The beauty of the long run

When I set out to do my first half-marathon a couple years ago, I was surprised to see how similar the beginner training schedule was to my happy-go-lucky, goal-less running log. For the most part, it consisted of runs in the 3-ish mile range, with a couple days of speedwork thrown in.

The exception was the long run, that once-weekly push to make your body go longer than it’s gone before to trick it into thinking it can go the distance on race day. At the time, each week’s long run was a mile longer than I’d ever run before — first eight, then nine, then the astonishing 10 miles. I honored each one as an event rather than just a workout, taking hours to plan routes, print maps and write out directions (necessary steps, given my propensity for lost-ness).

I’ve since done training runs twice that long, and have gotten to the point that even a 10-mile run, the longest my half-marathon training schedule calls for, is something I can squeeze in before breakfast. But I still honor the long run as the most important part of training for any distance race. In my opinion, they’re sort of the whole reason training for a distance event is special (how many 3-mile loops around your neighborhood have you described as life-changing?).

This past weekend, I cobbled together a long run from two separate Pacers routes, the Alaska loop and the out-and-back to East West Highway, and added a mile or so on 16th Street. I set out first thing on Saturday morning, and felt energized and strong from the start. I have no idea what pace I was running. I only know that I finished what I thought would be a 10-mile loop about 20 minutes faster than I expected to. It was a welcome surprise, given that my last 8-miler made me want to suit this sport and take up bowling, or maybe chess.

I have yet to encounter a runner who’s trained for a marathon who hasn’t had some sort of memorable encounter on a long run. One friend got a ride home from a fire truck when her long run got rained out. Another found got directions and a free Gatorade from a gas station convenience store. Yet another accidentally dropped in on a road race, and enjoyed water stops and cheering crowds for a few of his 20 miles.

I had my first such encounter of this training cycle on this week’s run, when I felt a sudden and urgent need for a restroom at about the farthest point from home I could be. I hadn’t planned on a detour for this purpose, so I took my chances at a large, modern-looking church in an otherwise residential neighborhood. The doors were locked. Blast! I had almost walked away when a member of the leaning crew opened the door to let me in. I would have hugged her if I wasn’t in such a rush to get to the ladies’ room. It was just a small encounter, but the sort of thing that makes the long run feel less like a workout and more like a journey.

Have a good long-run story? Share it by posting a comment below.

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