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.

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.

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”.


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.

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!).

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?

I also have some more long run help HERE.

17 Replies to “How to survive a long run”

  1. This is such a timely post for me – thank you! I’m about to start picking up my mileage again, as marathon training properly kicks off and I’m dreading the long runs!

    I’m in the ‘new routes go quicker’ camp – I find it keeps my mind interested and focused on something other than one foot in front of the other.

    Going to definitely take on your tip about podcasts – might try some TED Talks. Those gels also look AMAZING! Definitely going to hunt some of those down.

    Will be incorporating parkrun into my long run too – do you try and time it so you get there for 9am so you don’t have to stop running for too long?

    1. I quite like a mix of a route I do know really well and then somewhere new for the rest of it, which is why i think parkruns have really been helping. It’s also a ‘journey’ to get there rather than just running around aimlessly.
      Hope you’re training is going well!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…21 miles and late for parkrunMy Profile

  2. Good tips, I love long runs and can’t wait to get back into them.
    Tend to save marathon talk to listen to on a long run and like to do loops that pass by my house to pick up a drink, e.g 12 miles then 6 miles, but always do the longest loop first. Mostly I prefer to do long runs on my own, but every few weeks it’s good to go in a group for variety and/or do a half marathon with a few miles warm up. Or there are usually a few 20 mile races around in spring/Autumn , they are ideal preparation. I’m curious what is on this super strict playlist??

    1. That’s a good idea about picking up a drink!
      Yes I much prefer to do solo long run as I can switch off.
      My playlist is soo random! Things like Skrillex, to Fall Out Boy, to Paramore to Linkin Park (lots of rocky stuff helps me run faster!) and things like that.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…21 miles and late for parkrunMy Profile

  3. How do you survive hard workouts?
    – I also have my running playlist which I use during long runs and I use the same playlist for the marathon. That helps a lot as I’ve selected tracks which motivate me (I doubt that a podcast will motivate me during a run). I use gels during my training runs as well as during the marathon.

    What distances do you get up to when training for either a half marathon or a marathon?
    – The longest run I’ve done so far this summer has been 34km. For London marathon training I peaked at 33km early April. For Berlin training last year I peaked at 35km late August. (I prefer using kms as the km markers go by quicker than the mile markers during the marathon). I don’t use a specific training plan for a half marathon but I include a half marathon in my marathon training plan around the time of my 20/25km long run.

    Do you use the same routes to run or like different ones each week?
    – Yep, I pretty much have the same training route for my long runs – twice around the park (clockwise & anticlockwise) down the canal towpath and back.

    1. For the marathon I only use my music for the last 10k so it’s like savouring the good music vibes until the end – otherwise I worry I’ll use them all up and be a bit numb to them by the end.
      Haha yes so true about km markers! I’m just old fashioned I think with my mile markers 😉
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…21 miles and late for parkrunMy Profile

  4. Anna, Do you run your long runs alone? Not with a training group? I used to run all my long runs solo but for the last 10-11 years, I have been running with a rather large running group, which makes the time and distance go by pretty quickly! And since it’s extremely hot and humid almost all year, the running group has organized water stops (just like marathons) every 2-3 miles.

  5. This is very interesting to see all of your tips together. I save marathon talk like you save the film podcast, I can’t listen to it when I’m not running!
    Because I am much slower, if I only ran up to 18 miles I would have potentially over 90 minutes of the marathon in brand new mileage territory, whereas for you it’s probably more like 60? For my first marathon I did one 20 miler which went well, but I struggled at the end of the race . So for last year I did two just over 20 miles to get me more used to being on my feet for 4+ hours, which helped immensely with the actual race.
    I prefer having the same base route with add on bits, but since moving I have not quite worked one out yet. Plus they all seem to end uphill!
    Maria recently posted…Multi-tasking the decoratingMy Profile

    1. Yes I guess in that respect then running for time rather than distance is better. I remember when I did the Cheddar Gorge marathon and that took me 4.5 hours and I really found it was a struggle with time on my feet as I’d never run longer than 3 hours 40ish before!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…21 miles and late for parkrunMy Profile

  6. Great tips! It’s been a while since I’ve done a long-run. For my half-ironman, I only got up to 6 miles in training as I was recovering from injury, but I still got through it on the day. I like to find a 10 mile race if possible to use as a training run, although races of that distance aren’t so common. I’m going to start running to and from parkrun, now that I’ve stopped swimming on Saturday mornings.

  7. ooof.

    I’m quite pleased that I’m not doing long runs for a while – the option is generally out and back along the canal (north or south – usually north, as there’s fewer people to fall over). I really miss my 20+ mile loop in London – along the canal, past Tower Bride, The Tower of London, Parliament, Buckingham Palace….very touristy (good practice for getting past people). But I don’t miss having to rack up the distance.

    I don’t have special running music – but I do have some songs that help pick up the pace. I get very ploddy if I listen to spoken word, so I try not to.

    Current half marathon training has had me up to 10.5 miles – with a hilly half in July. I did want to do a half on Sunday (a really hilly trail race – so not one that would be done at epic speed, but more for endurance), but since N’s not running, and I don’t feel confident driving the van, I couldn’t get there without his help, and it felt REALLY mean to make him drive and sit around for me!
    Jane recently posted…Two years!My Profile

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