Avoiding Needless Pain

Marathon StartCredit: Roxanne Joslin

Every year thousands of people take up the challenge to run their first long distance race.  For each of these would-be marathon or half-marathon runners, the long run becomes a critical part of their training regimen.  Unfortunately running distances of 10 miles and longer is somewhat different from running shorter distances.  Running for literally hours at a time can present a significant number of challenges.  It takes a lot more energy to run 12 miles than to run 6 miles.  You have to have a plan for hydration during the long run.  There are more opportunities for injuries (both the serious kind and the kind that are just plain annoying....).  Needless to say many of these things are obvious, but  a few aren't really clear until they happen to you.

My Experiences with Long Runs (both Good and Bad)

I remember my first experience with a "true long run".  I read Dean Karnazes' book 50/50 decided that I really wanted to run a marathon.  I have been in the Army for a long time and have exercised routinely for years and years, but I had never really run distances beyond about 7 miles.  I started increasing my distance little by little.  Then one day it happened - I was intent on running my current "long run" (a 7.6 mile route), but the day was nice and I felt great so I just kept running and before you know it I had run 10.6 miles.  That one run started a string of long runs that finally culminated last year with my running of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon at the Stennis Space Center.  Along the way I ran into a few difficulties....

Non-Injury Injuries

Many long distance runners experience something called "black toe" when they start running long distances (and many continue to experience it when they keep running long distances.  Basically what is happening is you are developing a blister under your toenail.  This can lead to swelling and pain, and it does look really painful.  Truthfully though I found this was more of a non-injury.  While my toenails on both my big and my next to big twos turned black, they never really hurt and never affected my training.  Some people have indicated that you might need better fitting shoes, but personally I've never been able to avoid them when I run over 10 or 12 miles....  I think if you have a pair of shoes that feel comfortable and "black toe" isn't impacting your training - just live with the "non-injury".


Both men and women can experience this painful experience where their shirt or bra rubs on their nipples (or other body parts).  While this generally isn't a problem when your running 30 or 40 minutes, when you are running for 3 or 4 hours it can be extremely painful.  I know I have finished many long runs with a pair of bloody nipples that are amazingly tender for days after I ran (although while I ran I hardly noticed anything at all....).  Taking a minute to put a couple of band-aids, some vaseline or some BodyGlide on your nipples before you set out on a long run can be a lifesaver.  Another area that is common for chafing is on the insides of the thighs.  A good pair of Spandex running shorts or some more BodyGlide can easily fix this.  A few minutes of preparation can prevent days of discomfort.

Bloody Toes

Keep an eye on your toenails, they can cause all sorts of issues if thbloody sockCredit: Nicholas Josliney aren't cut regularly.  I cut my toe nails regularly, but when I started running long distances I noticed that I needed to keep them cut even shorter to prevent them from "stabbing" their brothers.  I never experienced this when I ran four or five miles, but when I hit 12 or 13 miles suddenly it was a big issue.  Spend a few minutes trimming your toe nails closely and you can avoid a lot pain as your walking around at work.  As a bonus keeping your toe nails very short can cut your likelihood of developing "blacktoe".  Another technique that seems to work is applying vaseline to your toes before a long run.


Shorter runs don't require a means of hydration mid-way through the run.  Longer runs are a totally different matter.  You must plan to either carry water  with you ( maybe using a Fuel Belt, a Camelback or just carrying a bottle of water) or you have to plan a route that takes you by some spots where you can hydrate (like a park water fountain).  You also have to make sure you are drinking more water before your run and that your drinking water to replenish your stores after your run.  This is true anytime of the year, but particularly when it is hot outside.  Once I ran a 13.1 mile run during the late spring in Oklahoma with no water - I regretted it and felt terrible for a couple of days afterward.  Take a few minutes to plan for hydration on your long run, it can make all the difference.

Long runs can be a great part of your training, and with a few simple tips you can easily avoid the most common forms of discomfort that new distance runners experience.  When you decide to add a long run to your routine, take a minute to prepare!