Maybe I’m a masochist, but I love the long run. That squat stalwart of every marathon and half marathon training programme. I dread it too, of course. Filled with enthusiasm at the start of each new training programme I marvel as I write the distances out in my calendar – one hour, two hours, fifteen miles, eighteen miles, twenty. I imagine the day that I will be able to comfortably cover these distances; when I will look back and talk about ‘easy’ runs that are ‘only’ ten miles. I look forward to being that person, that impossibly fit version of myself. But as the weeks pass, and the distances increase, a looming foreboding sits heavy in my stomach each week until Sunday morning. The incomprehensibly long distances and the unfeasibly endless hours fill me with fear. How will I ever make it that far? Can I carry enough water and jelly babies to sustain my body? And how will I quiet my flittering mind to focus solely on one steady objective for such a long period of time? I worry about who will come to scoop me off the side of the trail and take me home if I don’t make it.
Why do I love the long run? Maybe because it’s the polar opposite of my running nemesis, the evil that is intervals. It leaves hill repeats and fartlek sessions in its ponderous wake. On the long run I don’t stare at my watch or gasp for breath, lungs bursting and legs aching, waiting desperately for the little beep that tells me a speed session is over. It’s meant to be slow. I’m supposed to to take my time, stretch my legs and smell the flowers. Maybe it’s because the long, slow, meditative rhythm allows my mind to wander. Sometimes I think through knotty problems of life worries, and sometimes I think about nothing at all.
Going long means finding simple routes that hug a natural feature like a river or a coastline, where even I, with my legendary navigation skills, can’t get lost. I want to lose myself in the run, not constantly dig out my phone to check I’m still on course. I just want to set a direction, and keep running until it’s time to turn and run the same way back.
I save music for those short runs when I need a boost of energy. Instead I fill my ears with podcast tales of adventure and the outdoors, like Out There, She Explores and The Dirtbag Diaries. For going really long, nothing beats losing myself in an audio book. I can’t manage anything too complicated – the plot must be simple to follow, even if I drift of mentally for ten minutes as I am wont to do. Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books is perfect. The miles drift by as I lose myself in his soothing tones, and before I know it I am home.