Sometimes, the hardest part about going for a run is simply getting out the door. Other times, the struggle really begins half-way through, when you feel like you simply cannot go any further — particularly if you’re running a long-distance race.
There are number of factors that may contribute to depleted energy stores, even if you’ve started out in tip-top shape. Some things, like unfavourable weather, are out of your control, but most factors can be identified and prevented before they begin. Here are some steps you can take to help you go to the distance.
1. Fuel Up
The number one reason runners lose steam midway through a run is due to a lack of fuel. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can run on empty (literally). Every runner is different, and depending on your body and the distance you’re going, you may not necessarily need to consume a ton of extra calories pre-run. However, for long-distance runners, fuel is of the utmost importance. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Assocation (NCAA), athletes who perform endurance or intermittent high-intensity exercise for more than an hour are at risk for glycogen depletion, hypoglycemia, and fatigue during exercise. Carbohydrates are your number one source for energy during your run, hence the need to “carb-load” the night before a long-distance race. Consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates each hour during prolonged exercise may prevent from not having enough fuel to complete your run. You may also want to eat a snack rich in carbohydrates within 45 minutes after your run to maximize the rate at which muscle glycogen is replaced. (We recommend choosing complex carbs, like fruits, quinoa, legumes, sweet potatoes and whole grains.) Additionally, you’ll want to avoid any acidic foods and beverages prior to a run; the last thing you need to deal with mid-race is a bout of heartburn.
2. Run With A Group
Running with a group or with a buddy can give you the extra push you need to stay energized and keep going, even when you’re feeling totally spent. Running in groups can also help you maintain a particular pace, so you don’t deplete your energy too fast. And of course, buddying up can also help ease pre-race jitters, as physical manifestations of stress (shortness of breath, nausea, elevated heart rate, anxious movements) can also deplete your energy levels.
3. Mind Your Pace
One of the biggest mistakes a runner can make is starting out way too quickly and setting a pace that is unsustainable from the get-go. The key is to build up to your race pace and then maintain it. If you start out guns a’blazing, you’re going to burn energy a lot faster and end up ruining your pace before the race is over. Those first couple of miles should be nice and easy; think of this part as your warm up. The next few miles is when you can begin to evaluate how you’re feeling so far, and determine if you can pick up the pace and push it a little further. You want to make sure you save a bit of energy for the very end, so you can really give it your all and finish hard. It’s not always easy to hold back and go slow at the beginning when you’re full of energy , but your body (and race time) will thank you for it.
4. Bring Energy With You
During extra long runs, you’ll want to replenish all the calories and electrolytes you’re losing with some on-the-go energy. There are plenty of different types of gels, chews or sports drinks that you can pack with you to prevent from burning out during those last few miles, but a simple banana or protein bar may also do the trick. Consider investing in a hydration belt, which is not only handy for holding your water bottle, but usually also comes with an extra pocket in the front for easy snack storage.
5. Stay Hydrated
You already know this one, but we can’t stress this enough. To prevent burn out and dehydration, you must drink plenty of water. Calculating your sweat rate can help you understand how much and how often you should be drinking throughout a long run. In order to calculate your sweat rate, record your bodyweight prior to a typical run. After your run, towel yourself off and and record your bodyweight once more. Subtract your post-run weight from your pre-run weight, as well as the amount of liquid or water you consumed during this run (to make this easier, try not to drink any water during your “sweat test run”), and this will give you a rough estimate of the amount of fluids you really need to replenish.
6. Mind Over Matter
Runners can sometimes be their own worst enemies, and during a long, arduous run, your mind plays tricks on you, convincing you that you simply cannot go any father. Most runners quickly learn how to shut off the voice in their head, and find ways to mentally push through a wall. Remember the charity or cause you may be running for, or envision how amazing you’re going to feel when you finally cross that finish line. Some runners find it helpful to break up the total distance they have left into more manageable, less intimidating chunks. For example, instead of despairing over the next 13 miles you still have left, tell yourself it’s just three more until you’ve reached the 10-mile mark. Then you’ve just got two more runs of 5 miles each to go!
Taking these factors into consideration will not only energize you throughout your regular runs, but for all the big races you take on in the future. Finishing strong is a recipe for a positive mindset and running success.