The Day Before the Long Run

When it comes to following a training plan, regardless of distance, it is likely that you will want to tweak it to best fit your personal goals and life schedule. For any given training plan I’ve ever followed I almost always make a couple adjustments here or there to fit my schedule and comfort level. One area of a training plan I almost always ‘make my own’ is the day before the long run.

Resting the Day Before the Long Run

In every plan I’ve worked with, the day before the long run involves some level of activity. When I first started getting into distance running I was worried about the prospect of doing any sort of activity the day before a long run. So whether the plan said to run 3 miles or 8 miles I would switch the days around so my rest day was before my long run. For at least one solid training season I used the day before the long run, and usually the day after, as my rest days. I was convinced that this allowed my muscles to be fresh for the long run. And I may have been right.

Cross-Training the Day Before the Long Run

This season, however, I have been mixing and matching training plans to fit my marathon training into a slightly more condensed time frame with slightly faster time goals than any single plan could accommodate. Regardless of the plan I picked there were still runs on the schedule for the day before the long run. I happen to have a triathlon on the horizon and my bike is currently set-up on a trainer until spring decides to stick around and it’s warm enough to ride outside, so one element of the marathon training I tweaked was to insert a day of riding on one of the easy run days. When it came time to start my long runs I decided to make my bike day the day before the long run. I will ride for 45-60 minutes, usually at various intervals and with increasing levels of resistance the morning before the long run. As often as possible I prefer to do the long run on Saturdays so the biking is Friday morning.

I am convinced that cross-training the day before the long run is a fantastic formula. Biking keeps my muscles stimulated but at the same time engages my glutes almost in preparation for some of the hills on my long run route. And on the bike, my muscles get a different sort of stretch and movement than what I get while running so I actually think it makes the running muscles more fresh on Saturday morning.

Eating & Drinking the Day Before the Long Run

While I think I have found my preferred training formula for what to do for activity the day before the long run there are other pieces of this puzzle that I am somehow still trying to fine tune. The ‘fuel’ category continues to be a bit of trial and error yet at the same time I think there is a very specific formula that I should follow…I just don’t know what it is yet. I have tried going the very healthy route with cereal, salad, protein, lots of water. I have tried the ‘just eat what you normally eat’ plan. I have carbo-loaded. I have tested my tolerance for alcohol the night before (turns out one glass of wine or one beer early in the night–like happy hour early–is tolerable). I have tried including and excluding dessert. And I have ready every article Runner’s World ever published on what one should do to properly fuel up the day and night before a long run. At the end of the day though, I think what you eat and drink before a long run is just like the type of training plan you follow–it has to be tweaked to fit your system.

One thing I do know is that sushi the night before a long run does not fit my system.

Before Your Long Run

What do you do? Run, rest, cross-train? Eat all day or stick to three square meals? If you have found a long run formula that works for you, please share!

12 thoughts on “The Day Before the Long Run

  1. Chris

    I’m training for my first marathon. My current plan calls for a short 4-5 miler on the day before my long runs, with rest on the day after. As for activity level, well, I work on the day before my long runs, spending lots of time on my feet. But, when work is done I try to rest and get a good night’s sleep, and I don’t go for my long run at 6am or anything … more like 11am the next morning.

    I haven’t yet figured out the food and drink combo that works best for me.

    Thanks for this post … it got me thinking some more about these things.

  2. Natalie Post author

    Chris, thanks for checking out the blog. You make a good point about getting time off your feet before the long run and more importantly about getting a good night’s sleep. I like to try and get the run in early but if I don’t get a good night’s sleep the quality will no doubt suffer. It sounds like you have a good routine for your training. Good luck on your first marathon!

  3. David Yazel

    When I first started long runs I didn’t really do anything special and that was fine. I think it was about 12 miles that I started to get dehydrated and hungry. Even though we are all supposed to be hydrated all the time I think we all know how easy it is to let it slip a bit and be at 70 percent. That might be fine for a 6-10 miler, but it is basic death on the super long runs. I have found if I start at 50-70 percent hydrated my lips get dry very quickly and I can’t ever catch up drinking as I run. I won’t drink coffee the morning of my long run because it causes me to pee like a race horse and dehydrate quickly. So in terms of hydration I make sure I drink all day before, constantly. That is mostly water but also some Gatorade. Urine should be clear as possible. Morning of is water an Gatorade and then I drink 7 oz every 20 minutes when I run.

    During the week I usually eat vegetables, proteins and only carbs with low glycemic index (a lot of beans) and no rice, pasta, bagles, etc. This keeps my blood sugar level, hunger cravings down, adequately fuels my mid week runs and allows my weight to continue to drop (which I still need) even when training. But the day before my long run is my “cheat” day, where high glycemic carbs are on the menu. Pancakes for breakfast, hamburger for lunch and pasta for dinner. Breakfast on the morning of the long run I have a bagel with jam and a whey protein/milk/banana shake about 90 minutes before the run. So far this seems to work pretty well with no cramping or massive bathroom needs during my run.

  4. Carl

    Resting the day before the long run is not a good idea. There is no reason to be fresh for a long run. You should run the day before unless you plan on using the long run as a tempo run, otherwise I see no reason to rest. The days that you would want to be more fresh for would be tempo runs, interval work or aerobic threshold runs.

  5. Natalie Post author

    Carl, thanks for sharing your comment. Good point on needing to be fresh for tempos or intervals. I would agree with this too and I suppose it depends on where the long runs and tempo runs fall in the schedule. This summer I have mixed it up with cross-training or resting before the long run and continue to find that both suit me just fine. To each their own. 🙂 Happy running!

  6. Bonnie

    So I’m discovering this a year later, but I find it to be a very helpful blog. I’m training this year to run a half marathon in seven months. I generally am doing short runs Monday through Thursday and my long run on Saturday. (Friday and Sunday are rest days from running.) My problem came when I was trying to figure out which days to do my cross training. After reading your blog, I’m going to attempt my strength/light cardio workout Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yoga on Tuesday and Thursday. Thanks for the help!

  7. John

    My rest days are on Wednesday and Sunday. On Monday 3 miles and 20 minutes on rowing machine. Tuesday 3 miles and 20 minutes of lifting. On Thursday 3 miles. Friday I do football stands 20 minutes with backpack and 20 minutes lifting. Saturday longer run and/or trail running. If on some weeks I start feeling sluggish I take another day off.

  8. Hunter

    My training schedule changes weekly to accomadate my working schedule. I typically try to plan my long run days on one of my two days off which is rarely on weekends. I take two rest days, usually on Saturday and Sunday, then start the week with speed work. I increase my carb-intake a couple of nights before any long run. As for the day before a long run, I have found that any mix of cross training or shorter distance (3-4 miles) at a moderate pace is a great practice. When it comes to a long-run day itself I will usually have a snack before I begin my run (banana is my go to). After that its get out of the house and enjoy some scenery! I typically stop once every two miles and take a small drink out of my Camel-Bak. Depending on how long I am running for I might also take an Energy Gel every other drink break. I discovered last season that by simply stoping for 30 seconds to take a drink or an energy gel/carb shot I was able to complete my distance at a PR. Got off topic, but I to answer the question again, I think any form of lighter exercise is benificial the day before a long run!

  9. Andrew G

    I am trying to figure out this very question now. I have a 6 days work out schedule, which includes 3 run days and 3 cross-training days. Normally, I rest before my long run day, but I have switched this for the past two weeks, by doing my long run on the 5th day. I’ve noticed my pace is much slower doing this. I will definitely be reverting back to resting the day before.

    As for meals, I like to run in the morning. An hour and half before my run I consume oatmeal, coffee, water, and a banana. It has worked like a charm, so far.

  10. Naia B Day

    I am training for my 50k trail run in December 2020. I don’t really do a lot of long runs maybe once a month (20 miles) is that enough? My short run are 10-13 miles twice a week. My post run day after long run is about 5-6 miles. I have one day (Sunday only) as my rest day that I don’t do anything. I am lifting weights in the gym when I am not running. I ran 5 marathons in the past 26.2 miles (about 5 years ago was my last marathon). I did not follow any programs at all lol. I just run for the heck of running and eat more carbs the night before my long run. I just signed up for Spartan 10k Obstacle race in Feb. this is a different animal. I am hoping that my running would help me on the Spartan race too. I am no spring chicken anymore lol.


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