or whatever fuel source you might be using) that you actually enjoy. There’s a Salted Caramel flavoured Mulebar gel which literally rocks my world (similarly a Clif one too) and it’s like liquid caramel. That can really improve my mood when times are tough.

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Add a parkrun or race

Merging a long run with a race or a parkrun can definitely help as well. It breaks up the long run nicely. I did this last year for the Southampton Half where I ran 5 miles beforehand, the Netley 10k where I ran 12 miles beforehand and the Winchester parkrun where I ran 15 miles beforehand. Instead of thinking, right time to knock out X number of miles it reframes the run to two separate events. It also means you can enjoy running with other people or, in a race scenario, have a catered long run with the drink stations (and a medal at the end!).

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’m really feeling the long run drudgery. I have 18 miles to conquer this weekend and I decided instead of cracking that out myself, I’m going to run 15 miles Saturday morning and then do Fareham parkrun. It means I’ll be forced to get up early (parkrun starts at 9am) so I’ll beat the heat and the rest of the weekend (hello Bank Holiday!) is stress-free and I can relax. I already feel so much better about the run!

Likewise, adding in a race to my diary in the near horizon has meant I have a mini-goal to head to as well. Doing the Reigate Half will keep me on my toes and break the normality up. Eating the right food the night before, getting up early and eating breakfast then heading to the race start. It’s all part of the fun and adventure that you don’t always get with “just another long run”.

How do you survive hard workouts?

What distances do you get up to when training for either a half marathon or a marathon?

Do you use the same routes to run or like different ones each week?

What I’m Loving Lately

I started out writing this post as a Rants and Raves post…until I realised I actually didn’t have anything to rant about. This is obviously a good thing! So instead, here’s what I’m loving lately.

The Olympics: I’m quite sad that the Olympics is over. I must admit I was a bit late on jumping on the band wagon. It didn’t help that some of the stuff I would have watched (Mo’s races, Usain Bolt and the heptathlon) were in the middle of the night. It’s really not my thing to set an alarm and stay up to watch things. I like my sleep too much!

I did, however, watch both triathlons. Is it wrong to say I find them more interesting than regular running races because a bit more happens (oh the drama of the transitions and the different strengths involved)? The Brownlee brothers were amazing but the women’s race was quite tense! I watched the men’s marathon as well and thought it was hilarious when Meb Keflezighi fell over right on the finish line and then started doing press-ups! What a great save of face.

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Rave: Finding new podcasts. I love my current favourite podcasts but I’ve been zipping through them really quickly on dog walks, driving to and from work and while cooking/cleaning. My two new additions are TED Radio Hour and Stuff You Should Know. Again, so late in the game with Ted Talks (I’m like a lost sheep… I will eventually follow the flock but only after they’ve left and headed way up the hill).

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I love the TED Radio Hour because it has an overriding theme. It discusses several different talks that relate to the theme the host interviews the different TED talkers so we hear a bit more detail. It’s very good. One I listened to the other day was called Brand Over Brain and it was so interesting. I’m trying to pace myself through them but it’s tough.

The Stuff You Should Know is great for more focused information on one specific subject. For example, I listened to a podcast all about caffeine the other day which was cool. The two guys also have very soothing, smooth American voices which are very calming!

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To be honest, I could listen to them discuss anything. Case and point: I listened to them discuss the differences between jelly fish and octopi. Honestly, my brain is going to explode with information Winking smile

Books: On a similar knowledge-seeking vein, I’ve just finished The Calorie Myth by Jonathan Bailor (as an audio book). It started off really interesting and I was fully on board with what he was saying… Things like going really low in calories isn’t the best way to lose weight and how eating more food of better quality actually regulates your metabolism, set-point and hormones and losing weight becomes easier. Obviously I’m not looking to lose weight but I find books like this very interesting. I get so annoyed when I read about diets touting 1,200 calories as the “golden number” and this book gave more insight into why those diets don’t work in the long-term. There was lots of science and clinical studies to back things up which made it very compelling.

However, I struggled a bit with the overall guidelines and mandates of the book. He dismissed “jogging” in a big way and claimed only 20 minutes of resistance exercise each week was enough. OK, I fully agree that exercise isn’t essential for weight loss. It’s a tool and can help speed up the process. And our body’s aren’t stupid, we adapt. That three mile run you did last week will have less of an effect this week because your body is adapting and finding sneaky ways of making it easier (biologically speaking). And anyone who’s trained for a marathon knows that it’s not the way to lose weight. If anything, you put on weight. More miles does not mean more weight loss. But to dismiss it outright… hmm. OK it won’t make you lose weight but there are so many more health benefits (physical, social and mental) that are given. But it was an interesting read.

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The book I’m currently reading I actually heard about through the Marathon Talk podcast. Tom Williams, one of the presenters, mentioned it in passing. It’s called Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The tagline is “The Surprising Truth About Success”. I’m not one for self-help books but it didn’t seem like that kind of spiel. And it isn’t. The title refers to the black boxes found in planes and how when a plane crashes or has a problem, the reasons behind it can be fully examined afterwards and we can learn from those mistakes.

This is not the case in other industries however. For example, in healthcare mistakes are not examined as thoroughly. An accident in surgery can be swept under the carpet as a “something that happens” or “an unfortunate complication”. Not because doctors and healthcare workers are dishonest or stupid, but because of culture and psychology. It’s a fascinating book and I fully recommend it. It also makes me never want to go to hospital again!

Workouts: Asides from running (see my last post), I’m still going to the gym and working on my strength. I do three strength sessions a week. One session is focused on glutes and legs, one on shoulders, arms and chest, and the third on my back with running-specific exercises and core work thrown in here and there. I’m also going to spin on Fridays when I can. This was originally because a cute guy started to do it (yes, I’m that sad and clearly I’m at my most attractive covered in sweat, ha!) but I’m now going because I enjoy it.

With running I’m not really doing any intense speed sessions because marathon training is hard enough coming back from injury and not having enough time. I’ve dabbled a bit with some harder effort parkruns and a fartlek session but otherwise it’s just getting the miles in to sort my endurance out. I’m not expecting a fast time for Chester after coping with that hamstring thing for so long it sort of shot down those hopes. So to just get through this training and the race itself without injury is good enough for me!

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So spinning. It’s a great way for me to get that quick leg turnover and fast speed workout in without the impact and injury-risk that a hard running speed session could pose for me. It was also nice to see the friend face of fellow Southampton runner, Ruth, as well.

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She used to write a blog (not sure she does anymore!) and that’s how we connected. Interestingly enough was suffering from a similar hamstring issue to me. It was lovely to have company while spinning (though she’s a spinning extraordinaire and put me to shame).

What workouts do you do in a week?

What podcasts do you listen to?

What books have you enjoyed recently?

Squat Routine Variations for Fun and Muscle

Today I have a guest post for you today regarding one of my favourite gym exercises: the squat.

A fast trip to the gym can still yield great results if you’re doing squats. You may have heard that they’re the ultimate all-in-one exercise, and they are, but if you want to get even more out of them, mix up the form and add some free weights to build muscle in all the major groups at once. For more dynamism in the workout, do weighted lunges. If you travel a lot or have an uneven amount of time to work out, a flexible gym membership and a squat-based routine can keep you in good form.

Two fitness women doing squat exercise workout outdoor. Female coach correcting knee position for legs exercising.

First, perfect your squat

Before adding weights, be sure you have the following details down in your basic move:

  1. Lower yourself slowly to keep both the balls of your feet and your heels firmly on the floor for the entirety of the movement.
  2. For the exercise to be effective and not injurious to your knees, you need to go down to at least the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, if not a little beyond.
  3. Don’t tuck your tailbone or arch your back.

In the free weight variations, go as slowly as you need to in order to keep good form.

Add some cardio

Working in 30-second intervals for a total of 5 minutes or more, do as many squats as you can in each interval. Don’t lose your form, but try to work up a little speed and increase your reps in 30 seconds. Rest for just a few seconds between sets. Do some sets with your hands behind your head, elbows out to the side, and some with your arms raised and palms facing outward.

To turn up the cardio, jump as you come up out of the squat. Try to start with two sets of 10. Your heart will really get pumping here.

Add a weight plate

Grip a barbell weight on either side and hold it out in front of you, keeping your arms straight, as you lower into a squat. You’re developing static strength in your shoulders, deltoids, and arms, and this variation really forces you to keep your core stable.

Hold ‘the chalice’

Hold a weight with your arms bent, close to your chest, and perform your squat. Your upper arms will love this one!

With just a few variations in your squat routine, you will find yourself getting stronger and your balance improving. And you’ll free yourself from the treadmill.

If you’d like to benefit from a flexible gym membership, you’ll find gyms offering this kind of accessibility throughout the country, with some notable locations including Lewes Leisure Centre, The Rapids Romsey, Pemberton Centre Rushden and Clifton College Sports Centre.

Do you go to the gym?

What’s your favourite strength exercise?

What’s your favourite squat variation?

Training currently

I’m six weeks away from my seventh marathon, Chester. I’m not going to lie, it’s been really tough.

Since my annoying hamstring niggle since the Boston marathon I wasn’t able to begin my training as early as I’d hoped nor was I going into it with any sort of running base having not run over 10 miles a week for eight weeks.

This meant that each long run has jumped quite sharply. I much prefer to gradually build up the mileage, e.g. 9 miles one week, 10 the next, then 12, then 14, then 15 etc. But I didn’t have that luxury this time around. I only had 12 weeks from starting running again to the big day. So each long run has felt really tough because my body’s not had the time to properly adapt.

The hot weather hasn’t helped either. All in all, I’m finding things tough and less enjoyable than I usually would. That’s not to say I’m not excited or not looking forward to the marathon, it’s just harder to get my head in the game on a Sunday morning just before I head out to run for hours on end.

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Last week’s long run was my longest yet, 17 miles, and it literally drained me dry. I struggled pretty much from mile six all the way to the end. It was very warm and my legs were fatigued from walking around London all day the day before. My long runs had also jumped 12, 15, to 17 miles quite sharply. Maybe for some people this is no issue but for me I found it tough.

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These runs are such a difference to last year’s long runs which seemed to go a lot smoother and I was constantly having to slow myself down. I was also running a good 30 seconds per mile faster. This time around is clearly a lot different! At mile 14 I stopped and had a little word with myself. I was lagging and wanted to give up. I switched my podcast to music which helped immensely and got on with it.

This week I was thankful for the temperature to have dropped. Because I’d found last week’s 17 miler so tough I decided to go out with the intention of running only 12 miles. That didn’t sound too bad at all and gave me a positive outlook to the run rather than dreading it. It was windy but cool so I was happy with that trade off. As I got to around seven miles, at the point where I’d make the turn to head back for 12 miles, I decided to push on straight with the aim of 15 miles. It helped that the wind was behind me which made things feel a bit easier (though I knew it would be against me on the final three miles).

Each mile over 12 miles felt like a bonus and I told myself I could stop at any point. Even when I got to 15 miles I decided to push on for another one. Mentally and physically I felt stronger than last week though it was still a grind at times.

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I didn’t feel quite as destroyed by the end either. Finger’s crossed this is my body adapting! Next week the plan is 18 miles…

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parkrun on Saturday was a toughie and gave me a horrible reminder of things to come in the winter… I went to Netley and helped set-up and it was horrendously windy.

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As we set up all the signs and flags we were getting blown all over the place. Then it started raining. As it turned into a full-on downpour we ran and hid under the trees for a bit to shade from the worst of it.

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It was cold and miserable. And I was soaked even before we began running. I decided to keep my jacket on as I was so chilly.

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As it was so windy I knew that I wouldn’t be that speedy and settled with the goal of 25 minutes. My friend Chris (who’s a good minute faster than me at the moment) said he was aiming for 23 minutes. Everyone was re-adjusting their goals.IMG_4354

After the first mile though the sun broke out and it started to heat up. We were all pretty much steaming then with the sudden hit of heat. I took my jacket off as I felt so warm. In the end I managed a nice negative split and a time of 23:07.

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I was really happy with that. Chris achieved a course PB of 21:24 and my friend Mike, coming back from injury, wiped a minute off his time from last week. Smiles all round Smile Especially when our friend, Kate, who was celebrating her 100th parkrun whipped out her DELICIOUS chocolate tiffin.

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I could have easily eaten about five pieces… I settled with one (only because they disappeared so quickly!).

Going back to my training as a whole, I think what will help is mixing things up to stop myself getting into a rut of “oh God, here we go again”. I’m not sure what to do about this weekend. I was considering doing 15 miles to parkrun then do parkrun but I’m not sure. It helps that I have the Reigate half in the horizon as well – and no I’m not just saying that because I have a free entry! At one point I wondered if I should just give up on Chester and stick with training for the half in a down de-motivated moment, but the 16 more positive miles helped squash that thought. I haven’t done a race in ages and I wonder if that’s causing me to lose a bit of focus and motivation? Who knows! I just hope I survive the 18 miler!

How do you invigorate some motivation into yourself?

How do you cope running/working out in the heat?

Are you looking forward to the autumn?

Secret London #SecretFitness Session

I’m not usually that keen on going to London because it’s such a faff; I hate trains and I’m a country bum. Buuut when I got invited to the Secret London event that involved getting my hair done, Alpro products and yoga on a stand up paddle board, well I was convinced!

The location of the event was a mystery until 24 hours beforehand (hence the “secret” part), though I was told it would be around Oxford Street so I could at least plan my parkrun into the equation!

It was actually really easy to get to and was set in the lovely location of Merchant Square.IMG_4278

I was greeted straight away by the very friendly people from Secret London and Collective Two (the organisers of the event) and shown the cool set-up they had.

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I got to choose a pair of SuperDry flip flops and sipped on a delicious Alpro Berry and Coconut Smoothie while I waited to get my hair done by the guys from Headmasters.

IMG_4261From Secret London’s Facebook

Charlie (from TheRunnerBeans blog) and Bex (from TwinsInTrainers blog) were already getting their hair done so I went and said hi. IMG_4180

It was a bit like meeting the cool kids from school to be honest as their blogs are a lot more popular and known about than my iddy biddy one. They were lovely, of course.

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I can’t tell you how nice it was to have someone do my hair for me. I am the girl who has my hair cut once a year and the most exciting thing I do with it is put it in plaits (braids) or a pony tail because my capability to do anything else is beyond me. We were all having braids done and in cool styles. I literally said to the hair stylist, do as you wish!

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In the end it looked fantastic (if I do say so myself!). It’s definitely not a style I’d be able to recreate at home or that I’d normally choose. While we were all chatting and enjoying ourselves there was a camera crew hovering around and a photographer snapping away. It felt very glam but made me a little insecure…There I was, fresh from parkrun with no make up on. Bex and Charlie looked so effortlessly glamorous in comparison, clearly more used to this sort of thing than me!

And then we headed to the water area to begin our stand up paddle board yoga. We were all fairly nervous because there was a genuine risk of falling in. I’d brought spare clothes and a towel but still! The instructor, Jen, from Pure Yoga Zone was lovely though. And she had the most adorable little dog, Clyde, with her too (yes, he went on the SUP with her too!).

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We got on board and headed out onto the main bit of the water. It was fairly windy so our SUPs clustered together but this meant we could chatter and giggle together while trying to master the yoga moves.

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The yoga moves weren’t tricky at all in themselves. It was fairly ‘entry level’. But on a paddle board it was a different story. Even moving from your knees to your bum was a dodgy episode that required balance and strategic navigation.

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And yet as the time went on we all became more and more confident. It required us to think carefully when doing the moves and to use our core to keep us balanced on the board.

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It was actually quite a tough session! I’ve done yoga before but sometimes you can ‘sleepwalk’ through it. Despite the tranquil surroundings there was no sleeping through this session!

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At the end we got our boards together in a line (no easy feat in the wind I assure you) and posed together like the yoga buffs we’d become.

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Then after safely getting back onto dry land we headed for some vital refuelling (I hadn’t eaten breakfast or eaten post parkrun so I was definitely ready for food!).

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We were treated to a smoothie bar that was stocked with the toppings you could imagine (OK, relatively healthy toppings you could imagine) and smoothie flavours.

Secret London Session(3)I love this photo – it’s just so “me” around food [Source]

I went for a berry smoothie with just about everything in it from chia seeds, to fruit, to nuts and almond butter. Delicious. Now I’m not usually a smoothie lover but I was very happy to chomp this down.

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The three of us then had a little interview to talk about our session and were chuffed to hear that we sounded almost like we’d had media training with the answers we gave and our ease in front of the camera. Dahhhhhling we’re bloggers, don’t you know? This is what we do. (<—Ummm, yeah I’m about the most awkward person in life ever).

It was a fantastic experience and I fully recommend SUP yoga (and now want to go SUP’ing again asap). If you get the chance to go to a Secret London session I’d definitely give it a go. It was a fun experience Smile And we got lots of cool goodies to take away with us too.

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You can buy tickets to these events, it wasn’t purely invite only, so keep your eyes open if this is your thing!

Have you ever been SUP’ing before?

Do you do yoga?

What’s your perfect smoothie creation?