Running 20 miles alone is something I rarely look forward to. Sure there is a sense of serenity in taking on a distance in solitude and getting lost in your own mind, but it just sounds so daunting. 20 is a lot.
I’ve written in the past about breaking up long-distance runs into smaller digestible distances (instead of thinking of it as 20, run 5 miles, then 10, then 5) and I put this into practice over the last two weeks with the help of some friends.
Every Tuesday in San Francisco, a group of runners from November Project host an hour-long track workout at 6am at Kezar Stadium (photo above, aren’t we pretty?!). Track Tuesday is always in full swing and the tribe is strong.
In order to get in my long runs, I opted to incorporate this into my distance. Knowing the track workout is usually cumulatively a 4-5 mile adventure (speed and cool down), I planned a route before and after.
Starting before the sun rises
Side note: if my runs don’t happen first thing in the morning they rarely happen later in the day, especially longer distances.
I’m off and running in the city around 5:15am, giving myself 45 minutes to cover the 4-5 miles from downtown to the track. It’s San Francisco, and of course, some uphill comes into play to make sure I’m awake and ready to run.
Arriving at the track precisely when the run is about to start (sometimes a little late, let’s be honest), I’m able to jump right into the workout. Since I know I have significant miles AFTER the track, I have to dial back my intensity a little bit. I approach it as “increased intensity” during the speedwork. It’s hard to ask my legs to drop to a 5k pace at mile 6 of 20, but I can pick up the effort throughout the workout and benefit from the variations in pace.
Having friends to run with (and variations in pace) breaks up the solitude and monotony of the long run. I also find irony that I’m breaking up monotony with laps on an oval.
Halfway there, but really 2/3
After the track workout, this puts me at around the halfway point. The first 10 miles have now been broken up into two separate smaller runs: to the workout and the workout. Both feeling separate and different. With only 10 miles to go, it’s easier to digest that distance alone.
One of the benefits of doing this before work is that I know I have to finish the run and distance because the finish line is my actual place of work. I’m fortunate to have a shower there and can leave my clothes at my desk the day before. There isn’t really a “i’m tired and going to stop here” option when you are 10 miles away from where all of your stuff is. Although (insert car share app name here) always crosses my mind.
5 tips that have worked for me
Not everyone is going to have a track workout to incorporate into their run, but here are 5 tips to help break up your long runs.
- Run to an event. If there is a local 10k or half, incorporate that distance into your run. Finishing a long run with an actual finish line is pretty cool.
Example, run a 10k as the last 6 miles of a 18 mile run.
- Check with your local running stores/groups. If there is a run club or organized run, running before or after the group run is a great way to add distance and break up the solo feel.
- Ask friends to join you for portions of the run. If you have 10 miles planned, but your friend has 4, run the 6 before and finish together. Pick a location and time to meet.
Example: plan to meet a friend at a coffeehouse at 9am, do your 3-mile out-and-back before your friend arrives then run the 4 together.
- Break your run up to 2 separate out and backs in different directions. I love starting at coffeehouses (great for refreshments and potty breaks), but you could start at a local park or running store. Try not to do these from your house, if your will power is not strong enough, you may opt to just cut the run short.
Example: Start with a 4-mile out-and-back going in one direction. Then run the next 4-mile out-and-back in the other direction. It’s 16 miles total, but two separate 8-mile runs. It also works in a bathroom and place for refueling in the middle.
- Incorporate a treadmill into your next adventure. If you don’t want to get all of your long run done on the mill, do some of the miles outside. This is especially beneficial if you want to start early, but don’t want to run alone in the dark.
Example: run the first hour on the treadmill before the sun rises. Then hydrate and head outside to finish your long run while you enjoy the sunrise. This works at home or at the gym.
I’m sure many of you have your own way to get through a long run. Some of the above have worked for me in the past, but know that just because they worked a couple of times, doesn’t mean they will always be effective. Know that you have to mix up your runs, routes, and routines. We all get a little bored sometimes.
What are your tips into breaking up the long run?