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15 Tips to Add Fun to Marathon Training Runs

Woman running 2012 Boston Marathon
Can't promise these tips will make you feel as jubilant as Michelle (grey tank) did at this stage of the Boston Marathon, but they should put a smile on your face.

Whether you’re covering 8 or 18 miles for your half- or full marathon training runs, here’s how to add some fun.

-Have a companion (or two or three). If you don’t have a partner training for the same race, have a pal join you for part of your training excursion. Michelle, a mother runner who ran Boston this year, will often run 7 or 8 miles solo, then finish up 12 or 13 with friends. Or break your 20-miler into four 5-mile loops, recruiting different friends to join you for each 5-miler.

-Plan a ride-along. Your children, partner, or friends can bike alongside you for all or part of your journey. JoAnn and her Twin Cities posse often bike beside friends, acting as a Sherpa, carrying iced nuun, bananas, or GU Chomps.

-Forego human companionship, and bring your dog along for part of the run, then drop him off at home partway through the run. Or flip that: Alison, a half-marathoner in Utah, has used her dog to haul her through the last few miles when she’s flagging.

Woman running Bolder Boulder
Alison with tunes strapped to her arm

-Start and/or end someplace fun. On a hot day this summer, two pals and I pushed through 14 miles. Moving us along was the thought of taking a cooling dip at the lake we’d started from. A post-run swim isn’t always feasible this time of year, but consider finishing up at a waffle house or brew pub. (Carbs, right?)

-“Save” a playlist for long runs only. Or make like Alison, who listens to a Pandora station on her phone instead of tunes she’s purchased. (I do this with Spotify.)

-Get engrossed in audio books. One mother runner told us she got carried away by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series this summer. (To download one free title from, click here for special offer for mother runners.)

-Listen to a podcast. (Gee, we've got one we think you'd really like!)

-Make it a mission to high five at least 10 strangers on your run, suggested lululemon via Twitter. "You'll make someone's day and take your mind off your miles."

-Exercise your brain. Training for the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon, JoAnn listened to the same song over and over again, trying to decipher lyrics. She tried to unravel “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z, but we’d now dig into any Macklemore song. On Twitter, Healthy Way Mag suggested picking a category each mile—Countries; Girl Names Beginning with “M,” or Taylor Swift Songs—and mentally listing all the options you can think of.

-Let your mind run as free as your feet. As JoAnn said to us, “Sometimes having a blank slate of time in front of you is a good thing: It’s amazing the places your mind can wander to when you let it.”

-Take a picture. Michelle, the Boston qualifier, whips out her phone to snap shots along her route. “I’m fortunate to run in some really beautiful spots, and it’s easy to take that for granted when you’re out there slogging along for 3+ hours,” writes the Rhode Island resident. “But stopping for a minute to appreciate your surroundings is a nice way to take a breather and remind yourself that you really truly are lucky that you get to be out there doing this.”

Woman running with jogging stroller
Phoebe (aka "one badas$ mother runner") racing with her youngest son along for the ride.

-Change up your speed. Start slow for 3 miles, then run closer to race pace for 6 miles (or 2 or 3), then drop back down again.

-Ask someone if she (or he) wants company. Bethany told us her Garmin battery died during a recent tempo run. She was on a well-traveled trail, so she caught up with a high school boys’ track team and asked them if they could pace her for an 8:15 mile. (Resourceful mother runner, that Bethany!) Then, during her cooldown, she asked a skirt-clad runner if she could run with her, “because it felt weird to run three feet to her left and play the passing game. She was lovely,” says Bethany.

-Change your environs. Almost every runner we asked said longer distances are so much easier to tackle when you get to check out new scenery. Last weekend, Phoebe in New Hampshire, “did 14 on a long-drooled-over country road,” while her oldest son was at a birthday party in the area. She did an hour out and an hour back to avoid getting lost, “but it was great to see different houses and scenery along the way.”

-Make a plan to do a family outing a certain number of minutes (or hours) after you leave home, suggests creative Phoebe. “You run in the direction your family will be heading and they will ‘catch’ you in the car on the way to the destination. I like the mystery of imagining how far I’ll get before my ride comes along.” Two helpful hints she relayed to us: have your family bring along a bag of non-stinky clothes (and maybe some wet wipes); and don’t have the final destination be a wedding or fancy restaurant!

Now, you tell us: How do you make a long run entertaining?  

Women after a half-marathon
JoAnn with her gaggle of gal-pals at a race that we're sure they played Sherpa for each other in training.




18 responses to “15 Tips to Add Fun to Marathon Training Runs

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  2. I love finding strangers and running with them on the trail, the skirt clad/sane looking ones that is! I’m not doing R&R STL but I’ll be running Go! in the Spring. I keep busy by stopping to do an extra exercise if I get bored (push ups, jumping jacks, etc), I find it wakes other muscles and I am always trying to find alternatives to stopping – burpees aren’t fun after a certain mile!!

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  4. Usually, I’ll have the stroller with me. But, on occasion, my husband will take the kids on a walk in the stroller while I run. We play ‘hide and seek’ around the neighborhood. I go running away and then appear around a corner and they think they found me. We get a kick out of it, and now my son asks to go play hide and seek!

  5. Running buddy is always my first choice. But lately, podcasts are saving me on the long runs these days. I don’t know why I am just latching onto these. I was always music only; but I’m super bored with it and too cheap to buy more. There are so many great podcasts. Besides AMR podcasts, I download sermons by Rick Warren. He’s such a great speaker and the messages are so pertinent to life’s hang-ups and issues. Each one is 25 minutes long, so each one gets me through about 2.75 miles; and they are usually in 3 part series’. After I listen to a series, I turn on some tunes or another single podcast to get me through to the end.

    AND I am super, duper jealous of people with dogs that run. My adorable, loving, super-sweet Beagle of 9 years only walks. I’m currently begging my hubby to let us/me adopt a Lab running buddy. It’s going to take a LOT more begging!

  6. I definitely do podcasts and audiobooks… Te only way I can get into books now a days. I have laughed out loud, cried, gasped in fear and made all kinds of crazy expressions listening to AMR podcasts and books I get from Audible

  7. Running with groups makes such a difference, and when they already have a route in mind it lets me just go along for the ride and not worry about how far I’ve come or how much farther I have to go. I’ve also been experimenting with fast finish runs once or twice a month on a long run, which keeps them interesting (and tough!)

  8. Laughing OUT LOUD at the Macklemore sentence. Thriftshop come on a few runs ago and I finally paid attention to the lyrics – like really paid attention – and was surprised about how wrong I was about some of the words!! Not sure if my version made more sense or not! 🙂 I guess I never listened that closely before.

  9. Love these ideas! This past week I texted my daughter when I was flagging on my long run and she met me on her bike for the last 2 miles. It made all the difference.

    I live about 6 miles from my boyfriend, so on a long run I go to his house, get a drink and a pat on the back(side) and start back. The time it was pouring rain he even found me a dry pair of socks for the return. 🙂

  10. I WISH I had a running friend to keep me company on my longer runs! I try to come up with some great playlists and listen to music I can’t listen to when my kids are in the car. Other than that, I solve work and personal problems while out on the run and believe me, that can take hours!

  11. I am so very thankful that my running partner is my dog Dolly…..AND that she can keep up with (or a little ahead of) me for 13.1 miles! she is also a great excuse to not go running when it is over 90 degrees!

    my favorite way to tackle a longer run is to go somewhere new. even a new route in my own neighborhood. I am constantly figuring out new ways/places to get my miles in!

  12. I love these, they are great reminders! I take my dog a lot but unfortunately she really likes to pull down hill but not up when I need her:-) but she makes it fun! Living in Asheville, NC it never gets old finding new routes, they are all beautiful if you are willing to do hills. I also take my kiddo along and he keeps me entertained and cheers on other runners!

    Best way I keep the long ones fun is my family runs, my husband, my dad, and my mom. My mom and I run together a lot and meet up with my dad and husband at the beginning, when they pass us on their way back because they are super fast, and at the end.

  13. I take my 11 month old in the running stroller with my dog attached to help. We love the funny looks and conversations with people along the way. Longer runs, I take a camel pack along to stay hydrated without having to stop and drink too.

  14. If someone does talk me into running another marathon I’ll be sure to keep this list on hand.
    And even though I dearly love my Pug, I think my next dog may be of the longer-legs variety. I’m always jealous when I see runners with dogs.

    Some great ideas, ladies!

  15. I use the dog one for the last few miles of my long runs. I also alternate between the treadmill and the road. I start off with 2 miles on the treadmill, get engrossed in a TV show, then go outside for 5-8 miles, head back in to continue my show, and then go back after another couple miles.

  16. I do three things during my double digit runs. First I pray for 3-miles. I know a few friends/family fighting cancer and I thank God for my health. Next, I listen to Another Mother podcast. People must think I am crazy when you make me laugh out loud! Last, I turn on my tunes. That gets me all pumped up to finish my run strong. I did this during my last 1/2 marathon training and it worked so well I will continue it.

  17. My kiddos are too big to go along for the ride, now. And they think I’m just a looney Mom for running, anyway. Therefore, so far, there is no convincing them to run long with me. I have ONE friend who runs just about my pace (just a tad faster). So, I like to do long runs with her. We like to choose scenic, special places to do those runs, whenever possible. Last time we ran together, a couple weekends ago, we chose Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. Talk about scenic! She took a pic of me running through the double walls of the “Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial” there at sunrise. Amazing photo! Running along the water gave us beautiful views of NYC and the Statue of Liberty. So much fun to have a beautiful view on a long run! Much better than just running with music. 🙂

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