I have to admit, it’s not just my body that gets a little freaked out by these long runs. My mind anticipates them with a combination of enthusiasm, anxiety, and sometimes a little questioning as to why in the heck I’m doing this, especially when I think about doing them without company. Like any big individual goal, it can be energizing to be on track, and yet lonely at the same time.
So it’s hard to overestimate the value of a running buddy for long runs, even if it’s just part of the run. This past week or so, for both long runs I had the pleasure of running with a friend at the beginning, four miles on Saturday, three miles this past Thursday. It was like the best energy drink imaginable. I hardly knew I was running while chatting with these two respective friends. When each had to say her goodbye, I was ready to settle in to the long, last leg on my own.
Once back on my own, I sometimes have to wrestle with my mind, trying not to think about how many miles lay ahead. Long runs are really mini-journeys, and as such, they’re packed with opportunities to re-learn lessons I’m always trying to teach myself when I’m not running.
When I get tired, I remind myself that this doesn’t mean I’ll stay tired. I’ve surprised myself again and again with a second wind. Off the running trail, too, I find it very easy to go the worst case scenario when the going gets rough, assuming it will stay this way or get worse. This little mini-version of the hard slog that’s part of every worthwhile project, this small reminder that things usually do get better, has been something I’ve been a little better able to incorporate into my thinking about non-athletic situations (e.g. most situations) since I started taking on these long runs.
I also let myself slow down sometimes, barely moving. This, too, has been a revelation gained from running, one that you’d think someone in their 40s would have learned sooner. But in my work and life, I spent most of my early adulthood going at high speed with just about every project or task, all engines revved, until the point, late in the day, when I let myself by done with my lengthy to-do lists. But there’s no doubt: slowing down is a great way to re-charge and invite that second wind over.
I try very hard to stay in the moment on long runs, a mindset I’ve learned not from running, but from yoga. It’s so easy to wonder how I’ll make it, especially if I happen to be feeling tired at mile four, and I’ve got five more to go, but if I just stay in the present, I start to relax. Music helps with all of this. I let the music on my i-pod remind me of all the calm and happy times I have had running. Songs like Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” cue me to just settle in, enjoy the music, and put one foot in front of the other.
I also take time to notice when it’s going well, sort of mentally high-fiving myself and thanking my body for giving me this burst of energy, out of nowhere. Those energy bursts arrive in my mind too. When you run for nearly two hours, mostly by yourself, it’s a good time for a busy person to enjoy the company of her own mind. My body is engaged and my mind is free.
Meanwhile, I never stop noticing that the world I drive by is fabulously more rich when I run through it.
The route matters a lot for a long run. Yesterday I chose another one of my memory lanes, so to speak, a stretch of highway and a portion of a county park which were part of my life on a daily basis when I lived out of town. I chose this route because it was easy access from my friend’s house; after she and I looped around a trail near her house, I headed out of town from there. I also chose it because I had a pretty good idea that I would be too busy being amazed by what a beautiful spot on planet earth I live in to focus on how tiring it is to run nine miles. Seriously even the sparkle of fresh highway asphalt in the sun was part of the magic of that little stretch of Highway 35, which is part of the national treasure of the Great River Road.
I was treated to a vibrant spectacle of September’s yellow greens, the Midwestern harvest season, and the flowers that just keep popping out, defiant of the cold that’s coming, the best reminders I could have about living (and running) in the moment.