Get Creative when Going Long


Posted by Coach Mandi Kowal

Summer is technically 35 days away but that doesn’t mean that our workouts haven’t started to ramp up. For those racing long course, half Ironman or Ironman distance, our workouts have gradually started to increase in duration and distance. With that comes the need to determine the best route, formulate a plan to refuel, and remain safe out on the roads. These long rides and runs may be done with with other buddies or alone.

When I trained for my first Ironman back in 2004, I remember that the long rides and runs felt tough because I felt isolated and not so safe. Since then I have developed ways to eliminate or minimize those feelings and help make the workouts more fun and focused. I think a lot has to do with the route or way you chose to execute your workout. Below are examples of my some approaches I have adopted. All of them are driven by the fact that I wanted to feel safe, not be too far from home, add a little change into a normal routine, and be able to have access to my nutrition.

Option 1: Out and Back repeats – One year in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin I was home alone, my daughter still needed a babysitter and I had to get in a 75 mile hilly ride. I planned ahead, setting up two baby sitters, preparing all my nutrition just inside the door, and picked the hilliest route from my home. I rode out 13 miles and then turned around. My turn around was at a gas station, just in case. I purposely set it up not to be far from home. This way I would only be gone 90 min max before I was home again to check in. In addition, I got in over 10,000 feet of climbing, and had great access to food. Not to mention, knowing I had to be home for the “switch-a-roo” between babysitters gave my first two loops real purpose and kept me on track. Finally, I knew that I wanted to match or improve my lap split on my last lap which was a great way to end. In the end, I named this the “Triple Bypass” and to celebrate my completion, I let my daughter spray me down with the hose. She sure had fun.



Option 2: Multiple smaller loops – I know that some people don’t care for these but I really like doing this. I have a 4 mile loop I run and when I have to go long, I pick this loop and repeat it. In my head 4 x 4 mile repeats sounds more doable than 16 mile straight run. Plus I have access to my nutrition and can monitor my speeds by establishing check points. Usually I am either trying to negative split the laps or see how consistent I can be from lap to lap. Sometimes I even let my family know how many I have left (“2 more loops”). This may seem lame but I know they like knowing where I am and have a sense of when I will be done. There’s nothing like scoring points with the family during those big volume days.

Option 3: Drop off and run home – I love these because the second you start running you’re heading home. That’s a great feeling right off the bat! I do this a lot of when my family has errands to do on the other side of town or the next town over. And they usually drive the way I run so they can check on me on their way home. Nothing like hearing that honk of the horn and getting a shout out from your daughter. It also adds another safety feature into the run. I have yet to do this with a bike workout but probably will do it this summer or early fall. 

Option 4: Run to a destination – For these, I usually ask my family to meet me somewhere. I’ll ask if they want to get coffee or maybe even ice cream. Not many kids turn down a chance to get ice cream! We pick a meet-up point and then everyone has something to look forward to. Several times, when I was coaching at the University, we would have our practice at the river/lake and I would run to the hotel instead of take the bus. I just loved the challenge of it and it was a great way to relieve stress and give me some processing time.

I have known partners to use options 3 & 4 to ensure that each parent/partner would get their workout completed for the day. One partner runs out to destination and the other partner runs home. This way everyone is getting taken care of and happy.  

Option 5: Triple Brick – This is great for indoor and outdoor rides and breaks it up. Just recently, our indoor group had planned to ride out doors but for the third weekend in a row, due to weather we were stuck inside again. So I decided to mix it up and do a triple brick in this format: a 50 min ride followed by a 1 mile run x 3. The entire group appreciated the change, and the chance to get three runs off the bike. Time flew by, we were all able to encourage/push each other and we all had a great workout. My favorite triple brick memory, involved my daughter last summer. While I biked an hour indoors she was allowed to use her tablet. When I ran she had to bike with me. I would let her know when I was 5 minutes from transitioning to the run. She would get ready for the bike (helmet on, get bike outside) and away we went. After my third round, she was so disappointed to learn we were done. I had a great workout, she got a little extra tablet time and we had some connection time, bonus all around.

Option 6: Treadmill run indoors – I will never forget when I would watch Professor Holstein run 15-20 miles on the treadmill. I used to think, ‘Who in the heck can run that long on the treadmill?’ Well, fast forward 10 years and there I was forced to run 90 min on the treadmill. The first time I did it, I switched treadmills every 30 min. I knew I had something to look forward to every 30 min with a quick run to the restroom if needed. I have come to appreciate running long on the treadmill because your nutrition is always there, it’s safe, and a GREAT way to build mental toughness. It is what you make it. You can embrace it or loathe it. You win when you embrace it.

Option 7: The 4 Leaf Clover – One day I just couldn’t make up my mind to which route I wanted to run so I made a clover. I headed out 2 miles and returned home and repeated 3 more times in different directions. There’s something about being on your usual short courses that makes it seem like a shorter effort. Again, it allows nutrition to be kept close and keeps you in your ‘neighborhoods’ during the whole run.

Option 8: Group Rides – There are plenty of ways to find others to ride with, or at least have others around while riding. I know I like to take part in charity rides, have found and ridden with a local cycling or triathlon group, recruited some friends to ride with me, and have hooked up with others riding the race course. You can check Facebook, local bike clubs, or sporting goods stores for flyers or advertisements.


Remember the possibilities are endless! You can achieve your workout goals, you can have fuel readily available, feel safe, AND stay motivated. So mix it up, get your family involved, create little games for yourself, stay motivated and have some fun out there when you GO LONG! 


Coach Mandi Kowal is a USAT Level I and Youth/Junior Coach, an ASCA Level II certified Coach and recently completed the Hunter Allen Power Based Certification. She has 31 years of coaching experience and has coached athletes to success at the regional, national and world level. After coaching for nearly 28 years in collegiate rowing, she started up her coaching business instructing 100’s of youth and masters swimmers, runners, and triathletes. In addition, she opened up the only CompuTrainer studio in the area. As an athlete, she has numerous top finishes in many sports including triathlon, collegiate rowing, and running. She is motivated by working together with her athletes to help them achieve their goals. "My mission is to have you TRI-Umph today so you can excel tomorrow." Contact her at

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