Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ode to the Long Run

I place the long run apart and separate from all other training.  It’s unique and requires a different kind of preparation, although not harder.  I find them relaxing, fulfilling, exhausting and ultimately satisfying.  They are acts of discovery, stamina and discipline.  The long run should be sought as a reward for all those 30-45 minute sprints and resistance & core training performed during the week.

I’m best when I can start my long runs at dawn on a weekend, so being ready the night before is important.  The most enjoyable prep work is route planning.  I use Google Maps to plot my route with waypoints and track the total mileage.  It’s a powerful planning tool--just being able to add destinations or drag the middle of a route over to another street makes it incredibly easy to plan the mileage and safest routes.   There’s also pedestrian routing so you can use trails and go against traffic on one-way streets.  It’s also good for figuring out halfway points for a food/water/cooler stop.
Google Maps - Add destinations to create your route

Next I prep my fuel belt and gear—GU’s (1 for every 4 miles, plus 1 more for good measure), water bottle(s) and if I’m setting out a cooler at a halfway point, printing a “Please Do Not Remove” label with the run day’s date.    I make sure I’ve got my iPhone Tune Belt, Heart Rate Monitor and foot pod attached to the running shoe.

Breakfast prep: usually Steel Cut Oats slow cooked in a Crock Pot overnight (always do 1 cup dry to 4 cups water, any less and things get burned/crusty).  I don’t drink coffee anymore, but a ½ cup tea does it for me.  I’ll add 1-2 tablespoons of MCT oil to a ¾ bowl of cooked oats with a tablespoon of flaxseed.  I avoid honey/agave sweeteners just so my blood sugar levels don’t get screwed up before my run.  I avoid protein drinks, but will pre-hydrate (being a guy I have easier “bathroom” options, but I know women who are not handicapped by this).

Getting There
I prefer to “go somewhere else” to do my long run.  It’s a big world with much to see, and it’s so much more invigorating to run and explore what’s around the next bend.  When I can, I like to do a point-to-point, with the end being home, and I get someone to take me back to my car later.  It’s also easy to drive your route in advance, set up your water stop(s), and take note of any adjustments you’ll have to make on the run.   I don’t advise making home your midpoint – too many distractions when you get there to derail your run.   

Once parked at the start point I don’t waste a lot of time with a pre-run warmups, I just get going.   I’m not running a race.  I like to start slow and warm up as I go.   Maybe I’ll stop after a mile and lightly stretch, but once I’m going I usually don’t feel the need.

Run Already!
After all, that’s what all this is about.  One of the most rewarding moments is when I can start in pre-dawn light and run into the sunrise, breathing in the moist morning air and just listening to the world around me wake up (or sleep in).  It’s these moments that led me to abandon music on my runs.  

The first couple of miles I’m always checking form, looking at pace, checking stride length, etc. and all of it is unnecessary.  It usually takes me a couple of miles to get out of the “weekday rushed & fussed” run mode, but once I do I enjoy settling into whatever pace and form my body wants to sustain.  I try to let my body adapt whatever I’ve accomplished during the week into the run naturally. 

Once I’m in the long run “zone”, I pay attention to any aches and pains, especially anything new.  I don’t like being hobbled 7 miles from my car or home, so any early warning signs are noted.  I don’t obsess, just notice and then think about something else for a bit.  If it’s something I need to worry about it’ll be back.  By mile 4 I basically know if this is going to be a short run or not.  (Having a short escape route back to your car at this point is good planning!)

What I Think About
A few hours running allows a lot of time to think about stuff.  It’s probably easier to name what I don’t think about: work, financial matters, sports.  Everything else is fair game.  I usually bounce between current house projects, people and relationships (past, present, future).  Sometimes I think about runners I admire and try aspiring to be a little bit more like them, either in technique, attitude or drive.  I think about my own running goals, how I can get there, and reflect on how my life has changed because of running.   Occasionally I think about extended family and related matters. 

The Magic
Mostly I think about the current moment.  I run rural roads in NJ/NY farmlands, and when observed at a 6mph pace early on a Sunday morning with no cars to be seen or heard, it’s very easy to be transported back in time.  Time literally dissolves.  In those moments it could be 1878 or 1938 or 2011.  It really doesn’t matter, the farms are the same, the wildlife is the same, the sunrise and morning dew are the same, the scent of a distant wood fire carried on a light breeze is the same, and the sounds of horses from a distant hill are the same.  Without time, what is there to worry about?  And therein lies the relaxation.  It’s just me and the run.  There is no clock and no calendar, just a distance.  The world around me becomes, in that moment, whenever (and whatever) I want it to be--and that’s the magic of the long run.

And before I know it I’m back at my car, and wishing my body had more to give.  But it wouldn’t be the same if I ran a little longer; the world is awake now and the hustle is on.  It’s best to save it for the next run.

The Post Run
The aches, soreness and exhaustion are rewarding and a few stretches while everything is warm is essential.  And then the hunger!  There’s nothing that satisfies like a cold water and a Pop-Tart.  I look at it and think “Yeah, there’s better food options, but I just burned 2000 calories before breakfast.  Go for it!  I'll eat right when I get home.

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