Still Running Long

running until i can't

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Saturday Long & Sunday Too

One change I’ve been planning to make to my training in preparation for running an ultra (or two, or…) is switching my long run to Saturday. Because my long runs have always been on Sundays, and Mondays make a perfect rest day, this has meant always resting the day after going long.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe this is a good idea. But in training for an ultra, I need to build in more opportunities for running tired–which right now means running the day after my long run, and eventually means a few back-to-back long runs.

So it was that I set out Saturday in the early morning darkness. Getting ready for fourteen miles, I strapped on my hydration pack, headlamp, and some reflective gear and headed out. The morning was cold, dry, and quite still.

The hydration pack is new and another change. I’ve always done long runs, even up to twenty miles, without any hydration. Bad idea. But I always loathed carrying something in my hands, and well, something like a hydration pack is expensive. When I came into a gift card from my work colleagues last month, it seemed like time to step up.

But back to the run itself. I stopped here as the sun rose to stow away my headlamp and reflective bands (hydration pack bonus!).


Sometimes I’m jealous of people who live, and therefore run, in more interesting or exotic places, especially in the West. But as I look at this picture, I suppose I am quite lucky. And there is nothing except running that would get me out at sunrise on a Saturday morning, miles from home.

Saturday’s run had a fair bit more vertical, and therefore more downhill, than my usual routes. By ten or eleven miles in, I was really feeling it. Not in my quads where I expected to feel the downhill, but in my knees. They were trying to tell me they were forty-two years old, but I don’t think I wanted to hear it. Even so, they carried my up the last hill at a decent clip, as I let my heart rate rise for the final couple of miles.

And so Sunday came. It wasn’t exactly a B2B, but I went out there for five miles, which is five more miles than I’d run after a long day in the last twelve years or more. Physically, it didn’t feel great. My knees were declaring their age a bit more loudly, and so it was mostly about putting in the miles and building the habit.

In fact, if running long in this way is all about mental training, I’d have to say it was my best day in a long time.

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Sunday Long: Double Dose

No, not a double dose of running on Sunday; two Sundays to write about, each very different on the outside, maybe not so much at heart.

It takes a lot for me to miss my Sunday long run. Two Sundays ago was just such a day. I didn’t run at all. I hadn’t run on Saturday. Instead, I just sat. All day. It was sesshin at the Zen Temple, a word for retreat meaning touching the heart mind.

My shoes were with me the three days, sitting in a bag I brought just in case there was time for a short run after the close of day ceremony, which comes after a good sixteen hours of zazen. I never used them.

So it was a Sunday long, but not on my feet.

This past Sunday was different. I usually run in the late morning on Sundays, as opposed to my pre-6:00 am routine on weekdays. This week I couldn’t sleep in the early morning, so headed out shortly after 6:00. The weather was just about my favorite running weather – cold enough for arm sleeves, gloves, and a hat, but still able to wear shorts. It was a morning when I could just about see my breath.

I set out for a 12 mile route I hadn’t done before, excited about the prospect of some good time on my feet. The route itself had just about as much flat as can be found around here, probably more than is useful as I look forward to running a hilly trail ultra or two next summer.

Do you ever have one of those runs where it all just feels right? Where it feels…clean? The first half of this run was that way. Effortless no matter whether I was headed up or down. Easy to keep my cadence up  even when the effort was easy. It even seemed like, for long stretches, no cars drove by to spoil the sense of being out all alone. I had a couple of moments when (and when I know I’m having a good run) when I simply laughed to myself. Laughed at the good fortune of being out on a beautiful morning, healthy, thoughts cleared, breathing deeply.

The run changed about halfway through as I came through an area of wide corn and hay fields that straddle a long uphill section of the road. Every step I rose in elevation, the wind seemed to strengthen as I ran straight into it. I caught myself reaching with my stride, trying to push through the wind with my strength, rather than quickening my tempo and leaning gently from my ankles.

The breakdown in my form stuck with me for a few miles, long after the terrain had leveled back out. In contrast to the thoughtless flow I had experienced in the first six miles, I had to think, think, think about my form as I went. I noticed soreness in my knees and my hip abductor muscles that won’t quite come unstuck.

But none of that is a complaint. Because I kept going. I was out running, early on a Sunday. Sometimes that feels perfect. Sometimes it feels all wrong. Both of those are just right.

I had taken the first eleven miles at an easy, low heart rate pace, intending to hold that for the full twelve. But the biggest climb on the loop covered most of the last mile, and as I hit the bottom I switched off my heart rate monitor and decided to take it tempo. Touching the heart at that moment meant forgetting all about it, and simply running.

The only downside was that my Sunday Long run was just a few seconds shorter that way.