Out of all the runs I do every week it’s the long run that I struggle with the most. In fact, there are times when I dread it for days.
Even though my long run is at a much slower pace than most of my other runs, I find it incredibly tiring. To keep going mile after mile at a consistent pace and to fight the urge to stop when your body is hurting requires both physical and mental strength. I like the challenge, but the feeling of exhaustion can be overwhelming, so overwhelming that it often wipes me out for the rest of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the feeling of accomplishment you always get when you’ve finished a long run. And if I didn’t have a million and one energy-zapping things to do after the run, like mucking-out the horses or walking the dogs, I’m sure I would enjoy them a lot more.
Chris is well aware of how much I dread my long run. I’ve told him often enough. Unlike me, Chris loves to get out for his long run and is quite happy to run for mile after mile on his own in all weathers. That’s why he’s tackled the marathon distance and why he’s taking on his first ultra this year.
‘It’s about the challenge,’ he says. ‘Pushing yourself to run for longer distances. It’s the one thing where you can really test your strength and speed. It’s the run where all your other training comes into play, and you can see improvement. And because we race long distances they’re really important.’
He’s right. Most of our races for the next few months are ten miles and half marathon distance. I have to do a long run. I won’t miss one, but I will complain about it. My complaining over the past few weeks has been getting out of hand. I’ve complained to Chris. I’ve complained to my friends in my training group. I’ve complained to my non-running family who say – shock horror – ‘well don’t do it then.’
Not doing a weekly long run is not an option, so I decided that instead of channelling all my energy into hating and complaining and grumbling about my run, I would learn to love it.
I’ve been introducing ways to make it more fun. I’ve included tempo miles, fartlek, off-road runs, and hills in my long run. The good thing is that my strategies are starting to work. My mind-set, albeit slowly, is beginning to change. I decided that it’s all about being positive, setting challenges and rewarding yourself.
Last weekend I set the challenge of running a half marathon in training. It wasn’t an unrealistic challenge as I’ve slowly been increasing the length of my runs. Sunday is usually the day for my long run, but I knew I’d spend all weekend thinking about it. Instead I ran first thing Saturday morning.
The sun was shining. Chris was running with me. We’d planned the route. We’d got gels and water. We were ready.
I was determined to enjoy it.
‘I’m definitely going to enjoy this,’ I told Chris. ‘I’m learning to love my long run.’
The route was a combination of road, trail and woodland in some lovely Yorkshire countryside. It was a fairly flat route which started along the canal taking us from Old Royston to the West Yorkshire village of Walton. We then headed into Sandal and Newmillerdam Country Park where we did a lap of the dam. A steep climb followed until we reached the Trans Pennine Trail for the last three miles.
We ran 13.5 miles going through a half marathon in 1 hour 54. Although the pace was steady, it was consistent and I felt strong. It was only in the last mile that I felt tired and started to complain.
‘I’m tired,’ I said to Chris ‘I’m struggling.’
‘Nearly there,’ he said and he seemed to speed up as though he wanted the run and the complaining to end.
‘Will you slow down?’ I said.
It’s rare I do my long run with Chris. It’s not because I hate spending time with him or anything like that. It’s because if I’m with Chris I’m more likely to complain. I’m more likely to stop.
If I’m on my own or with friends I never complain. Instead I dig in and push myself, often encouraging others. But with Chris it’s different. I think it’s because he’s a faster runner than me, so my eyeballs-out pace is Chris’ jog. And he’ll usually say something annoying like, ‘Push on,’ when in actual fact I am PUSHING all I can and couldn’t possibly PUSH any more. But I do enjoy running and spending time with Chris, which is why I asked him if he’d come with me on my Saturday half-marathon challenge.
It was actually a lovely run and my complaining was limited to the last mile. I was pleased we did it. Afterwards we had a relaxing afternoon watching the tennis and eating chocolate, probably a bit too much chocolate (minstrels and maltesers). But it’s all about rewarding yourself for achieving something. Having run 13.5 miles I decided I had a lot to feel pleased about.