Tag Archives: long run

When a Run Ain’t So Fun

ANY RUNNER WILL TELL YOU that while every run is unique, a pattern will emerge over time. Most of them will be somewhere in the “okay” range – it was good, glad you did it, end of story. There will be a few glorious runs when you feel indestructible and never want to stop. And there will be a few times when the entire experience just plain sucks.

Today’s 18-miler was one of the last kind.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Perhaps it was due to my stupid cat who started crying for breakfast at 4:15 a.m. Or it was the cumulative effect of my increased mileage the past three weeks. Or, maybe it was just one of those days and it was going to happen regardless.

The Saturday PR group run begins at 8:00 a.m., but I’ve started doing a few miles before then so the main run isn’t quite as long. So I crawled out of bed at 6:15, fed Miss Obnoxious and her sisters, drove to the studio, and got in just under four miles before joining the group.

It's a good thing she's so damn cute.

It’s a good thing she’s so damn cute.

Those early miles were among my toughest this year so far. It was bitingly cold and I felt creaky and lethargic, with zero motivation. But as I returned to the studio, the sun came up and lifted my spirits. After some water and a bite to eat, I figured the remaining fourteen miles would be the normal, “okay” kind.

Not so much.

I did finally get warm, and starting out with a large, enthusiastic group is fun. But my body still felt leaden and I struggled to hold my standard long-run pace. For a few miles I chatted with other runners, which always helps the miles slip by. But all too soon I was by myself, far out of town, with a lot of miles to go.

Our club's not afraid of a little cold weather!

Our club’s not afraid of a little cold weather! (Photo courtesy Chuanwu Xi)

Usually at some point on a long run, I ease into a steady stride and can relax and be grateful for being out there doing something healthy and enjoyable. About halfway through I thought I was there. It was sunny and bright, I was on a comfortable dirt road, and feeling almost normal.

Then my kidneys went into overdrive. How does drinking a half-cup of water result in the need to pee out a gallon? Twice? And try as I might, I just couldn’t shake the heavy body feeling. So it was slog, slog, slog the rest of the way back.

But you know what? I did it. Not that I’d given myself much choice. The route was an out-and-back, so after pushing myself to the turnaround point, there was no shortcut. Cruel, but effective.

You know you're in trouble when you see each of these as a potential toilet.

You know you’re in trouble when you see these only as potential toilets.

And while these types of runs are miserable, they’re actually very valuable. It’s outstanding preparation for a race, when you’re giving it your all and are guaranteed to be uncomfortable. Getting through a bad run, no matter how awful it feels, toughens both body and mind for the events that really mean something to you.

It had been a while since my last bad run, so I was probably overdue. Now that it’s over, I can be properly grateful for it. And I gave my weary body some consolation, downing two pastries at Sweetwaters instead of my usual one. I think I can afford it.

Now what to do about my “recovery run” on Sunday? Part of me wants to blow it off, and the rest of me doesn’t want to think about it right now. So we’ll see. I get the feeling I’ll sneak it in, though. After all, it can hardly feel worse.

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Peak Experiences

The last few weeks have been peak training time for my spring marathons and ultras. And let’s just say I’m feeling it.

So what does “peak training” mean? Extra miles per week, longer “long runs,” and heavier weights and additional sets at strength training. And with hill-loving Coach Rob setting the routes, PR Fitness group runs make sure my legs and lungs get some good work in.

If you think this is a viable option for long runs, you can stop reading now. You don't get it.

For long runs? Thanks, I’ll take the snow and hills, please.

The extra physical effort is just part of the experience, however. It being late winter in Michigan (*), conditions have varied. This morning I ran 18 miles with a big, enthusiastic PR Fitness group in shorts and single top layer, bright sunshine, and clear, clean roads. It was easy to feel good out there, even with tired legs.

But just a couple of weeks ago, I ran 20 miles by myself on a cold, gray, blustery day on snowy roads. With no one to pace with or keep me motivated, it was hard to remain focused. I had problems with my shoes, I needed several biological breaks (too much coffee), and with sweaty clothes it was a struggle to stay warm.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

With five miles to go I stopped at a cafe for a snack and water and took stock. I would be on a busy road at rush hour, going uphill, and it was getting dark fast. It would have been easy, perhaps even sensible, to call a cab (**) for a warm ride home. Instead, I took a deep breath, stepped outside, and slogged out those final miles.

Good question.

Good question!

Would missing those five miles hurt my time at my upcoming marathon? Not likely. The 15 miles I’d already run were probably equal to at least 20 miles on a good day. And I might get hurt during the last stretch due to the weather and road conditions. Physically speaking, there was no reason to finish the run.

But Coach Marie understood why I did. She’s had many of those herself. “It makes you mentally stronger,” she said. And when things go wrong, or the unexpected happens, or you “hit the wall” five miles from the finish line, it’s the mental toughness that gets you across it.

Great weather and a happy body are treasured by runners when they occur, but they provide a very limited view of what we’re truly capable of. This morning’s run was wonderful, but the one two weeks ago did more for me. The miles in the snow, or rain, or mud, or 90-degree heat (with precautions, of course) tell me far more about what I’m really capable of, and give me confidence that I can accomplish my goals.

Building character.

Building character.

Not that I want one like that every week.

And “peak training” is nearly over! Soon I will begin tapering – easing back on mileage to recover and be at peak condition on race day. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, extra rest can be as challenging as peak training, in a different way. I think I’ll find a way to get through it.

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(*) Actually, conditions are never predictable in Michigan. It’s part of the appeal of living here.

(**) I don’t really buy into this Uber thing yet. Call me old-fashioned.