I have been doing regular long runs for over 13 years now. Always in training for something. I will say that it has taken many years to work out the kinks of my system and now I feel lucky that my long runs are relatively routine - but never boring. I always learn a new lesson on a new run.
Here is a run down of the key lessons/parts of my long run:
Two days before scheduled long run. I double check my family schedule and the weather to see if anything has snuck into the time slot that may make me miss or delay the run. This gives me a few days to shuffle things around if needed. I don't mind a little bad weather, but really hot or really cold or other extremes (foot of snow, lightening, etc) is stuff I will shuffle my run for. And in the summer, I start watching my water intake and try to bump it up a bit more than normal and try to hold back my caffeine. Decide on running route. Decide initial goal.
Day before scheduled long run. Remind my family of my long run. Just because I mentioned it a few times and it is on the calendar means nothing - always good to confirm. Water is with me all the time and make sure I drink it in lieu of other beverages. I usually don't run anything hard or long the day before. Start making a mental list of "challenges" I can think through on my run. Start thinking about post run food reward.
Night before long run. Small to moderate sized dinner, nothing unusual, nothing too spicey. No alcohol - not even one beer. I find alchol makes me drag in my runs for at least 24 hours after drinking it. Small snack at bedtime - something easy to digest like a rice krispie treat. Water at bed. Clothes laid out - my most comfortable, nonchafing stuff I can find. Water bottles, iPod, phone, SpiBelt, shoes, Gu, towel for after ... anything I need I lay out - just like I would do the night before the race. It makes prerace prep more like a routine than a test. Decide on three possible goals (usually some combination of miles and timing).
Morning of long run. Put on running stuff. Body glide in rubby spots. Small snack like a banana, glass of OJ, or granola bar before I head out. Light stretching. Last trip to the bathroom. Note to family of route and expected timings. Gather up all my crap. Drop off water bottles along route if needed.
Long run - part 1: Walk 1/4 mile to warm up and make sure all my gear and stuff is on right and feels right. Start running really, really slowly. I force myself to run slower than I think I should for the first mile or so. Goal is to settle into a groove, an easy to sustain pace. Water stop every 15-20 minutes.
Long run - part 2: Still running slow, but slightly faster than part 1. Work on couple mental challenges I brought along. Think about training plan and if any modifications are needed. Breath deeply - enjoy the first half of the run. Water stop. Depending on distance could be a fuel stop with GU as well (about every 30-45 minutes).
Long run - part 3: Turn around or half way point for run. One of my favorite parts of the run. If it is an out and back course, I now know that I will finish because there is only one way back to the start. Short walk break. If I figured out anything about my mental challenges, I jot down notes on the voice recorder or notepad on my phone. Start picking up the pace a bit. Goal is always negative splits for my long runs. Begin varying the pace more - short pickups - to keep my legs interested in the run. Water stop. Could be GU depending on distance. End of part 3 and going into part 4 is a tough leg for me - I am ready to be done. Pull out something from bag of tricks to keep going - sighting short term milestones, walk breaks, listing all the things I have done harder than this, slowing down to a crawl, switching music, thinking about new challenges, mantras ("all forward motion is good motion", "i can and i will", "just keep moving").
Long run - part 4: Funnel spirits of other runners in the community. Call to mind great stories of tough runs. Start thinking about how good it will be to be done with this run. How so many people didn't get up and do this run today. Run through lists at home and what needs to be done after the run. Begin thinking about post run food reward. Smile. Pick up the pace some more. Visual the finish line at a race.
Post Long Run: Walk it out. Drink lots more water and touch of Powerade. Listen to a great tune as I walk and drink. Wipe off a bit before hopping in car. At home, get good for me snack first. Usually a fruit and something with protein. Drink more water. Shower.
And then...back to reality.