I can remember in high school when a "Long Slow Distance" (LSD) run meant about 90 minutes. Never more than 120. Now I don't think of a run as being long unless it's at least 3 hours and fairly often I do runs upwards of and, on occasion, over 5 hours. The psychology of these long runs is interesting to me. I almost never am excited about an upcoming long training run, but I almost always end up feeling very satisfied after doing one. Today I got in about 35 miles and I must say that I was not at all into it until about mile 20. After that though it became slowly more and more enjoyable and by the end of it I actually thought for a few minutes about staying out for two more hours to make it a nice even 50 miler. Ultimately I opted for the 35 miles that I had planned to do all along, but after almost cutting my run short several times in the first 20 miles it was kind of ironic that in the end I almost added 15 more miles onto it.
Anyway, the point is that there's something about long slow training runs that are almost always my least favorite runs to look forward to, but often my favorite runs to look back upon. When I do hill workouts, tempo runs, or intervals it's almost always the opposite. I'm usually very excited for these runs before hand but they often leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied afterwards. I guess it's sort of like a movie that I hear lots of bad things about that ends up pleasantly surprising me. I often wonder if I had heard lots of good things about the same movie would I have liked it as much? Probably not. Perhaps my dread (that's a bit strong of a word most of the time, but today I was in fact dreading my long run) of long runs is why I end up usually liking them so much in hindsight. To finish a 4 or 5 hour run and suddenly realize, "wait, that wasn't so bad. That was actually kind of fun." Perhaps that's some of what's going on there.
What does all this mean for me? Well, no matter how much I enjoy these runs in hindsight they are still unenjoyable for me to look forward to. For this reason I have found myself doing fewer long training runs this year than last year. My way to still get the endurance (both mental and physical endurance) that these runs help develop has become to do a lot more "training" races between my "focus" races, and use these "training" races to replace the long (often dreadful) training runs. I did this over the summer leading up to Wasatch with "training" races of 25, 26, and 100 miles all within 6 weeks of the race. I'm also more or less in the middle of doing this now in preparation for The Iditarod Invitational. The HURT 100 next week and The Little Su 50k in February are both going to function primarily as "training" races for me. I've also discovered that long runs that also serve the purpose of getting me somewhere that I want to go are much more appealing to me to look forward to than long runs (like today's) that I do simply for the sake of getting in lots of mileage. My 6 hour course recon run on the last 25 miles of the Wasatch route in late August was so much more exciting to look forward to than a run like today.
I certainly go through phases with this, but for most of the past 6 months I have been in a phase where I would rather just race every month or so such that I don't feel like I need to be out running 40 or 50 mile training runs to build the endurance that I want to have for my next "focus" race that might be 2 or 3 months away.
I'm interested in how other ultra runners feel about this (or endurance athletes of any sport). If you're at the level where a long run is 30 or more (and sometimes many more) miles do you actually look forward to these runs? Or do you find yourself doing as I do and try to replace them with "training" races and/or runs that serve some agenda other than simply getting in the mileage?