IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
You know that moment when you realize that running x distance is more important to you than anything in the whole world and you are willing to put yourself through excruciating amounts of pain to get there...well that's the moment you realize that long distance running is for you. It doesn't matter how cold out it is or that you stayed up a little to late the night prior and had one too many beers. When you tell yourself (and a handful of other people) that you are going to run 9 miles on a Saturday morning, you do it. Yes, doing so means that you spend less time at the gym than normal and you struggle through your second leg day of the week more that you normally would. But, it's all part of the running lifestyle. And any lifestyle that includes eating copious amount of carbs to fuel super long/sweaty adventures is a lifestyle that I am all for.
So, how exactly does one go about running 9 miles (or any distance that feels long/scary/impossible). Well, for starters, it helps to go in with the mindset that you are capable of running the distance, even if you've never attempted it before. Sure, jumping from 8 to 9 miles for your longest running isn't super crazy...but it's still a leap outside of your comfort zone and edging slowly closer to that magical number of 13.1 miles. And if you spend the entire time (like from the minute you hit start of your Garmin watch) focusing on just how far that is and constantly glance down at your watch to see how far you have left to go...it can seem even more impossible. Personally, I went with the whole, "just focus on your form and having fun approach." I did start out a little bit slower than I normally would, like 20 or so seconds off of my current normal pace of 9:25 min/mile. And let me tell ya, holding back those first few miles and not speeding around like a crazy person was so dang hard mentally. It seems counter productive at first. Like, if I'm going to be running this long ass distance, why not do it as fast as possible so it's over sooner.
And, for some really intense/advanced runners, that might be the right strategy. However, for someone like me, I felt that going out too fast would make the last third of the run suck and leave me doubting my running abilities. At the end of the day, this strategy worked wonders for me. I ran my final mile in 9:07 and had an average pace of 9:25 for the entire run. THIS. IS. ABSOLUTELY. MIND. BOGGLING. Who runs that fast and does that good of a job of pacing themselves the first time they tackle such a long distance?!? Well, apparently I am a better run than I had previously thought, because that 9 mile run felt way better than my first attempt at running the once big/scary/impossible distance of 7 miles way back in the fall.
As I progressed through my run this morning, I noticed that the farther I ran the better my legs felt. I know, I know, it sounds made up, but it's the 100% honest truth. When I was only 3-4 miles in I wasn't feeling the best and felt like I was just trudging along...not really running my best. But, I convinced myself during these times that I didn't care what my final pace was or how long it took me to get to 9 miles...as long as I was able to find some enjoyment in the process of getting there. And by the time I was 7 or so miles in...I felt invincible. I'm not even kidding when I say that in the moment I felt ready to run 13.1 mile right then and there. Bring it, cause your girl was feeling it this morning. Naturally, as I neared the 9 mile mark, I realized that it would have been a pretty stupid decision to go that distance this morning. Still, I'm overjoyed with the fact that I felt confident enough in my running abilities at the time and was able to envision myself running that distance (and much sooner than my original goal of summer 2018!!!).
One strategy that I didn't employ to get me through this run (but seriously wish I would have thought of ahead of time) is one I like to call a person for every mile, a mile for every person. The story behind this strategy is basically that I found that running anything over 3 miles on the treadmill was pretty much the worst experience ever...but if I pretended that I was running each mile for a different person who is important in my life...then it seemed not quite so bad. And this strategy has been tested and proven to work wonders for improving your mindset during particularly challenging runs. Of course, using that strategy for this run didn't cross my mind until I only had 2.5 miles left.
That's not to say that those last 2.5 miles were easy peezy lemon squeezey...because they most certainly were not. I was able to distract myself by really jamming out and getting into the song "Getaway Car" by Taylor Swift. I have a playlist on my Ipod of her latest album that has each song on there twice. And it just so happened that at this crucial point in my run that this song played twice, in a row. So, I took this as a sign that now was as good a time as any to go full on crazy and run like I was driving that damn getaway car. And, doing that as well as really focusing on the lyrics made those last few miles fly by. And when I saw just how fast mile 8 was...I couldn't not try to beat that time for mile 9. Essentially, when I saw the opportunity to not only get through the run, but really have a good/semi-hard run...I jumped on it. I didn't wanna just tell people I survived running 9 miles. I wanted to be able to say that I dominated that fucking 9 mile run. And that's exactly what I did.
At this point you might be asking yourself, "Why 9 miles? What's so special about that distance?" And the answer is simple, I had never in my life run more than 8 miles. I have struggled for year to really call myself a "runner." So, in comes the goal of running a half marathon. And with it, a whole shit ton of self-doubt and mental barriers. The first barrier was running more than 6.5 miles outside. Then came running more than 7 and eventually 8. On top of that, being able to tell people that you are that bad ass person/runner out pounding the pavement for 9 miles before some people have even gotten out of bed is a huge ego boost. And I say that as someone who has also struggled with self-confidence. And once your ego gets just a small taste from that first impossible run...it wants more.
I got greedy, and that pushed me to not only run 9 miles today, but re- max out on back squat today (even though I just freaking did that on Tuesday) and up my previous max by 10 pounds. Why, on earth would I do that you ask. Well, because I was already on that damn runners high, still feeling invincible, and greedy for more proof that although I have lost weight since the beginning of the semester, I have gotten way stronger too. The longer you work at a hobby/task like running or lifting the more you get into the mindset that you don't just want to be average. Average is fine for some people, and I am in no way saying that there is anything wrong with being average or that I am advanced or super experienced/knowledgeable in either of these activities. I'm not. I'm just someone who came into both of these thing as a complete newbie and assumed I would never really get anywhere near the level of being seriously considered a "runner" or a "weight lifter" (even by myself). Yet, I was completely wrong. I developed a huge passion, first for lifting and then for running that couldn't be satisfied by just being average, just doing the bear minimum to maintain fitness. I want to be uncomfortable, I want to prove myself wrong when I set limit for what I think I am capable of in everything in life.
I'm proud to say that I am in this whole fitness/running/lifting lifestyle for the "Long Haul." I know that things won't always be as fun, positive, and PR filled as they are right now. There will be times when I'll doubt not only my athletic ability, but why I even run or lift or decided that this lifestyle was the one for me. But, luckily, I have this blog filled with all my highs and lows to remind me just how much these things mean to me. No regrets, No excuses. Just hard work, dedication, and a dash of T-Swift. The necessities for hanging in there when you feel like giving up.