A Super Scientific Look at the Difficulty of Long Runs
|February 14, 2012||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
Yes, I know. That title is amazing. I am currently for hire as a “blog title writer.” Gotta make extra money for that wedding, you know.
Fact #1: Long runs are tough.
Fact #2: The difficulty of long runs does not increase at the same rate as their length. With each mile that you add, the difficulty of that run increases exponentially.
Fact #3: This is why, even after 6 complete cycles of marathon training, runs over 16 miles still freak me out. No matter how many times I tell myself, “No big deal. You’ve done this before,” those runs are just plain tough. And they take a certain amount of psyching myself up to get through.
In order to illustrate the above phenomena, I have created the following scientifically accurate and completely to scale graph. Based on my extensive marathon experience and research, of course.
Level of difficulty of long runs by long run distance on a scale between Sleeping and Death.
No, I haven’t actually come close to dying on a long run. But since those distances make me feel like death, it seemed to be an appropriate scale.
Let’s talk about the long run for a little bit. That critical part of marathon training that can make us feel so amazing (“I can’t believe I ran so far!!”) and so awful at the same time.
I am not the type of runner who can just go out and run for several hours like it’s nothing. But at this point in my running life, I have a decent enough base that runs of an hour or so don’t even make me blink. An hour and half makes me think a little harder about my nutrition and how rested I feel going in. Two hours of running can be tough, but still enjoyable. But longer than that? I start to panic just a little bit.
There’s just something about knowing that I will be out there running for over two hours that makes my heart start racing. Two hours is a really long time. And three? Why do people even do such a crazy thing?!
I’m not sure why I experience these anxiety attacks before my long runs. Even though I’ve done it all before, any run that is longer than 15 miles makes me feel as though I’m about to take on something big. A little bit of nervous energy can be a good thing. That extra adrenaline can help carry you through for a little while. But sometimes, the amount of anxiety I feel before a really long run can be almost crippling.
This past week, I was scheduled to run 18 miles. A distance that I’ve successfully completed many times…and that is still 8.2 miles shorter than an actual marathon. Despite all this, I couldn’t escape the thought that 18 miles was a really long way – especially compared to the 15 I had run a couple of weeks ago (increasing from 10 to 13 miles – not so bad. Increasing from 15 to 18 miles, on the other hand, feels huge). For whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around the distance.
So in situations like these, I do the simplest thing possible to take myself down from “Don’t Die! Don’t Die! Don’t Die!” to a much more manageable, “I Love Running” or “Hurts so Good” level. I split the run up
Sometimes the split is purely mental. I divide the run into loops, and concentrate on the mileage of one loop at a time. Because a loop of 10 miles and one of 8, or three loops of 6 miles sounds way better than one long run of 18.
Sometimes the split is physical. Whether you incorporate a race into your long run, or do some inside and some on the treadmill, sometimes looking at your long run as a set of distinct shorter runs strung together can make it seem a lot less intimidating.
On my 18-miler, I needed to give myself an actual physical split. I ran 8 miles outside to the gym, hopped on the treadmill for 5 miles, and then ran 5 miles back home. This not only helped me focus on one chunk at a time, but it also made the run feel shorter. I kept telling myself that the mindless 5 miles I would run on the treadmill were easy and would be over in no time at all. So all I needed to focus on was running to the gym and then running a short 5 miles back home. As you probably could’ve guessed, in reality those 5 miles on the treadmill didn’t exactly feel like nothing. They weren’t awful, but they also didn’t go by as quickly as the 8 miles before them. And by 4 miles in, I was dying to get off that thing. By mile 5, I was glad that I had limited the treadmill section of my run to just 40 minutes.
After that, my only focus was on running home. I stopped thinking about the miles I had already done and those I had yet to cover, and just thought about my end goal. The last few miles were tough, as I had expected they would be, but I made it. And more importantly – I cleared a huge mental hurdle by reminding myself that I can run 18 miles. And no, I won’t die in the process of trying.
As a side note, I feel like I need to mention that, obviously, splitting up your run into actual separate pieces does mean that you stop several times during your run. And if you’re planning on racing a marathon for a specific time goal, this is probably not something you should do every training run. But we’ll talk more about that later. Because sometimes, especially if it’s early on in your marathon training, just getting those miles in is enough.
Anyway, I suppose this post has no real point – well, besides sharing my super scientific graph that I am in the process of submitting to several reputable journals (I’ll let you know how that goes).
I know that this is not some groundbreaking strategy for surviving long runs. Anyone who has trained for a marathon knows that you often need to play mental games with yourself in order to take on a really long run. Whether that be focusing on how you will feel after it’s finished, running some (or all) of the miles with a friend, or splitting the run up into smaller pieces, we all have our strategies that help get us through.
Doing a long run in bright colors while wearing a veil would probably help too.
But beyond all that, I guess my main point is that if long runs freak you out, don’t feel bad. I know sometimes it can be easy to think that other runners take to long runs like breathing. With multiple tweets and posts going up on the weekend about how someone “just ran 20 miles before 9 am!!” it can sometimes seem like these runs feel effortless for everyone else besides you.
But don’t worry. Even experienced marathoners get nervous before long runs. Or at least I do.
Maybe someday, if/when I run an Ultra Marathon things will change. But until then, I stand by the above graph.