I was reading through slow runner girls blog this week and we got chatting. Slow runner girl is a bit of a hero of mine(don’t tell her nobody needs that kind of pressure), she has taken heart rate training to levels I cannot even imagine. I tried training to heart rate last year and managed about 3 months, and in those three months I didn’t do it with anywhere near the dedication that I should have done. I was an amateur, a dilettante, a heart rate monitor wannabe if you like. Slow runner girl is the real deal, out there everyday paying her dues and reaping the rewards. It is paying off, she has posted a few stats and we can see that her pace for the same steady heart rate is picking up. Anyhoo we got talking because she is starting to think about an ultra and that means being out on your feet for a long time. A really long time. This is where I actually can help, I have spent a lot of time running and I have spent extended periods of time running distances in general. After you have worked out that you can go a long way before you actually die, (or at least keel over) you begin to twig that the next problem is the mental side. My longest solo run was in the region of 6 hours which to be fair was only a marathon distance but I did it slowly on the monitor. So Slow Runner Girl as promised here are a few tips for dealing with the isolation of the stupidly long and boring run.
1) Write in your Head.
Going out to run is an ideal time to think through and structure you writing. You can start by letting your mind wander to get a subject and then think of an opening line. The trick is to then follow that thread without forgetting your opener. The moment you can feel it slipping away go back to the start and begin again. That way by the time you have got to the end of your run you will have at least a few paragraphs you don’t have to worry about any more. This works best when trying to write a story. I don’t think I could ever write fiction without the help of long lonely runs.
2) Calculate paces and times.
Sometimes when running especially if I am training for a specific event, or even running
an event, I will become obsessive about pacing and race times, particularly while actually out running. I never remember specific paces but go through long convoluted calculations in my head to see if I am on course. I round up round down work out how fast I need to be and how fast I am going and otherwise go through all sorts of mental gymnastics. This is when I work out the plans I need to stick the fuck too. One of the annoying, or perhaps useful things is that it is very easy to get lost doing such mental gymnastics and I constantly have to go back over the figures in my head as I keep forgetting my place. By the time I am done I have covered more mileage without noticing.
OK so this is something I adapted from what I learnt in a Buddhist temple. I was taught about mindfulness meditation where you concentrate on just what is going on in the present moment. So while running focus on how your feet feel hitting the road and then move your attention up through your legs and arms. Concentrate on your breathing and how your head feels. If something hurts or aches you can acknowledge this and then move on to another area. I have found this useful in more than one way, it not only helps to let the time pass but makes me think a little about my running form. When I started I ended up with hunched shoulders by the end of a long run but as I started to focus on what my body was actually doing I started to remain more upright for longer. Just having the focus to be aware it was happening and pull myself back from it was enough. More recently as I have got a little faster I am thinking about what my feet are doing and where they are in relation to the rest of my body.
4) Lie to yourself
Sometimes if a run is being particularly hard I tell myself that I am going to stop at such and such a place. It makes me think this is OK, that I have an achievable goal. However as I get closer I tell myself I have reached a danger zone and if I can just get past the next section then I am committed to the end of the run. Being bloody minded I work past the danger zone and carry on. This works particularly well if you are crossing a road that will give you a short cut home and cut a few miles off a route.
5) Turn your brain off.
A bit like meditating but without the mindfulness. Just try and turn your brain off so you are not thinking about what you are doing but just acting. Just go through the motions. This helps me often towards the end of a run when my head is all frazzled anyway. Sometimes it helps to have a little mantra that stops everything else that mills about your brain. I use one that I stole from Dory in Finding Nemo. ‘Just keep running, running, running.’ Over and over again. It’s a bit soothing especially when you haven’t got a lot of room for anything else up top.
There we go, 5 tips for filling your brain with junk to stop running for bloody hours being quite so hard on the ole noggin. Use them alone or in different combinations. The real secret to over coming mental fatigue while running distance is the same as the secret for overcoming physical fatigue. It’s all about practise and training. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.