How I prepare for a long distance run
One Step at a Time
When I was younger I repelled sports. I’d fake sick to gym class. I’m sure that my gym teacher wasn’t oblivious to how many times I was getting my period every month. Running, though, made me feel powerful.
I was inspired by Blake Lively’s character in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. She could run. She ran along the beach forever. There’s something so freeing about the thought of that, to be able to know that you could just step out the door and with little other preparation, no equipment, you could just run, wherever you wanted to go.
For me running began as an escape. An escape from the home I grew up in. A way for me to get the endorphins going and clear my mind and feel like I was in control. I didn’t have lofty ideas about being a track star or superstar athlete, or running marathons. It wasn’t a means to an end, it was something that I enjoyed in the moment.
Little by little, each time I got out there I would make one new challenge for myself. It was a way to keep it fun, a little game that I could play. Now I’ll make it to that lamp post… Now I’ll go all the way to the school yard without stopping… Now I’ll try to do the entire 3k loop.
I’m not unfamiliar with the feeling of being so out of shape that you can’t even run down the street. Ever since I started running in high school, I've gotten that feeling every single year; Every spring after staying inside for those long, cold winter months in Toronto.
There’s only one thing between you and overcoming that feeling and it’s incredibly simple. If you want to be a runner, you have to run.
It’s easy to look at someone like Blake Lively in Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants and feel inspired, but inspiration leads to nothing without dedication. All of her progress was hidden from sight, each time she made the decision along the way to get out there.
As pointed out by James Clear in Atomic Habits, we are what we repeatedly do.
Every year I begin again, but I’ve learned how quickly it can happen. The feeling of not being able to run down the street is a blessing. Remembering how that feels will make what you are about to embark upon next feel sensational. It’s amazing the way you can progress when you stick with something, and it doesn’t take much to progress as a runner.
In fact, I think it must be one of the easiest ways to achieve a sense of accomplishment. It’s something you can do on your own that doesn’t require any external feedback. You don’t have to find someone to match your skill level or provide you with just the right challenge. Each time you get out there on your own you can feel a difference, and it makes you feel proud of yourself.
I’ve kept running up over the years for the dependable way that it makes me feel. Whenever I’ve been stressed, had difficulty focusing, or was unsure of what to do, I’d step out the door for that old reliable relief. It’s been therapeutic in the way that it relaxes me and helps me organize my thoughts.
Once I hit my 26k milestone living in Parry Sound a few years ago, I stopped trying to beat my own record. It took far too long and it became too boring. After that I stuck to to 3-5k runs until last year when I finally decided to sign up for my first marathon.
Running a marathon was something that I kept in the back of my mind ever since I did the 26k. I thought it would be an amazing bucket list accomplishment for myself, but also a way to prove to others how far you can go on a plant-based diet.
Once I signed up, it breathed new life into me. I shifted gears between running on the odd day that I felt like it, to waking up every morning and going for a run no matter what.
I watched Joan Benoit’s Masterclass where she gives practical advice on the steps to take to work your way up to a marathon.
She recommended creating a training plan that includes short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals.
I knew what my long term goal was - running a marathon by October. I made my short term goal to run 5ks regularly and one 10-15k per weekend. I made my intermediate goal to run two 20ks and one 30k before the race.
It’s been remarkable to notice how much we come to expect doing the things that we've made into habit. Like James Clear talked about in his book, habits we establish become grooves in our brain that we will automatically follow. Now I associate 630 in the morning with running, and I’m unsure of what to do with myself on the days that I don’t.
For the longer runs in my training plan, I set up dates in my calendar. In the months leading to the race I planned to spread them out one month apart, leaving the 30k run to the final month. I named them “running events.” They were special milestones to be celebrated, after all, and I thought they deserved their own dedicated time.
By breaking it down into realistic steps, my long-term marathon goal became much more feasible and achievable.
I can’t talk about long distance running without talking about food, because being more mindful about what I was eating over the last couple of months has really helped me to run better.
Near the beginning of my marathon training I started following Eat Well Run Better on instagram (gotta love that instagram algorithm). She posts very simple diagrams demonstrating ideal meals and snacks that you can have before, during, and after your runs. It was through her content that I realized I had been unintentionally underfueling myself.
On running days I used to eat just as I normally would without considering the extra nutrition and energy my body needed. Subsequently, I ended up with minor leg injuries after my first two 10k runs of the season.
After incorporating what I learned I noticed a big difference in my recovery. It’s so so so important to take your nutrition seriously if you want to train and not get hurt. And running should never be a punishment for something that you think you shouldn’t have eaten, or vice versa. Both running and eating should be positive experiences that are celebrated and enjoyed.
The biggest change I made was to start eating before and after every run.
Just before running I have an apple and peanut butter, because I’m obsessed and I love it. I’m not sure if it’s perfect, but it’s pretty good because it has carbs and a little bit of protein.
Right when I get back I have breakfast which is always chia pudding for me (cause it’s God’s food). It’s packed with lots of great stuff, but again most importantly it has carbs and protein for recovery.
On anything longer than a 10k run I also take energy gels with me. They’re basically sugar and they give you the fast acting energy boost that you need to keep you going.
Typically you don’t want to have anything super high fiber right before your run (or anything that’s too oily) because it’s harder to digest. You want quick, easy energy that your body doesn’t have to work for. Basically, you want all of your energy to go into running rather than digesting.
For my long distance runs (20k and above) the meal planning starts a day in advance. To prepare for my 30k run, I had a lovely pasta dinner at Gia the night before. Gia is a beautiful vegetarian Italian restaurant in Toronto. I had the veggie pappardelle bolognese, focaccia (marvelous), and olive oil cake. Carbs!
I picked up a bagel from Mabel’s for the morning of, and enjoyed it with a homemade blueberry jam and peanut butter. All of these little things make the running day feel like a special event.
I also got myself a running water bottle (waist pack). Running Room on Bay st. helped me find the right one so that I could stay hydrated enroute. Staying hydrated while you're running is key if you want to be able to go far. That's something else I learned from Eat Well Run Better.
Yoga with Dagmar
Stretching is another super important component of your routine if you want to be able to go the distance without getting hurt. Even though I’ve known this, stretching is something that I’ve literally never done. I just could never be bothered to do it. It feels so tedious. But once I began marathon training, I knew I had to. I got around my distaste for stretching by doing a daily yoga practice after my runs instead.
It’s a wonderful way for me to stretch, strengthen, and relax at the same time. Even going to the gym these days has felt like a drag, but strengthening your muscles is important, too.
The warrior poses will make your legs strong, and as a byproduct, those chatturgungas will really make your arms and shoulders JACKED. Of course, it’s also amazing for stretching.
Yoga with Dagmar is the best series of yoga videos that I’ve come across, ever. There’s just something about her that I love. She has a wonderful, calm yet strong presence. She’s not too high energy like many of the other instructors and there’s a great flow to her practice. I tend not to enjoy a yoga practice that makes you count how many seconds to hold each pose, because it turns it more of a means to an end than a relaxing experience.
I actually just recently realized that her name is Dagmar, and that Dagmar is not the type of music that they play in the video. Haha.
There are a couple of nice, comforting things she says throughout the practice that I wait for her to say because they’re ingrained into my mind; Go for a nice, easy twist here… Notice the sensations in your body, breathe through them… Let your breath be like the waves of the ocean, don’t try to control or manipulate it.
What a sweetie.
Regular Massages, Acupuncture, and Chiropractor Appointments
Because I am getting older. But seriously, this is another way to take care of your body so you don't end up to putting yourself out.
Make it Satisfying
To keep my long distance runs enjoyable, I’ve started using them as a way to discover new areas in the city. Over the years I’ve noticed that I always seem to plateau once the novelty of a new neighbourhood has worn off. It’s only exciting so many times before you really start to count the time and the kilometers and it becomes boring and unenjoyable. I can’t even fathom the drudgery of what it would be like to run on a treadmill for more than five minutes.
One day while running, I found the most magical little lookout next to Casa Loma, atop the Baldwin steps. As I was passing the castle, I noticed this long, narrow, grassy, picturesque pathway lined with trees. I couldn’t believe my eyes when in the distance I could glean a view of the entire city. Taking that in wasn’t unlike the feeling I got walking the streets of Rome, being in awe at every corner I turned.
From the top of the lookout, which overlooks all of Spadina all the way to the water, I spotted one large spire that seemed to stick out from the rest of the buildings. I ran down to find out what it was. Just imagine that, standing at one of the highest points in the city, picking a spot, and knowing that you could run there.
The spire was way closer than I thought and I almost ran right past it. It was the U of T Daniels building placed right in the centre of Spadina circle. I kept going until I reached the water and caught the cool, calm breeze of Toronto’s early morning. I made it all the way back before the bustle of ChinaTown arrived for the day.
Another adventure was my first 30k run. I used it to plan a new route, up and down the Don Valley River. I was so taken aback by the sights I saw hidden beneath the city and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life.
I keep my regular 5k runs to the same pleasant trip around the neighbourhood. It's been a great way to build a habit that I could work into my morning routine. I get up, have a coffee, read, throw the shoes on and get out the door on my little loop catching the sunrise. I find it comforting and taking the same route has also been a good way to track my speed (just for fun - I’m not trying to be a champion).
I think it’s so important that you don’t develop an all or nothing mentality, which is a major setback when it comes to achieving any kind of goal. All is not lost if you don’t make it out for a day or two. Just like if you were trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle and you ate a piece of cake one day, or if you were trying to drink less and you had one night out.
A healthier approach, I think, and a concept introduced to me by Atomic Habits, is to treat each decision like a vote toward the person you want to become. No single vote is going to determine who you are either way.
Don’t make your goals so rigid that pursuing them becomes unenjoyable. Make it satisfying; because you won’t excel in any endeavour which you do not enjoy.
You will become what you repeatedly do. And becoming a runner, as with anything else, happens one step at a time.
For a definitive, practical, guide on how to adopt healthy habits, I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It teaches you to design the life you want and identify the things that are holding you back.