Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Self-fullfilling Long Run Prophecy

"All the good stuff is on the other side of tired" - unknown

One of the questions I get asked often by new folks training for a marathon or ultra is "When do the long runs get easier?". My usual answer is that you don't really notice in training that the runs are getting easier because the necessary long runs keep getting longer. When you first begin and your long run is 6 miles, you start to wonder if signing up for this thing was pure folly. A few weeks later, after whatever the scheduled long run is, you still have that same thought, BUT that 6 miles that was a struggle a few weeks before is a whole lot easier.

What has always bothered me though, through my many years of thousands of long training runs is that at the end of these long runs I was about done in. Not necessarily because I ran out of carbohydrates, or was dehydrated, but because my run was finished!  I often think that our bodies are programmed to run the prescribed distance of a schedule but then mentally shut down when you reach that distance.  This phenomenon has happened to me more times than I can count...ok, just about everytime I do a long run...having committed to some manner of “long” run" (whatever that means at the time) and what I often find is that when I finish, I am just about in the trashbin. At that point I cannot imagine being able to run any further. Doesn't matter if it's 12 miles or 22 or 30. When this happens, I usually think something like “Oh, crap—I’m in the bag at 15 miles. How can I ever think about running 26? Or 31?Or 16?”  But then I think, be cool, been here before, this is nothing new. Don't always convince myself, but I go through the scenario. 

It’s just like when you prepay cash at the gas station and the pump automatically starts slowing down and then shuts down at the preset amount.

Because come race day, I do the distance and if I have a collapse point where everything seems to be going South, I never believe it's because I didn't put in those obligatory long runs. It's nutritional, or lack of specificity, or lack of concentration, but this is something that's different, more mind/body/training specific. It's just that it surprises me that, aging aside, after decades of doing marathons and ultramarathons, the quality of the ease of doing these long training runs still seem to be dictated by your pre-run mindframe. Seems like the distance planned and the distance run are self-fulfilling prophesies, mutually synced up like a pair of binary stars.

Is it just me or does anybody else experience this phenomenon? If you run as a group that has a certain distance planned, does the whole group poop out at the designated distance plus one foot? You'd like to finish every long run with the attitude of "Bring it on!", instead of "Holy crap, I'm dead!!".

This mind/body connection thing has been rattling around in my head for some time, but it was, in a way, made clearer by the 3-day stage race I did a couple of weeks ago. If you said to your running partner "Let's run 15 miles today, then get up early and run 18 tomorrow, and just for kicks, let's do a 3rd day of 21 miles", your partner would probably tell you to cut back on your pain meds. But, to my surprise, and I'm sure to the others that finished this adventure, it wasn't too difficult to get going the next day. The daily goal was set, the mind was programmed, and the trained body performed. I probably couldn't have gone another mile on any of those 3 days, but my mind knew I didn't have to. 

Just a thought and observation from a thousand years on the road. What do you all think?

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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