I’ve always been curious about the different processes and thought patterns runners use to complete very long runs. Many people like to do their running in training groups or at the very least with a few friends. I have done that many times. I know someone is a good friend when I can spend four hours running with them, talk almost the whole time and never feel irritated. It’s just a comfortable feeling. As a testament to the camaraderie among runners in general I will also say that I’ve very rarely experienced any kind of irritated or negative feelings towards even people whom I didn’t know prior to running with them. Even though we are all different and possess unique identities, there is something about coming together to do what we love that most often fosters compatibility.
What really fascinates me is how the solo runners do it. I have run both ways. I enjoy a good group run, or regular weekly long runs with my good friend Jan. But on the flip side of that I absolutely love doing a solo long run. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten or twenty miles. There’s something so intimate about running alone. It’s just me, my will and my guts and my ability to keep my mind where it needs to be so I can mentally power through the hard miles and more so enjoy the easy ones. Solo runs are healing and soothing, and can make you feel more accomplished and tough when you’re finished.
On mine, the first few miles usually start out tentative. They never feel too good, as I am never quite warmed up until the end of my third or fourth mile. About that time I relax and settle in. This is also the time when I glean my first clues as to how the run will be. Hint: If I feel like turning around and going home at mile 4, I may be in for a challenge.
My favorite part about running long is the way it metaphors life. In life there are bad patches, good ones, great ones, and times when you simply want to sit down and cry. Sounds like most of my long runs.
I have a friend who has a problem with boredom when he runs. Thankfully, that is one problem I’ve never had. Maybe it’s because my brain never shuts off, and I love to have conversations with myself in my head. Or maybe it is because I’m so in love with running that I never tire of thinking about it. As I move my body through my long runs, I remember the marathons I’ve done making sure to focus on the good ones. I think of the next race on the calendar. When I’m running strong and feeling good I love to pretend what it would be like to feel that way during the last six miles of a marathon. Or even the last .2! I even go so far as to imagine crossing the finish line in under four hours and throwing my arms in the air in triumph. Call it cheesy, but not only does it pass the time it lifts me up and puts a smile on my face as well.
Speaking of smiles, I have always been one to smile a lot when I am running. I could care less if I look silly. I’m doing something I’m passionate about, and whether or not it hurts I never forget to recognize how incredibly fortunate I am to be out there doing it at all. Running never fails to buoy my mood, even the tough runs. So most of the time I’m out there you’ll see me grinning like a fool.
I am highly tuned in to my body when I run, so I spend time considering the areas I need to work on. Do my thighs or quads feel fatigued? Is my IT band tight? If my shoulders hurt I know it’s time to start doing push-ups (or something similar) again. I spend a good amount of time considering my overall training plan, thinking of ways I might not be maximizing my time and conjuring up ways to tweak it to get the most from it.
Another good thing for me is music. Yes I know there is some controversy surrounding the use of headphones while running, but I am diligent about the volume and paying attention to my surroundings. Music is nothing short of a panacea for all that ails. I can count the times when a few back to back power songs have allowed me to sail through some of the miles when I was really hurting. And on the flip side, when I’m feeling really good my music enhances it and takes it to the next level, to a feeling I like to call Runners’ High, always a welcome companion on any run.
If I’m having a particularly tough day, I spend time focusing on each member of my family. I think about the areas they are struggling in and send them good vibes. I remember good times with them. I think about how incredibly proud I am of my daughter and the woman and mother she has become. And of course I think about the absolute lights of my life, grandsons # 1 and 2.
In short, it’s a rare tough run that I can’t turn around using the grey matter between my ears.
After all that, when I’m finished I feel good not only about having made it through another long training run, but I feel equally as good for spending all that time focusing on creating positive vibes. It’s a skill I can take with me to other areas of life, and often do.