Thursday, March 13, 2008

Going the Distance in Your Mind

The topic of this week's Take it and Run Thursday is the long run. If you're not Paula Radcliffe, Meb Keflezighi, or Marathon Dude Bill, who can knock out a 20 miler on their lunch breaks, those long runs will take you a loooooong time to finish. I'm reminded of the song "Going the Distance" by Cake (which totally deserves a spot on your iPod if it's not there already).

As they speed thru the finish the flags go down.
The fans get up, and get out of town.
The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup,
But he's driving and striving and hugging the turns,
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

He's going the distance.
He's going for speed.


On a long run, you're out there all alone, with no trophy to run towards, no fans cheering you on. How do you keep going? The key is in your head. Here are my tips for going the distance in your mind.

1. Break it up. If you step out the door thinking, "Okay, only 20 miles to go," you will lose your mind and want to quit. My friend Sandy was advised to think of her 20 mile run not as a 20 mile run, but rather as four 5 mile runs. I like to break up my run into several different loops. I'll run four out and back, stop at home and get some water, do another four out and back, stop at home again, and then do two out and back. That allows me to focus just on the miles I'm running in that loop, not the total.

2. Mix it up. Those loops that I run are not all the same. If I did 20 miles worth of passing the same scenery over and over again, I'd get bored. So, the first loop might take me through a neighborhood, the next by the river, and the final a tried and true quick loop.

3. Listen. My iPod is an excellent companion on long runs. I usually buy a couple of new songs before a long run, sort of as a pre-reward. And I still love listening to "This American Life" - and thanks to all of you who told me where to get the podcasts for free. I get so caught up on those stories that an hour has passed before I know it.

4. Distract yourself. As much as I love the iPod, sometimes it helps to think about something else. Last fall, I performed the wedding ceremony for my good friends Dan and Liana. During long runs, I'd go through the ceremony and what I wanted to say. I probably wrote 95% of it in my head while running. I also like to think about upcoming vacations, books and movies, what I want to make for dinner - fun stuff like that.

5. Use your imagination. When I take gel, water, gummy bears, or whatever, I like to pretend that I am "powering up" like a character in a video game. I picture the power running through me, filling me with light and making me stronger.

6. Break it up. Yeah, I know - I said this one already. But when the going gets tough, you need to really break it up. Get yourself from one tree to the next. Push yourself to the next parked car. Keep going, step by step, until you're done.

7. Plan a reward. Running a long run is not easy, and it helps a lot to have something to look forward to when you're done. I buy myself little presents (running outfits, of course, or new music), or plan the all-important food reward. I finished my 18 mile run last year dreaming of a Snickers bar for pretty much the entire last 5 miles. And laws, did that thing taste good.

By the time you get to the point in your training that you're supposed to run a long distance, your body is ready. Get your mind ready, and before long, you'll be going the distance.

11 comments:

newsjunkie said...

I asked our training captain to have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups waiting for us at the end of the 20-miler last Saturday, and the thought of those babies carried me through those last 3 miles when my knee was so stiff I could barely jog and I was soaking wet from 4 hours in the rain.

I like the "power up" analogy. I'm going to have to use that one myself...

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Truly excellent advice. I'll do just about anything for peanut butter. I should be using that!

Shelah said...

I love the rewards and the advice to break it up. Sometimes I'll do a long run on the same five mile loop, and I try to treat each one as a single five miler, which really helps mentally, for some reason.

Amy@RunnersLounge said...

Great post Betsy! And thanks for taking time to do it - with your solo week and all.

PS...There is no shame in junk food bribes and nonstop movie loops - ever.

Kent said...

I admit I am total weenie in terms of long runs. I so far "need" the company of others along if only to give me one more thing to think about or person not to walk in front of them. You guys that do it alone are simply studs in my eyes.

Tom said...

Thanks, Betsy, for great advice. Your way of breaking it up with multiple and different out-and-back runs and stops at home can really make a long run go by fast--but it can confuse the neighbors who wonder when the hell are you going to stop coming home and running away again.

Thanks as always for leaving all of us great ideas.

bill carter said...

Hi Betsy

This is such a great post. It does sound like that Marathon guy is a nutjob, but whatever..

Anyway, I love "The Distance" by Cake and have it on my shuffle. Very cool song and inspirational when deciding to go long. I think breaking the long run up into manageable chunks is great advice. It is more than a little bit overwhelming to think about a 20 and I always break mine up into bite size pieces.

#2 through #7 are all great but I am particularly partial to #7. There has to be a reward after the long run and for me it is always food... mexican or thai will do just fine thank you.

Great post Betsy and spoken like a true long runner.

Nibbles said...

The advice just doesn't get any better than this. Wow!

Nibbles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shilingi-Moja said...

"Laws"? Where are you from, girl? That sounds like my home state, South Carolina where we speak such erudite phrases as "law me", "laws-a-mercy", "djeet yet?", etc. :)

Good advice. However, I have to think of my runs as the total distance. If I break a 12-miler up into 3 4-milers, then my body wants to go 4-mile speed. Otherwise, I think you are right on.

kara said...

Good advise - especially the reward idea.
I like to break my run in half. The last half is easier because I know I'm heading home.