Of all the training runs, races, and weeks/months/years of running, nailing the long run is the biggest contributor of race day success.
Speed work and tempo runs get you faster. Recovery runs keep you from getting injured. Shorter races prepare you for the overall experience.
But I think the long run is the most important element in making it to the finish line feeling great. Too often runners will commit to a training program and cheat the long run by cutting out miles or not doing enough of them.
Unfortunately, come race day, most under trained runners will feel the full effects of not being prepared. So why is the long run so important?
1) It’s a dress rehearsal
It is the place to practice everything for a long period of time. From shoes to apparel to fuel, it is important to get it correct before toeing the line for a couple of hours. It is best to find out the things that make you chafe or make you queasy when the clock isn’t ticking. This is especially true when determining what to eat before a long run.
2) It helps you develop physical stamina…
For many runners, executing the long run is the closest thing to understanding how your body will handle the physical pain of running for an extended period of time.
This isn’t about acute pain or injury, but rather the fatigue that will set into your feet, your calves, and your quads as you tick off the miles. The more times you have put your body to the test, the more it can handle the little nuances of muscle fatigue.
3) …and mental stamina
The long run is typically boring. Even if you run with friends, the conversation will eventually wane a bit as the miles go on. Solo long runs are often a good exercise in race rehearsal and will help with confidence going into race day.
The more you can practice overcoming those feelings of quitting or slowing down when it gets tough, the better off you will be when it happens on race day.
Endurance runners don’t run their distance typically in a training run. Therefore, it is the long run that best allows runners to simulate those conditions that they may feel on race day.
By mimicking those conditions in terms of time of day, apparel, nutrition, and course conditions, the better you will feel prepared in those last miles of the race.
Every runner wants to cross the finish line feeling strong and feeling as though they gave it everything they had on the course. Being prepared is the best way to finish feeling accomplished.