How to Chunk Your Long Runs – Runner’s World

How to Chunk Your Long Runs  Runner’s World

Long runs are often harder on your psyche than they are on your legs. Running at an easy, comfortable pace makes all those prescribed miles feel like they’re ticking off at their own leisure: slowly and endlessly. Fortunately, practicing a mental technique called chunking can help you split your interminable long runs into much more manageable fragments.

As you’d expect, RW staffers have learned lots of ways to trick themselves into thinking long runs aren’t actually that long. (Coach PJ wrote about his chunking tricks a while back, too!) Adopt one (or all) of the strategies below on your next double-digit run!

Chunking Tip #1: Run the Mile You’re In, But in Kilometers

—Pavlína Černá, Newsletter Editor

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I’m European, so not only do kilometers feel more natural to me—they also make for nicer, smaller chunks. Even if my planned long run calls for miles, I always convert the distance to the metric system. It may sound counterintuitive—why would I run more kilometers rather than fewer miles? Because it makes me feel like I’m progressing faster: If my long run calls for 10 miles, I begin and just watch the 16 kilometers tick away. I’ll take a lot of small chunks over fewer big ones any day.

Chunking Tip #2: Reward Yourself for Each Chunk

—Mallory Creveling, Deputy Editor, Health & Fitness

During long marathon training runs, I typically take in a half gel or some gummies about every three miles, so that’s my big reward for a small chunk of the run. When I’m struggling, I remind myself that I just have to get to that next 5K(ish) mark where I can take a little breather to take in some fuel. If things get really tough, I usually stop for a quick sip of water about every mile, too. Breaking down a long run into single miles—and repeating the phrase “stay in the mile you’re in”—is a pretty approachable way to conquer a 20-miler.

Chunking Tip #3: Think of Each Small Circle as One Small Chunk

— Jeff Dengate, Runner in Chief

A year ago, I decided to do an 18-miler to prep for Boston (I was way undertrained), so I did nine 2-mile loops near my house, snagging a sip of water when I went past. I thought that would be helpful—“just have to run 2 more miles.” It still sucked, but it was probably my only shot for success that day. When it comes to long runs, I typically just give myself no choice. For example, a few weeks back, my wife dropped me off 20 miles from home. The only way back was by foot. Problem solved.

Chunking Tip #4: Watch the Chunks Get Smaller

—Theo Kahler, Membership Editor

When I was a runner at Wake Forest University, instead of logging laps around our normal 7-mile lake loop, my team would sometimes break up our long runs with a “shuttle run.” For example, for a 14-miler, we’d do an out-and-back consisting of 3 miles out, 3 miles back, 2 out, 2 back, 1.5 out, 1.5 back, 0.5 out, and 0.5 back, returning to the same spot each time. The idea was usually met with groans at first—who wants to run the same stretch over and over again?—but it’s nice to see the chunks get smaller as you progress. Just make sure to double-check your math before heading out.

Chunking Tip #5: Run One Chunk Out, One Chunk Back

—Amanda Furrer, Test Editor

One thing that works for me is halving the mileage if the route is an out-and-back. I first picked this up while training for the 2010 Boston Marathon. Beginning on 10-mile run days, I’d fool myself into thinking I had five miles to go even if I hadn’t hit the halfway mark yet. This still works when I head out on out-and-backs. Maybe it’s convincing myself that I’ll pass by the same scenery again, so it’s a been-there-done-that mentality. But if I’m at mile two or mile three, I think I’ve already run four or six miles.

Chunking Tip #6: Loop Your Chunks Around the House

—Brian Dalek, Director of Content Creation

What I’ve found to be helpful over the years to break up a long run mentally is to run a set of 5- to 8-mile loops (depending on the goal distance) just outside my door. There are some benefits, despite what could seem like a redundant run. First, I do a familiar route, so there won’t be any questions of what to expect next on the run (especially on the second or third loops of the route) that you might get if exploring a new long-run territory. Also, you have a built-in aid station at your home (or clean bathroom should you need it) when you complete a loop. Or, if things aren’t going your way, at least you’re home right away when you call it a day. Finally, you do have the option of switching the route direction around if you want a different perspective. Bonus confidence booster: You’ll feel really great if you do the second and/or third loops slightly faster than the first—if you’re doing the smart thing and not running too hard to start your long run.

Chunking Tip #7: Chunk Your Run With Natural Wonders

—Pat Heine-Holmberg, Video Producer

The nice thing about doing long runs on the trail is I can coordinate them around sightseeing. Whether it’s overlooks or waterfalls, having something to look at other than what’s directly in front of me keeps me engaged in my surroundings and distracted from just putting one foot in front of the other. I can explore a new location or route, since I don’t have an expectation of how long segments will take me to run. On the other hand, knowing the route can also help; breaking it down into the next climb or descent, or until the next turn, gives me a small portion of the run to focus on instead of the total miles.

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