Everybody knows the importance of a long slow run, at least everybody who runs does. It builds your strength and endurance, lays down a fundamental base level of fitness and, allows for much smug based bragging rights. Nothing feels quite as good as telling others ‘Oh I ran 13 miles at the weekend’. On social media you get the congratulations of those who do similar and know the level of commitment that this takes, and the awe and envy of those who are not there … yet. But there are a couple of aspects to the LSR that I think are often overlooked and just as valuable. The mental strength that is needed to do the distance, and the opportunities for friendship that it offers.
One of the things I discovered as I started to run further and further was how hard it was to keep my own company. My first ever training plan was all about time on feet rather than pace or distance, what surprised me was how long everything subjectively seemed to take. The 20 minutes up the road and back seemed an outrageous amount of time to be plodding along on my own and, by the time I had done my first 2 hours my head was spinning. However I was getting a hint of the real mental strength building ability of the LSR by then. As my legs started to ache and each pace became a battle between tired muscles and gravity it was difficult not to let the struggle consume my entire world. It was then I discovered that I had a special affinity for Dory, the blue fish in Finding Nemo. Miles from home, when even walking back would be a struggle, sun beating down on my head, sweat dripping out of every pore, my tired little mind slipped into it’s own thought stopping rhythmic chant
“Just keep running, running, running,
Just keep running, running, run” rpt…
I can’t say it saved my sanity, I joined that brigade obsessed with marathons, but it certainly kept me going to the end of many a run. At some point this chant started to fade and I started to think about other things that I didn’t have the opportunity to think about in a busy life, epistemic certainty, objective vs subjective morality, and all kinds of other crazy pointless shit. Yeah,… I don’t think the Dory chant helped with the sanity at all, but at least it gave me a tool for dealing with hours of plodding around various marathons.
When I started doing long slow runs on Sunday I didn’t know any other runners, it wasn’t till I started with Parkrun and then graduated to a running club that these strange people entered my life. I can’t remember the first time I did a long run in company, but there are some early ones that have stuck out in my head. One evening at my club on probably the last decent day of the summer I had no idea as to what was going on. As usual there were friends there and 2 of us decided to go out on a run just to see what would happen. It was a glorious evening and off we set at a reasonable plod and just kept going. Before we knew it we had covered 10 miles and any number of topics of conversation, predominantly Steven Fry and audio books. This run is now known to us as the Steven Fry run, and will stay in our collective memory. One of the reasons it was remarkable, was that I hadn’t run so far on a weekday before, and it seemed perfectly reasonable. It allowed me to take a moment and look back on just how far I had come.
That winter was the start of Marathon training with my posse of odd bods, and my memory conjures up the hills and moaning, wrong turns and moaning, brilliant chilled winter sunshine and moaning. Come to think of it there was an awful lot of moaning. Why do I hang out with these people again? Ahh yes that’s right, because after spending weeks and weeks in somebodies company pushing yourselves to the limits of both physical endurance and social decency it is hard to think of any other group you would rather share your highs and lows with. When you have supported somebody through the last 5 miles of a 20 miler even though they are sobbing with aches and the desire to sit down and rot, you know you would do pretty much anything you could for them. The bonus being that the concentrated effort of getting them round takes your mind off your own agony. There comes a point when somebody moaning about another bloody hill just serves as a useful distraction. With these people though, unlike many other relationships there is an awareness of a personal need to be selfish. When I ditched my training buddy during Brighton marathon to try and get that sub 4:30 I was after it was OK. She understood, and we would be back out on the long runs again soon enough, talking bollocks, building mental strength and reinforcing friendships.