How to prepare for a long run

As we have seen in my last post, the total distance of a long run depends on the runner’s abilities, available time, patience, etc. But let’s say you want to go on a long run or, even better, on a very long run. What would you need to be ready for whatever curve ball the running gods throw you?

So, you decided you are going on a long run today. Great! Are you physically and mentally prepared for what is on your plate? Yes? Perfect! But have you thought about what you need to bring with you to handle any mishaps, injuries, weather, or whatever else occurs? I will start by making this statement which I apply to anything I do in life – Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

OK, some will say that I’m being negative, and that’s OK. But, I know for a fact that on a long run (and sometimes on a short one), there will always be something unforeseen that may mess with your body, your mind or your soul. How you cope with these possible events is related to how well you prepared before this long run. Also, you may be able to mitigate the severity of the setbacks if you were proactive in planning for worst-case scenarios, trained in similarly challenging conditions and if you practiced the usage of challenge-specific gear.

My rule of thumb goes as follows: the longer the run, the more prepared you must be. I’m not talking about a 10 km run (although you must still prepare adequately). I am referring to a run that goes above the 30 km mark or lasts all day or more. The more isolated you are, the more you must try to foresee what could happen (be reasonable, no need for extra drama.) Identify and accept your weaknesses because the distance, terrain and the lack of resources available along the way will amplify them. Err on the side of caution. That extra item, which weighs 50 grams, may save your day or life, don’t leave it behind.

Long Run Preparation check list

Here is my pre-long-run checklist. It works for me and could work for you, but I suggest you do not go ahead blindly on faith on your run without testing this checklist on a shorter, less challenging one. You know, to make sure you are comfortable with everything I mention.

Map your run precisely. It is good practice to plan and review your route before you undertake your run. One, you will have the opportunity to review what challenges the course may have for you. Take note of the elevation variations, if any. This observation will give you additional information about how much energy you may have to expend to negotiate the ups and downs.

Pay close attention to the weather predictions and get your information from reputable sources, not hearsay or opinions from your friends and family. Although we can virtually run in any weather, the experience is not the same with cold, windy, rainy days or nights. Also, the gear you require may differ from what you normally use on your habitual training days. Dressing up too warm is a problem if your attire is not layered. Not dressing warmly enough is another issue. So you must dress for the conditions and sometimes have the flexibility to switch rapidly to deal with changing weather patterns. Keep in mind the weight of what you wear as you will have to carry it to the finish line. Try not to wear anything brand new, like shoes; they may hurt you during this long run. Break them in first in a couple of short runs.

Bring a lightweight first aid kit. You never know when a blister, cut, sprain or anything else will reframe your running experience. Also, you may have to assist another runner on the way. The longer, the more isolated and the more remote the long run, the more complete your first aid kit should be. However, you are in luck! Some FAKs come in all sizes, weights and specialties. Just Google them and get one that fits the range (or a bit more) of your runs

Nutrition and hydration are going to be important to gauge. Understand your sweat rate and what energy sources you can ingest easily, especially if you know it’s going to be hot (or very cold). The temperature will affect your rate of consumption and the quantity your body will require to perform. You may have to combine consuming energy gels and solid food and juggle with your hydration requirements. Try everything in training first. This long run is not the time for research and development! Remember that if you are in a remote area, you may not have clean water at hand to mix with your energy drink powder and recovery concoctions. Invest in a portable water filtration system to drink clean gems-free water. Here is a quick example of energy consumption. I burn about 650 calories per 10 km. If I go for a 50 km run, do the math. I will have to eat something to keep me from depleting my energy reserves and feeling weak and lightheaded. If it is considerably hot, like 30 C and above, I know I can’t eat much, so I will rely on gels and energy bars. In the winter, below -25 C, I get hungry very quickly, and gels don’t cut it. Real food is my main source of calories. Between 10 C and 25 C, I can eat anything and run. But I had to train to teach my body how to eat while running. Practice your nutrition and hydration. On the hydration side, that also requires practice. In my case, my sweat rate is pretty steady from -20 C up to 25 C. Outside this bracket, things get wild. Generally, I take a mouthful of liquid every 1 or 2 km. That seems to work for me. You need to test your rate of intake in different scenarios. We are all made differently.

Tell someone you trust where you will be. It would be even better if you showed them your route, just in case. If you run long often, invest in a GPS device like the Garmin InReach Mini 2 that can help send an SOS and get help, even in remote areas. If you run around town, this device may be overkill, but again, it’s like insurance; it is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Also, you could invest in a bracelet like the RoadID with vital information printed on it so that if you pass out or get hit by a car, the EMTs can identify you, help you, and get in touch with your emergency contacts.

Do not overestimate your abilities in the wild or run in extreme weather. Respect nature because it has no respect for you. You may know how to handle nature around your home base, but if you decide on a heroic attempt, browse the web for people who have run your course or have experience in the area you chose to conquer.

Finally, don’t make us look bad. Yes, you know what I mean. Endurance runners are amongst the most respectful people on trails, in the woods, or anywhere else. Please do not litter, break branches, disturb animals, run with your iPhone playing music on its speaker, go where you are not supposed to, and do anything else that would tarnish our image.

I hope this article gets you started. There is more to consider, especially if you go for a stage run (multiple days). But, stage runs will be the topic of a future article. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Don’t forget to have fun. Long runs are great for nature contemplation. I can attest to that. I started appreciating the beautiful things nature offered when I started running in the woods and mountains. I even had the opportunity to run in a desert and a jungle. These runs were such a trip! So please, on your next long run, take the time to enjoy the run, the landscapes, the sounds, and the majesty of animals you will encounter and be grateful for having all this available.