Saturday, January 10, 2009


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?


Anonymous said...

Nice post and good topic.
I thought a lot about this last year. In North Carolina my longer runs 3-4 hours were not my favorite thing. I would have to do a simulated race with a group of folks to get into it. So, like you, I started doing “training” races, which inevitably turned into races. This was draining. I would waste half the race running it as a training run then turn it on when the competitive drive was too much to suppress. Eventually, this took its toll and I was mentally and physically tapped by the time August (and Leadville) rolled around.

Now that I live in Colorado (Boulder) I can’t hardly wait to get out for longer runs. Now they don’t seem to be the “must do this slog…” I can feel the effects of them. I’m not sure whether it’s mental or truly physical (I imagine both), but something about the altitude, terrain, scenery, and guys I run with (e.g. d. mackey) drive me with motivation to, on the most basic level, WANT to run and also progress with each week.

I’ve still set a heavy schedule of racing up this year but can honestly say that I’ll be using some of them for training. Hopefully, it’ll work out better this year.

I guess my point is that I hope you don’t become flat from too much racing when the goal races come up. Howard Nippert races so infrequently (like Matt Carpenter) that he told me “When I show up to the start line, I’m like a caged animal.”

Personally, I know I’ll never be an elite runner, so why not enjoy racing and running in races while I can?

WynnMan said...

I would agree indefinitely. Now that I'm in the best speed shape of my life and doing consistent 90-100 mile weeks I look forward to the anaerobic, tempo and hill runs during the week, simply because running faster makes the time go by pretty quick, particularly on a treadmill. LSD running seems to drag on a bit, but nonetheless when after you get half-way through it starts to feel more satisfying. I also thing the weather has a lot to do with it. In the upper midwest it has been consistent 4-5 degrees or lower for considerable length, coupled with snow covered or icy trails, which really limit one's options. I have kahtoola's which make trail running still doable and snowshoes which are great, but good portions of the trails are reserved exclusively for XC skiers.

BTW thanks for the attackpoint link. I now use that and it's very helpful.

good luck at HURT next weekend, i'll be doing far less, a 1/2 marathon.

WynnMan said...

i agree with footfeathers. I really don't have the discipline to toe a race and not give it my best. It's much cheaper and more efficient for me to hook up with some friends and do a "run without a purpose" long run. But i do see where races can serve as effective training runs if executed properly. There is no question that many ultrarunners tend to be over raced and under trained or do too much slog running. It's obvious that runners like Mackey, Carpenter, and Nippert have a system down; solid training leading to strong racing and not over doing it. However some runners are different and can do a lot. what ever works is the best plan.

worm said...

I just want to say that I can't wait until I'm running 3-4 hours at a time without much thought. I'm very new in the sport of ultrarunning and am planning on completing my first ultra this summer (Res.Pass 50). I'm currently sidelined with injury but I really appreciate your blog, and others, that provide the motivation to get out there. Being motivated to run in AK in the winter is difficult, but when seeing others out there doing it I can't complain. Keep it up and good luck at HURT!

Anonymous said...

trust me, worm, you will get to that point soon. I remember vividly being nervous about finishing my first 10 mile road race (the bobby crim 10 miler) in 2003. Now, 10 miles is a warm up.

Hone said...

I guess if you can run race after race without using up much mental energy that is the way to go. I mean that will put you into excellent shape. I think you know what you are doing and have it down.

Other runners can only give 100 percent effort once or twice a year.

Then some of us never give supreme effort because we suck.

Anonymous said...

This is the "Myth of Sisyphus". It is never enjoyable to think about having to wake up and push the boulder up the hill once again, but once it is done, there is the accomplishment and the duty fulfilled. And on and on it goes, forever....

AA said...

Hey Geoff!
Interesting topic. I love long runs, if I could run all day everyday, I would! It's true, a run isn't really considered long any more until it starts scooting past the 3 hour mark! Definitely different from HS/college LSD days, haha. I hope you start looking forward to your distance days more! Do you train alone or solo?

Anonymous said...