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.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
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?