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The Long Run

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It's been awhile since i've written anything. It's not that I haven't had moments of inspiration, because I have. Dark, cold nights hoofing it around the track trying to beat each tick of the stopwatch. Running intervals full-speed through the snow, recovering just until the sweat dripping down my back starts to turn cold before taking off again. Shaving 6.5 minutes off my marathon personal best, five minutes off my half-marathon personal best, and three minutes off my personal best time. And I guess perhaps thats where the inspiration has been lost, somewhere among the worry and the stress of the training calendar. The constant weight of pace, distance, and intervals.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that running has lost its fun, it's just it became something different. Running became training, and training became homework. Pre-work going to the bottom of a hill, post-work to the track. Striders, tempos, fartleks, intervals. Repeating it week after week until it just became something I do. Running became breathing, or bathing, or sleeping. There is no glory to the workout.

But workouts and repetition morphed my body into a runner's body, filled me with just enough endorphins to numb the pain and keep me coming back day after day, week after week. My times improved, and I became hungry for competition. Not necessarily hungry to beat those around me, but hungry to beat myself. Races used to be about finishing. Now I find myself walking myself to the first corral, bouncing up and down on my feet as the anthem is sung, and then -- with the sound of a gun -- taking a deep breath and running like there is no tomorrow. Crossing the finish line with a personal best I raise my arms in the air, a champion of today. However, moments after catching my breath, the thought becomes, "Can I do this again faster?"

Today, I threw it all out. My training plan called for a long run of 16 miles at a 7:30-7:45 pace. I met up with a group of runners from my club, The Dashing Whippets, for a long run into the Palisades. I had never run there before, and didn't know the route. All I knew is that it was supposedly quite hilly (which is true) and full of trails. I normally do my long runs with a CamelBak, but decided to forgo it and try something new. Two handhelds with Hammer nutrition instead.

Shortly after meeting up with my teammates, it became clear that today was not going to be a typical weekend run. For starters, nobody knew the route. So we all set off across the George Washington bridge, figuring that we would find our way. About halfway across the bridge, it hit me, "Nobody asked about pace or distance. We never split into pace groups." Upon reaching New Jersey, we turned into Palisades park and simply ran. We ran and naturally found small groups of runners going the same distance. We ran on trails, we turned around when we hit dead ends, and followed the road when we grew tired of the mud and jumping logs. We skipped up steps, over rocks -- it was fantastic.

After about six miles I found myself running down one of the main roads with a single teammate who I had never run with before. We just ran, and talked. I stopped looking at my Garmin watch, stopped caring about the pace. It was just fantastic to be running through such beautiful scenery. The hills were brutal, but the pain was enjoyable. I became oblivious to the distance traveled, and it wasn't until a little after nine miles when we realized we probably should turn back.

On our return trip we took completely different roads and trails, having no real clue where we were going except "the right direction." It really didn't matter. Eighteen miles later, we found ourselves back at the start. My legs still felt a pep in them so I parted ways with my teammate and decided to keep running. Normally I stick to the perimeter of the city while running, as there are less stop lights. Today I decided to zigzag back and forth through Washington Heights and Harlem, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells.

When all is said and done, I ran 22 miles at an average pace of 7:58. I did not follow my training calendar.

However, nearly five hours later I still feel the excitement and the thrill of the run. As runners, all the nights we put in on the track, or early mornings on the hills, aren't only for the glory of the race. We put in the hard work and do our homework so that we can have runs like my run today. So that we can have days where we can throw the regimen to the wind and take off down paths never traveled, knowing that no matter what meets us around the bend our legs won't grow heavy, and our bodies won't fatigue.

Sometimes... glory can be found in the long run.

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