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How I Run 20 Miles Before Work

Running and me, we haven't always been the best of friends. Back in high school, I could barely run a mile. When I first committed to making running a hobby, I ran a half-mile every day until it felt routine. Soon, as these stories typically go, that half-mile became a full, and then I tackled my first 5K. When I signed up and completed that gateway half marathon just shy of 3 hours, I couldn't have been more elated—or hooked. These days? Well, I'm now a certified run coach, and at breakfast with a colleague last month I said the phrase "the marathon is my favorite distance," and almost choked on my breakfast laughing. Me, an older (and hopefully wiser) version of that girl who couldn't run a mile to save her life, now lover of 26.2-mile race distance? Funny how those things happen.

With that said, I've pounded my fair share of pavement over the past eight years. Some runs were delightful, fueled by my Ja Rule Pandora station and city views from the Williamsburg Bridge. Others, not as great, cut short after just eight minutes in because well, not every run feels right. And sometimes, when there's a marathon pending and you know you can't make it out on a weekend to hit that long run, training requires you to get up and out at the crack of dawn and do crazy things. Crazy things like running 13 miles. (Or 20 miles.) And then go to the office.

 

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Okay, so I admit I'm a morning person. During the week, there are seldom days that I don't have a good sweat under my belt before 8 a.m. Considering early sweat sessions can help curb appetite and also help you sleep better, I'm a firm believer that the a.m. workout is money. But as someone who wasn't always this way and who also understands that running 13 miles before 9 a.m. is kind of mental, I feel like it's my duty to impart a bit of wisdom. With these strategies for tackling a long run before work, you, too, can run a half marathon or more before answering your first email of the day.

1. Early to fuel, early to bed.

The secret to a successful long run starts the night before. It may sound extreme, but the ideal is to get your dinner in before 6 p.m. This will give your body enough time to digest before hitting the sack. And while carb loading can up your endurance and is essential for prepping for a next-day run lasting longer than 90 minutes, downing excessive amounts of pasta isn't exactly how it's done. Instead, make sure that roughly 70 percent of the calories in your standard-size meal are coming from carbohydrates. And I can't stress this enough: hydration, hydration, hydration. Once your meal's doneski, wind down. Read a book and give your mind a rest, then get to bed at a reasonable hour. I aim for at least eight hours of snoozing before a long run, which means that if my alarm's going off at 5:30 a.m., I'm in my bed and ready to crash by 9:30.

2. Know exactly what you're going to wear and what gear you'll need, and lay it out.

Make sure to check the forecast ahead of time and prep your gear the night before. Hot outside? Make sure your shorts are ready to go and body glide on the ready. Cold? Have gloves, a headband, and warm socks on standby to make sure you're giving the extremities the attention they need. From your shirt and sports bra to SPIBelt and playlist, you want to have every single item you'll need for that long run ready. If you're a bit groggy before heading out the door, you won't have to curse your unpreparedness at mile 3.

 

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3. Set an alarm. Then set another one (and one more after that).

Things I get excited to wake up for: flights to the Caribbean. Things that I don't necessarily jump out of bed for: a 13-mile run. Set at least three alarms for your morning miles: one 10 minutes before you think you should get out of bed, one when you know you need to be waking up, and one 15 minutes after that (I refer to this as the last-resort alarm). Now, it's one thing to set these alarms for a Saturday long run, but an entirely different beast if you need to be in the office for a 9:30 meeting. This requires you to work backward to ensure the time line works out. Think about your average pace per mile and figure out how long you'll be running for. Build in an extra 10 minutes for things like water breaks, stoplights—and of course, a critical Instagram-appropriate mid-run photo. Then, think about how long you'll need to wind down and get ready for work post-miles. I give myself 45 minutes at home to eat again, shower, and get back out the door to head to work. So, let's break this down:

13 miles at a 9-minute pace = 1 hour, 57 minutes of running
+ 10 minutes buffer time
+ 45 minutes at home
= Roughly 2 hours, 52 minutes

For me, this means I need a wake-up time of roughly 5 a.m. so I have time to eat something (step one), then get dressed, exhale, and hit the ground running between 5:35 and 5:45.

4. Have your fuel ready.

Before a run, you want your meal to be about 70 percent carbohydrates and easily digestible ones at that. Think oatmeal and white bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter. My go-to, every time, is half of a plain bagel with peanut butter and raspberry jelly.

When it comes to what you take on the run with you, nutrition-wise, well, that's all up to preference. I'm a huge fan of CLIF Shot Energy Gel (raspberry tastes just like the jam I put on that morning bagel), but I know other people who put Swedish Fish in a small ziplock bag and stuff it in their SPIBelt. Just make sure that you're bringing something to refill your glycogen stores. The goal? Aim for roughly 120 to 250 calories/hour when running for longer than an hour.

 

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5. Your playlist should be on lock.

Whether or not you're naturally a morning person, a run that starts before dawn requires every extra ounce of motivation you can muster. For me, that has a lot to do with a slammin' playlist, which I prep the day before. I'm a beats per minute (bpm) runner (I average at roughly 92 bpm). A note on this: Until the sun comes up, I keep the music off in the name of safety. Once there are more people on the street or running path, that's when the earbuds come out. (Looking for some pep in your step? Try one of these four workout playlists to power you through any workout.)

6. Choose the right route.

For longer runs, I calculate my entire route based on two things: water fountain availability and elevation. In the winter, water fountains are less available because towns and cities shut off the water supply to prevent frozen pipes, so I carry a bottle with me. With regard to elevation, I'm thinking distance and mileage and less incline. Your training plan is bigger than this long run, so while I recognize the value of some good old-fashioned hill work, I don't suggest making this run your Everest. Enjoy it. You are spending roughly two hours out there, after all.

7. Keep your eye on the prize.

Again, you're working against the clock here. While the idea of squeezing in 13 miles before your first conference call may be intimidating, in a weird way it's also nice to have a deadline. For me, stopping becomes less of an option. When I'm tired, I remember that I've got a time line to stick to and a run to finish. I also remember that there's more food waiting for me back at my apartment.

8. Take your post-run meal as your reward.

Research shows that your body's ability to refill muscle stores decreases by 50 percent if you wait to eat just two hours after your workout compared to eating right away. The last rule of the pre-work long run? Get those calories in because well, spoiler alert, you have a long day ahead of you still. Celebrate, my friends. You did it! There's a waffle topped with peanut butter on your to-do list, and you're now part of an elite squad: rock stars who can casually mention "I ran a half marathon this morning."

 

A photo posted by Emily Abbate (@emilyabbate) on

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