The Simple Pleasure Of The Long Run

AJW's TaproomOver the past few years as ultrarunning has increased in popularity and training methods have evolved, the sport has undergone a transformation of sorts. Workout regimes now contain a dizzying array of training choices all designed to get us going faster for longer. In many ways, it’s fun to see the way in which the sport has transcended its past and become a place where seemingly supernatural performances are becoming more and more frequent. Yet for me, in the midst of this tremendous evolution, I remain loyal to the long-term staple of any good training plan, the weekly long run.

I was thinking about this just last weekend as I prepared for the first 20-mile run of my current training cycle. There is something so comforting and exciting about the long-run ritual. For the better part of the last 25 years, the night before my long run has been spent laying out my clothes, preparing gear, thinking through nutrition, and planning my route. The night before my sleep is always, for some reason, a bit more settled on these long-run eves and I typically awake with a palpable sense of hope.

The ritual continues as I slowly come out of my slumber over my coffee, make the last-minute tweaks to my plan, and head out the door. Truth be told, those first few miles are always a little rough. Perhaps because what’s ahead is potentially daunting or maybe just the fact that I’ve done this so many times, getting into a long-run rhythm always takes longer for me than a regular-run rhythm. I know this is likely 90% psychological but it seems to happen every time.

On my run last weekend my plan was to traverse a 10-mile stretch of a local trail loop followed by a more up-tempo, 10-mile, gravel-road segment back to my car at the trailhead. My trail of choice on this particularly glorious late-winter day consisted of a steady seven-mile climb ascending about 3,000 feet followed by a 2,100-foot plunge in a bit over three miles. In short, a perfect early season quad buster. Topping out on the summit before beginning the three-mile descent, I had hit my stride. I popped my first gel, took a nice deep pull off my water bottle, and opened up my stride for the descent. I had the trail all to myself and it was perfect.

Transitioning onto the gravel-road section and settling into a relaxed running pace I thought back on years of long runs–from the forests of Pennsylvania, to the deserts of Arizona, from the redwoods of Northern California. to the high craggy peaks of Idaho, and finally here to the hardwood groves of Virginia–my running has taken me far and wide. And each and every time, my long run has provided a bedrock foundation. As I see it, as long as I’ve been able to run long, I’ve been a runner. And being a runner brings out my best self.

So as winter clears the way for spring and I begin my long slow build-up to the summer, I am reveling in the simple pleasure of my weekend long run. And although, like most, my training will consist of much more than just these, it is ultimately the long run that provides the sustenance I need to feed the rest of me.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Funky Buddha Brewery Snowed In Imperial PorterThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida. Their Snowed In Imperial Porter really packs a punch at 11% ABV and yet is not at all boozy. In fact, the bourbon-barrel aging seems to have imparted a coconut and chocolate sweetness on this beer that belies the alcohol content and makes it surprisingly easy drinking.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What psychological values does running long have for you? Does it incite stillness, exhilaration, or something else?
  • No matter how many times you do them, does a long run still offer you psychological challenge? Does it make you nervous, require usual toughness, or offer another sort of challenge?
  • At the end of the day, do you run long mostly for the physical benefits? Or the psychological benefits? A combination of both?

There are 10 comments

  1. Tahoediver

    As I’ve been getting back into longer long runs the weather has been an interesting challenge. While here in NorCal I don’t have to worry about snow, it’s the rain this season that’s made things exciting. Numerous pre-long run nights have me waking up at 1am to the sound of a deluge hitting my roof. Oh man, this is going to be interesting, is my usual response. While running in the rain is one of life’s simple pleasures, doing so for three to four hours requires a little extra to get out the door in the morning. A few days ago I spent just about every step in ankle + deep water, sometimes up to my thighs. While others in my life might not quite understand the why of all this, it is comforting to get back into the weekly long run mode, whatever the weather gods plan to throw at me.

  2. J Scott Chapman

    I was a latch-key kid in the 80s and getting out for all-day jaunts in the creeks and pastures was my go to activity. So, after I quit smoking in 2009, I took up trail running and it was just like the old days. I mostly run to see what I can see. What does Sundance Pass look like in June? What does my city, Billings, look like on a snowy Saturday morning? What would it be like to run to the next town over and back?
    People say they hate “out and back” courses because they don’t want to see the same things on the way back as the way out. Well, they are not the same things. It’s a different time of day, you’re looking in a different direction, and, most appreciable IMO, if you are on a long run, you’re a different person coming back as you were when you headed out.

  3. Ben

    Great article.
    But you’re making me jealous!
    For the last year and probably the next couple, 95% of my running has been commuting, in order to make time for my family at other times. This is great, I love having weekends for my family, but I miss long runs! My commute is 9 miles and it’s both long enough to be hard and not long enough to get that long run satisfaction.
    May have to beg for an exception soon.
    All the best

  4. nicole

    i love this. i’m registered for my first marathon (the NYC marathon this year!) and i am thinking already about the introduction of really long runs into my life. i hope i fall in love with it like you did.

  5. Markus

    Andy, what are the seemingly supernatural performances again?
    Except Yiannis Kouros performances I didn’t notice much in the last decades.

  6. Sarah Lavender Smith

    This column really articulates how I feel about my Saturday long-run ritual. Funny, a couple of weekends ago I couldn’t run long due to travel. I tried to get in a long run Monday, and I did — but was stressful and just didn’t feel as good. Keep it up, AJW!

  7. Tim Thatcher

    Definately agree with the few first miles being a bit rough. Where I live in New Zealand there are not many hills so my long run’s often involve long flat sections with repeats of short, sharp hills. The potential monotony often gives me a sense of dread days before a long run, yet somehow the hours fly by and I look forward to the next one. I do my long runs during the week after work so that I am already fatigued leaving the weekend for relaxing and quality speed work.

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