TITLE: Long Runs and the Mind AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 15, 2010 1:27 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I was about 1.2 miles from the end of my 18-mile long run this morning. My legs were feeling tight, tight enough that I thought about stopping for a few seconds of recovery. That would be okay, right? This is just a training run. This thought was pushed out of my mind by the realization that 1.2 miles to go is the 25-mile mark in a marathon. I'm sure that when I reach 25 miles in Des Moines this fall, my legs will be sore, sore enough that I will want to stop for a few seconds of precious relief. In the race, I want to have the strength of mind to finish. So I kept going. Soon I turned the last corner of the run, only two-tenths of a mile from home. There I saw one last challenge: two-tenths of a mile uphill. Ack. Could I make it? A little rest would feel so good... My mind flashed back to the end of my marathon, on a sunny morning in Chicago. Somewhere near the finish line we also made a right turn, and I saw an incline just like the one I faced this morning. My legs were sore, and I think I gave in to temptation and slowed, maybe even walked for a few feet. At the time, I told myself that this would enable me to "finish strong". In my next race, I want to have the strength of mind to finish strong all the way. So I kept going. At both moments of challenge this morning, I asked myself, "Do I want to survive or finish?" For many people, surviving to the end of a marathon is the goal. It is an honorable goal, but it's not mine. I still have a desire to run the race, to push my body to its limit, to finish strong. In general, you don't want to treat training runs like races. Training is about getting ready to run the race. A lot of what you do in training will be specific exercises that prepare your body. That's especially true of long runs, which are for teaching your body to run well for a long time and strengthening your muscles for the stress of a race. As you approach race day, more of your runs will begin to simulate race conditions, but even then you must take care not overdo it. Otherwise, you risk injury that will limit your training and deprive your body of the practice it needs, or you might peak too early and be unable to muster top performance by race day. Today's situation, though, highlighted one of my weaknesses, one I share with many runners. The decision to keep running was a training exercise for a specific skill that I will need in my marathon: the strength of mind to finish. I finished strong. What a change from last week, a 16-miler in heat and humidity that knocked me for a loop. Sixteen miles is an annual hard run for me, as I cross over from runs of a comfortable length to runs that even I consider "long". I started today with a humble heart and ended better. Still, I know I have a long way to go before I am ready to run a marathon in two months. -----