Tackling Your 20 Miler

This coming weekend is the epic 20 mile run for many people who are training for Chicago.  Others will be doing theirs soon for other upcoming marathons.  Whether your training plan calls for your longest run to be 22, 20, or 18 miles I wanted to share some of my own helpful hints to get you through those miles.

Break it down in your head.  If you start thinking about this long run as one giant trek, you are going to mentally drain yourself long before your body is exhausted.  You need to remember that if you followed a typical training plan you have slowly built your body up over the last few weeks to handle these longer runs.

Remember when 15 miles seemed daunting?  When tackling 17 miles seemed impossible?  At this point you have likely already accomplished those and you probably surprised yourself with how well your body handled those miles.  The key is to trust your training.  Trust that the plan you were on has helped prepare you to be where you are now.


Play mind games.  Sometimes instead of thinking of, “1 mile down, 19 more to go,” I do little math games in my head.  I might say things like, “We just hit mile two.  If I were to head back now I would already have 4 in the bank.”  Or I think of miles in terms of numbers of songs.  Usually I can get approximately 3 songs in per mile.  So I might hit the 10 mile marker and figure I have the opportunity to pick my favorite 30 songs to get me through until the end.  As I continue I count down how many more songs remain.

Don’t forget to fuel and hydrate.  In some ways this long run is your chance to have a dress rehearsal for the big day.  Now is your opportunity to make sure you eat the breakfast you plan on for the race.  Don’t forget to bring your fuel on the run and to hydrate as you go.  Do it just as you plan to on race day.  This will help prepare you for what to expect on race day and hopefully boost your confidence about your game plan.

Be your best running buddy.  Expect that some miles are going to suck.  Others will be great.  But definitely plan on having some tough ones along the way.  This is the chance to be your own coach.  Talk yourself through the hard times and be your own best friend.  Don’t get down on yourself but instead coax yourself along and remind yourself of all of the positive things you have done along the way.  Simply saying things like, “Good job,” or “You have totally got this,” will subconsciously push you past what you might think is your limit.


Misery loves company.  Enlist the help of friends or a running group.  Especially in larger cities or areas with running communities you might find that local running stores or programs have group runs.  Don’t hesitate to join one.  There are almost always pace groups for everyone and if I know anything about runners we are a loving and accepting breed.  We are always happy to have others join us, regardless of what your pace might be.  Having company along the way makes the time go by much faster and will definitely make your run easier.

Turn a negative into a positive.  If things don’t go as you had hoped, remember that it is okay.  A bad run can be a great learning experience.  Now you know that you can make it through and if you find yourself in a rough patch on race day you know that it will get better.  Use this experience as a way of knowing you can get through anything.

Anyone doing their long run this weekend?  What is your best advice for surviving the long run?

15 thoughts on “Tackling Your 20 Miler

  1. This is awesome. Lately, my struggle isn’t the 20 miler, it’s the 15 miler. I know that sounds dumb – but I follow Pfitzinger and he has a mid week “medium” long run of 15 miles. I have no problem waking up on Saturday or Sunday (or in summer, any morning of the week) and doing a mid week 15. But on a random weekday after working all day (and in the afternoon heat right now), it is like the worst thing ever. It’s funny you posted about this because last night, I started a draft about this run. Every week, it’s the only run I actually see on the schedule with dread, which tells me I need to be doing it. I don’t know why it seems so daunting. I’m going to bookmark this and use it when I have my next mid week long run to tackle. Thanks!

    • I’ve been considering a Pfitzinger like plan myself but wonder if it might be too much on my body. I too often dread those midweek long runs. They are hard to wrap your head around when you have a million other things going on. I was thinking as I posted this how much I personally love those LONG weekend runs. And the best part is that once you train for one marathon, those long runs don’t seem nearly as scary the next time around.

      • I highly recommend Pfitz. I used his 55-70 mpw plan and combined it with a plan by Matt Fitzgerald and Brad Hudson. I took pieces from each – usually whatever workout I feared more was what I chose because I figured if I am shying away, I need it. I’ll let you know on 10/10 how it worked! Though it seemed to help for my half on Sunday, so hopefully I’m on the right track. Honestly, I think the biggest thing to get faster is to run more miles and build endurance. Yes, the speed work is absolutely necessary and can also serve as a confidence builder, but without a base I feel like it’s not as effective. What do you think? I feel like I’m always re-evaluating the whole process!

      • I think it is a careful balance of the two. You have to do speed to get faster. It sucks but truly works. And then you have to do high mileage to train your body to handle it. I am all about high mileage and actually really love it.

      • Agree with you completely. I wasn’t saying that you could totally skip the speed and just rely on a base to get faster, but I think you need both – and a balance, like you said. This has been the most mileage I’ve ever run. I’ve been mostly doing one real speed workout each week – some weeks I can handle two, but like you said – balance. After my race and a good recovery, I hope that in my next build (for Boston!) that I can handle two speed sessions each week. I don’t plan on running more than I am now in my next block, but I am hoping to kick the speed up a notch next time around. I need to do more tempo runs and more long runs with marathon paced miles built in!

  2. When I have my long runs (or races even) I break my mileage down into smaller counts and go from there. So example for an 18 miler I’d break it down into six 3-mile distances. So I tell myself…okay a 5k, one set down….ok, two sets down….three sets down….etc. I feel it is easier to tackle larger mileage that way than saying one down, 17 to go 🙂 Good luck runners, you’re going to kill it!

    • I completely agree with this and do the same thing. Counting each mile down is depressing. But looking at it in sections is super helpful. I often do nerdy math things in my head as a run. It kills the time 😉

  3. I have 20 on deck for Friday! It’ll be my second out of 3 20-milers this training cycle. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous so I’m going to have to remind myself of that the whole time 🙂

  4. As I mentioned in my own post, my 20-miler was a couple of weeks back. I failed to fuel properly, and my body crashed at mile 18.

    But I learned from it, ran a half this past weekend, and got it absolutely right and finished wanting more.

  5. welp this came at the opportune time for me, as i’m running (hopefully) at least 20 miles this Saturday. my marathon is the same as Chicago, i guess — Columbus Day wknd — so i need to get in a solid long run this wknd. prayers appreciated! thx for the tips.

  6. Great post! I have my longest coming up this weekend at 22 prepping for Chicago…my first 20 miler was 2 weeks ago and I targeted at or near goal pace…I’m trying to break 4 hours so want to be able to run 20 in 3 hours and was looking for a confidence building run…for my final long run I’ll back off on the pace a bit but not drastically, maybe 15-30 seconds. Fuel and hydration for me is also key so I setup a makeshift aid station on our front deck and incorporate 6-7 mile loops that allow me to restock my bottles and pick up gels. This also doubles for my wife and supports her long run loops for her half marathon training. It means we can carry far less during the run itself.

    I’m new to the blogging world so am enjoying finding all these great resources! Good luck to everyone with their long runs this week.

    • I love that you set up an aid station for yourself. What a great idea for your training. Chicago is a great race and I think you will enjoy it. Remember that slowing your pace down during the long run is actually a GOOD thing for your training and will help you to run faster on race day. Enjoy your 22 miler!

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