TITLE: Long Runs and the Mind
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: August 15, 2010 1:27 PM
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
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
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.
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.