The Mental Challenge of the Long Run

3 Oct

Long runs are more mental than physical.  Runners understand this truth.

“Halfway through the long run, realize what you’ve gotten done; and instead of mentally laboring over what remains – which wastes energy and enthusiasm – this momentum of accomplishment becomes incentive for your finishing the goal.”  – From Momentum by Mark Bravo

Find a way through the long run that keeps you from being nervous or counting down each 1/8th of a mile.  Music, conversation, running 3 5Ks instead of 9 miles – whatever works.  My half marathons are not 13.1 miles long.  They are a 5 miler followed by a quick 5K and then another 5 miler.  I never count up (how many miles left to run) until I’m at least at mile 9.

“Run base miles at a conversational pace: that is, you should be able to have an easy conversation. Running base miles isn’t just about strengthening the body. It’s also a time to whip the mind into shape.”
From To Be a Runner by Martin Dugard

I find the mental aspect much more challenging and much more difficult to quantify.  I can tell you how many miles I ran this week.  I can show you the bruises and detail the aches and pains (my right ankle, the weird popping in my knee, the calves that usually loosen at mile 3 but didn’t until mile 7 this race, the shoulder that tightens).  I cannot walk you through the various mind-blocks I had to conquer.   I cannot explain the doubts that I would finish, the little voice telling me to “just walk! Who cares!” the never-ending litany of reasons why things feel weird “is it dehydration, too little food, too much food, wrong shoes, wrong weather, lack of stretching, etc.”  Calming the mind is a much harder task.  And a much more rewarding one as it has greater potential to affect other aspects of life.

“A bad run will trigger negative messages, such as “You’ll never get to your goal.” If you focus on them, you allow your brain to lower your motivation. Ignore negative messages. They will flow into your brain; let them flow out.”
– From Mental Training for Runners by Jeff Galloway

I’ve had a lot of bad runs.  The truth about running is that there are many more bad runs than good ones.  It’s just the way it goes.  I can still remember 3 runs from the past year that were perfect – that I define as good runs.  And since I run 4-6 times a week,  that means there were a lot of bad runs.  Where something was off-kilter and didn’t click.  The important part is to celebrate each mile, each footfall, each crack in the sidewalk – whatever it takes to keep moving forward.  Sometimes you are not running miles, sometimes you are running from tree to tree, from left foot to right foot.

Just as you break up adult food into baby-sized chunks, sometimes a run must be broken down in the same way.  Whatever it takes to conquer your mind, whatever it takes to finish the run, that’s what you do.  And then you do it again.  And again.  And wait for the glorious day (it will always come as a surprise) when you have a good run.

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