I guess I am something of a running masochist. Ever since I got my first taste of long runs while training for a marathon, I’ve been hooked. I loved the whole process of carbo-loading, filling up my water bottles and heading out the door for two or three hours. I got to the point where I’d rather run 12 or 15 miles than five. For me, I think a big part of it was just knowing that I could run that long if I wanted. A pathetically large percentage of the U.S. population can’t run a mile without stopping, let alone 10 miles. So I loved walking around with the knowledge that I—for all intents and purposes—could run as long as I wanted.
But, like most competitive runners, I fell into the habit of only running long when I was training for a marathon, or maybe a half marathon. The rest of the time, I’d limit my longest weekly run to about seven or eight miles, if that. And, now that I’m no longer running marathons regularly, I had basically given up on long runs altogether.
As weird as it sounds, I really missed it. Maybe I have some congenital defect that prevents enough blood from reaching my brain during long runs (or ever, my wife might argue), but I quickly forgot about the throbbing feet, bleeding nipples and salt-encrusted face they induce and only remembered the fun. Plus, without my weekly long run, I sort of felt like less of a runner, some kind of impostor. So this summer I resolved to start putting in a minimum of 10 miles one day each weekend. That barely qualifies as a long run, but it seemed like a reasonable target.
Man, I still love it. The first few runs weren’t great, but pretty quickly I fell into my old easy pace and was in a groove. I did about 13 this afternoon, in 80 degree heat and loved every minute of it. I was missing my beloved Yankees, not to mention all of the week’s NFL games, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was jacked on endorphins and cruised home at 5K pace for the last mile, just because.
My coach and many of my buddies had told me for years that there was tremendous mental and physical benefit to a weekly long run, regardless of my racing schedule. It always seemed like good advice, but unless I had a marathon on the calendar, it was hard to find the time, or in all honesty, the motivation. I can’t say that I’ll do this without fail for the rest of my life, but Iím planning to go out next weekend for 15 and I’ll think about the following weekend after that run.
Are long runs for every runner? No. But if you race regularly and can find the time, do it. You’ll thank yourself (or me) later.