While training for Cal International Marathon last fall, I found myself thinking a lot about long runs and all the different ways they help us prepare to race. Parts 1 & 2 covered the physical benefits and mental benefits; today, I offer a few thoughts on how long runs help us prepare logistically.
My long runs were absolutely critial in terms of helping me work out all kinds of issues before the marathon, including...
What to wear. Not every piece of gear that performs admirably on a six- or eight-mile run will stay super comfy for multiple hours; witness the Nike Pro Combat compression shorts that I love for shorter runs & races that chaffe like a mofo once they’re solidly soaked through & the BodyGlide’s worn off. My three pairs of longer compression shorts (2 Aspires, 1 UnderArmour), on the other hand, work pretty well. My beloved Moving Comfort Alexis bras all pass the test (as long as I remember to lube up in the marathon tattoo area). Various tech T-shirts, not so much, as sweat-soaked sleeves have left me with some nasty chaffing on the inside parts of my upper arms.
Fueling. Although ~50 grams of carbs per hour is a good baseline, we all have different bodies and metabolisms, and what is barely enough for one person may cause GI distress for someone else. The same goes for what types of food / food-like-substances our systems can tolerate. Outside of a few jelly beans during my first two half marathons, I'd never eaten anything on runs before I started marathon training. Thankfully, it seems that my body tolerates pretty much any type of gel just fine and even does okay with little pieces of bars (Nutri-grain, Clif, Luna, etc.) as long as I don’t eat them too fast. (Too fast = a bit of unpleasant acid reflux.) I also learned on a long run that I can't drink Cytomax mixed from powder (way too sweet).
Hydration. It can be tricky to balance staying hydrated with avoiding a sloshy tummy & an unfortunately full bladder. When I first started running with a hand-held bottle, I definitely drank too often, but it’s been fairly easy to discipline myself to drink when I’m thirsty and not just because I can. How much I need to drink depends a lot on the temperature, but usually just going by thirst seems to work.
Pre-Race Eating / Drinking. This is especially important for folks running their first long race. If you can arrange to do you long runs more or less at the same time of day as you'll be racing, eating what you plan to eat the day of the race, when you plan to eat it will give you an idea what to expect from your digestive system. There's nothing like finding out on race day that x meal or y timing doesn't work for your body.
Recovery. My long runs have been invaluable in terms of helping me figure this stuff out. I've learned that coconut water, Gatorade, or cold beer all go a long way towards helping my body start to feel normal again. Ice baths help with preventing soreness, and strategically-placed ice packs and compression bandages do wonders for my joints.