The long-running series

Well, that’s the first week of Dublin Marathon training done – 30 miles in total and everything going well so far.

(I should clarify, of course, that I didn’t start from zero this week. I ran the Paris Marathon – my fifth marathon – back in April and after some resting up I kept ticking over lightly during May and June.)

On Saturday morning I went for my first long run of the current schedule; a relaxed 12-miler over the route I used for my Paris training. (You can read my description of that route in this earlier blog post.) I had been missing that long route, along quiet forest roads as the morning light pierces the cover of trees. In fact, I enjoy this route so much that I don’t even find the distance long any more.

The pace was deliberately slow, little more than a relaxed shuffle. My long run is about spending time on the road and putting miles in the legs regardless of speed. It’s also great for clearing my head and just enjoying the simple pleasure of running without any pressure of time or result.

When I  was training for my first marathon, in Dublin in 2004, the long run was important in helping me to prepare mentally for the big race. I decided to think of the race as being four hours of running. The long runs of two and two-and-a-half hours reassured me that if I got to the same point in the marathon then three hours was close at hand, and after that it would just be a matter of seeing it out to the finish. (As it happened, I got to the finish in 3 hours 55 minutes – five minutes ahead of my mental image of the race.) Whatever your mental approach will be, your long run should play a formative role.

I was living within running distance of the Phoenix Park in those first-marathon days – a great place to do long runs in Dublin, especially as you can get in plenty of miles on tarmac there. (It’s a pity that most footpaths in the Dublin area are made of concrete, which is not good for the runner’s body.) As far as I can remember, I did a figure of eight that took in most of the park, going in the main gate by the river and heading up the right along the current Dublin Marathon route. Winding through the Park during last year’s race, I had happy memories of those first long runs.

Were I to pick the most important part of my weekly training, I’d choose the long run. We all have weeks where work or visitors or family matters can stop us heading out for one of our runs, or force us to cut a run short, but I always make sure that I get the full long run done.

If you’re training for your first marathon right now, then the long run is physically and mentally the closest thing you have to the full 26-mile experience. Don’t overdo it – go out at a gentle pace and stick to the distance in your schedule. Try to relax and enjoy it – find a route that’s pleasant, undemanding and stimulating for you. And if you’re doing your long run in warm summer weather (something that’s theoretically possible at least) bring a bottle of water with you – as well as providing essential hydration it’ll give you the opportunity to practice drinking while moving.

After your long run, have a good meal and enjoy the pleasurable tiredness that comes from a job well done. Every long run brings you closer to the marathon finish line.

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