Training Week 12: Seven Strategies for a Successful 20-Miler

On Saturday morning, I woke up, got the kids dressed and threw on my running clothes. Ate cereal with the toddler. Pumped a bottle for the baby and then headed out to run 20 miles.

There may be a few more enjoyable activities for a Saturday morning... like sleeping or drinking coffee... but marathon training is the life for me. Yo ho, yo ho. {insert 'A Pirate's Life for Me' song}

This was my first 20-mile training run since 2013 and I was a little anxious to jump into the long, long distance again. Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it! There HAS to be something wrong with me.

Here are a few strategies that made Saturday's long run a great experience:

7 Strategies for a Successful 20-Miler

1. Secure Your Hair.

It's amazing what nearly 3 hours of bouncing up and down can do to your hair (at least for the long-haired runners out there). My usual pony tail turns into a snarled mess when I run that long on a windy day and just any old hairstyle will eventually fall apart. There are a million tutorials on runner's hair styles with great ideas for hair that stays put. Google it.

Hair Secured: Forgive my awkward side-profile selfie and focus on the hair (and my parents' beautiful bathroom decor). What works best for me is either a low bun or a braided high bun. The braid makes it stick! After putting my hair in a high pony, I fishtail braid it, wrap it into a bun, and then secure it with another ponytail holder. 

2. Carry Water and Fuel With You

Running with my Camelbak gives me the freedom to do an out-and-back approach to the long run, or a few super big loops, without having to run home to get water. I definitely prefer the Camelbak over handheld water bottles because my hands are free. I bring my phone with in the outer pocket in case I need to be picked up on the side of the road and carry my gels in the pockets of my coat.

Fueling: I ate the Honey Stinger Caramel Waffle just before heading out the door. Then Gel #1 at 45 minutes in, Gel #2 at 1:30, and Gel #3 at 2:15. The Organic Vanilla gels from Honey Stinger are my favorite because they sit well on my stomach and have a great flavor.

3. Run For Time.

Instead of focusing solely on a mileage-based goal, see how your body feels that day and run for time. Your health that day, the weather, and terrain will greatly affect how many miles you cover in 3 hours.

Breaking It Up: I wasn't feel well the morning of this long run, so I decided to break the run up and keep going as I was able. Instead of "Run 20 Miles", my goal was to run 3 x 1:00:00... or 20 miles. Whatever came first.

4. Tune It Out.

Listening to music or a podcast can help to take your mind off how absolutely exhausted you are. During the 20-miler, I recommend doing a mix of things rather than listening to music for almost 3 hours straight. Try a podcast, different genres of music, or just some quiet time on the road. When running with headphones, be extra careful in traffic! I run with only one earbud in so I can hear the vehicles.

Changing Tunes: For the first hour, I ran in silence, just taking in the beautiful day, praying and looking around. Then I listened to the Delectable Education podcast for an hour and finished the run with music. Listening to LeCrae, Switchfoot, and MercyMe made it easy to pick up my pace!

5. Loosen Up During the Run.

Running a new "farthest distance" can really make the muscles tighten up. Especially when it's my first 20-miler in a training plan, this happens to me later in the run. Doing some basic running drills for a few strides helps me to loosen up (beware: that's just my opinion). I DO NOT recommend stopping to stretch. Things just get all stiff and it's hard to get moving again.

Loosen-Up-Drills: At around the 2:15 mark, my hips were starting to tighten up. Running a few strides backwards, shuffling and doing a slowed down version of karoake footwork loosened my hips and legs up and all was well!

6. Switch Lanes When Possible.

Depending on your running surface, the road generally has a slight decline towards the edge of the surface. With great caution and only if it's safe in the current traffic, alternating the sides of the road you run on will help keep your body balanced. Watch for vehicles and always assume the drivers DON'T see you. Bike paths or desolate trails would be ideal but we don't all have access to those!

Switching Lanes: I switch sides of the gravel road regularly to keep from slanting one way for too long. On the highway, I run towards traffic unless it's a super quiet road and I can switch it up. I don't recommend doing that if you are listening to music or any audio while running.

7. Be Mindful of Post-Run Food Choices.

After you get in from the run, eating an entire pizza, a bag of Doritos and 2 doughnuts would be easy to justify but it won't help your training at all! Eat something with decent nutritional value post-run, whenever your stomach can tolerate some calories that aren't in gel form. Though I'm totally not anti-doughnuts... If I would have had a Tim Horton's Oreo doughnut available, I would have inhaled it after that run. Be sure to hydrate well the rest of the day and rest (if possible), too.

Post-Run Meal: Right after the run, I had a nice plate of beef stroganoff with garlic bread. It's my mom's specialty and one of my favorites! I was more hungry than usual the rest of that day and on Sunday, so I ate when hungry and tried to make good decisions (key word: tried). 

Easter Morning Breakfast: Pancakes and crunchy peanut butter NuttZo! So good.

20 miles, 2:46:48, 8:20/mile average.

All in all, the run went very well and I wasn't stiff afterwards. Say what?! That surprised me, too. Just maybe my body remembers this whole marathon thing!

We'll see how the next 20-miler goes...

"Resting" after a long run is hard to do with two active little people, but we had a great weekend with family celebrating Jesus Christ. I hope you had a blessed Easter celebrating our risen Savior! 


Fargo Marathon Training Week 12:

03/21 Monday - Easy-Effort with the Duallie: 6 mi, 00:57 @ 09:31 pace.

03/22 Tuesday - Speed Intervals: 4.61 mi, 00:38. Early morning run with the dog and ended up looping home to drop him off. He's been really lazy lately - definitely need to leave him home for speed and tempo days from now on! 3 x 1k @ 7:18, 7:08, 6:50. 6 x 1:00 minute planks - on extended arms, then on elbows, front, side, side.

03/23 Wednesday -  Strength Training:

03/24 Thursday - Tempo Run: 6.1 mi, 00:48. WU, 3.5 miles @ 7:32/mile avg pace, CD

03/25 Friday - Easy-Effort: 3.04 mi, 00:29 @ 09:28 avg pace. Joined by my husband :)

03/26 Saturday -  Long Run: 20 mi, 02:47 @ 08:20 avg pace. First 20-miler since 2013... It's been a long time! 7 x 1:00 minute plank series.

03/27 Sunday - Off.

Total Mileage: 39.75 miles

What is your best long run tip?

Linking up with Holly and Tricia's Weekly Wrap Up.


  1. I applaud you for getting out there on a Saturday and run 20 training miles- amazing! Nice Easter family picture! I love Easter Sunday at church- you can't beat the exciting vibe!

    1. Thank you, MB! Easter was wonderful :) I love gathering with everyone to celebrate Jesus' life!

  2. Such a speedy 20 miler! Great tips on long runs! Running long is easier for me when I'm listening to a good book.

    1. Thanks, Tina! A good audio book would definitely make the miles fly by. I haven't listened to an audio book in forever! I may have to look one up now :)

  3. Hi Amy! Welcome to the Weekly Wrap! I'm so glad you chose to link up with us! It is very nice to meet you! Your marathon training takes me back to mine, I only have one under my belt but I remember my first 20 miler and it was tough for me! I am with you on the hair I have longer curly and boy can it get in a rats nest as my mom would tell me when I was little! OMG you put peanutbutter on your pancakes too? Ahhh I so get you!!! I too like the honey stinger waffles!
    I hope you'll join us again Amy good to connect with you!

    1. Now try PB on your Honey Stinger Waffles - that is A-MAZING! So nice to meet you, Tricia :) I plan to join you weekly!

  4. Oh, the hair! I'm growing mine out and it's just long enough to be super annoying but too short to pull back. Buffs are where it's at these day! When I forget them everything starts out on the wrong foot! [pun intended! ;)]

    Great job on that 20miler, now go finish off that Easter candy! ;)

    1. Thank you, Heidi! Those long runs just wreak havoc on the hair :)

  5. Great job on that 20 miler and great tips for the long run! I always have to put my hair in a braid or bun for long runs, too, because otherwise I'd rather cut it off than try and get a comb through it post-run.

    One of my favorite long run tricks: break the run into chunks. So for a 20 miler you might make it 8 miles, 7 miles, and then 5 miles. During each chunk you just focus on the section you're on.

    1. That is my favorite long run strategy, too! It makes it so much easier to handle 20 miles when you think about it 8 + 7 + 5 instead :)

  6. Hi, Amy! Welcome to the Weekly Wrap. These are all excellent tips. I used my CamelBak last summer when training for my first marathon. I can't stand to hold anything either. I usually break my long runs into thirds. Your pace was amazing! Good luck as you continue training for Fargo. I hope to see you here again next week.

    1. Thank you! It was so fun to join up with you, Tricia, and the rest of the group this week :) The CamelBak is a lifesaver for sure. I feel so off balance when I carry a waterbottle with one hand!

  7. Nice pace on that 20 miler! I'm stealing your pirate chant...yo ho ho and a bottle of beer, which is what I had after my 3 hour workout today. I totally agree with you on time vs miles for the long run. 3 hours is plenty of time, no matter how far you go.


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