Psychology of a Long Run

 Ever since I got serious about my running I was fascinated by the psychological side of things. The long run is one of those things. Long – in my world – being anything above 75 minutes. For this post, I’ll assume a 15km long run.

Before

As any other run, the long run starts before actually leaving. I usually have a mix of joyous anticipation and dreadful reluctance. As I know that long runs are a necessity I try not to waste too much time pondering the run. Get ready, do the warmup and head out. And thus it begins…

0 to 3km

The easy part. Get going and get into a rhythm. For long runs during winter this also includes fretting over the HR strap which sends erroneous readings for about 5 to 10 minutes due to cold air and dryness. More on that in a later post. My brain is mostly still occupied with stuff I did right before the run, so the first few kilometers pass pretty quickly.

3 to 5km

Oh, good, 2km to go and I’ll have a third done. That’s easy. By the time I pass the 5km mark I also have a pretty good idea of my pace and how fresh my legs are. With that data in mind I can calculate a goal time, unless I have a goal time set by a training plan. If that’s the case, 5km is a good time to make pace adjustments. At 5km I do some simple math: 3km more and we’re over the half of this run. Pretty easy, I can always run three more kilometers.

8km

Yep, another 3km done. Legs are probably still fresh, after all -so far- it has only been a normal training run. At this point I usually compare what’s ahead of me with other training runs I do on a regular basis. In this particular case it’s just another 7km run, similar to this one.

10km

Nice, I have just completed another 10km training run. Only a short 5km to go, and that is short enough to actually be able to count down. The funny thing between 10km and 13km is that my brain usually shuts off and just follows its own thoughts. Which makes counting down from more than 5 quite a challenge. And it happens often enough that I pass 13km thinking it was 12km (good!) or vice versa (bad!).

13km

I can feel my legs by now, but it’s also only 2km to go and I should be able to make it home relatively easy. If all else fails I can walk the last 2km (never happened so far).

Home Stretch

No matter what, the last few meters are always hard. But it also feels really good when it’s over. Ahhh, another long run in the books. I have a valid reason to eat all the things now.

There are of course variations to this. If the long run has specific goals like tempo variations or intervals, the strategy must be adapted. While those make the run itself harder, they are a lot easier to process. Just concentrate on the task at hand (feet?). By the time the intervals are over I actually look forward to a few km of recovery. Also, I have yet to run anything significantly longer than 15km, for which I need to revise this strategy. The coming weeks will tell!

Do you have a strategy for long runs? Leave a comment!