Running a 5k was long distance to me at one time. I couldn’t wait until I reached that 3.1-mile mark. Many of the 5k races I ran had a turn on the course that gave the best sight. The big blow up arch announcing the finish line!
People lined waiting for their runners, clapping and supporting all runners as they made their way to the end. I tried to keep my head straight, and smile the best I could, but mostly I was thinking, I can’t wait until I am done. Don’t stop running…just cross that finish line. Usually my friends I ran with had already finished and were waiting to get my picture as I crossed. I’m glad they were fast because I benefited with a sweet pic of me trying to look as if I weren’t dying!
That story had nothing to do with long distance running. Although, it did for me at the time when 3.1 miles was long distance running. My body didn’t have the same experiences necessarily, but my mind was pretty darn close. Running any distance takes mental strength. Trying to keep yourself running and not stop. Or, if you do walk how long do you allow yourself to walk before you start running again. The strength to know your body is crying at you, but you also know your body can handle it. Your mind is powerful and knowing how to use it while running long distance is what is going to get you to that finish line – more than training.
When I started running longer distances, I wondered if I would experience milestones I often heard of. It’s almost a badge of honor to know you have reached them. At first, when I didn’t experience them, I began to wonder if I was doing something right. For instance, since I wasn’t striving cross the finish line in first place, I was not overexerting myself allowing my body to handle the increase of distance each week. Or, was it because I was doing something wrong, or not running far enough, fast enough, pushing myself more? Can I even call myself a distance runner for crying out loud!?!?!
Of course, I can. As I built my distance and ran a few more long-distance races, I began to experience more. What is super cool (for me) is I still have a lot to experience. 18k is the longest race I have done. The 50k I was to run in March was canceled. I have run over 20 miles at one time, which is not a lot to an experienced distance runner, it is a lot for this late-start-in-life runner. I am planning on a virtual 50k in two weeks, which I know will be a true mental test, and if I were smart, I’d wait to write this after I run this race. That experience will be a post of its own…with all its guts and glory.
So, what can long distance running do to a person?
• You Inspire Others
Let’s start off with an inspirational thing! You will inspire others. Of course, you won’t believe it, and you will shrug anyone off if they make comments to the like. However, the awareness you bring to health, devotion to your goal, and the commitment to your training will inspire those who don’t run and who run alike. I used to think my ultra-runner friends look down on me trying to be an ultra-runner. Who do I think I am being happy for each accomplishment I make when they have run 100k or even 100-mile races? My petty 10-mile run is nothing. But I see now they know the stamina it takes to stick with a goal like this. You will inspire others!
• You Will Want To Eat A LOT
It’s true, your appetite increases exponentially. Calories are burned when you are trail running and it is important to stay on top of your calorie intake. If you don’t, you will feel a bonk like no other. Even if you don’t feel like eating, you need to eat. The world of running has every form of running nutrition on the market so you will be able to find something to work for you. However, the real eating is done after the run. You are going to feel like eating EVERYTHING! Like that entire pizza, the hamburger and fries, or two hamburgers is more like it, the oranges are refreshing, but bring on the beer and did I mention hamburger!
• Fellow Runners Give You Energy
The race starts, and you find yourself running alone. Or, you are out on your training run with no one around. You have been running for what feels like forever, and you are tired. You want to walk or find yourself taking that quick walking break when you see another runner. Either from behind or in front and you instantly feel the energy come back. There is this crazy bond between runners where energy is created when within sight. It’s the best energy shot one can get while running – even when running the last 5 miles of a 20-mile training run! That is why many racers will pay to run where they can run free. The energy generated cannot be reproduced in any other manner!
• You Have To Poop…Now!
I can’t say I wanted this to happen, but I always wondered if it would. It took a while, but the time came when the gut feeling hit me. Oh, boy! Here it is, I need to poop and I didn’t come prepared. I figured I’d run down some more and maybe the feeling would go away. It was like a Godsend, but the next bend was a campground with a restroom. I was lucky! And, to top off my luck, the campground was empty and the restroom clean! This is not the norm for people who experience this. My lesson from this was, I always run prepared now. You never know when you may need TP. Public Service Announcement: take a baggie so you don’t leave “white flowers” on the trail. And, if you do need to leave a dirty, the best thing to do is bury it. Be sure to make a hole before you start!
• You Lose All Shame
You find yourself running with hundreds of other runners all masters of snot-rockets. I remember when I met a group of ladies to run a new trail on a super cold morning. I brought tissue with me because I knew my nose would run. I enjoyed my run with the ladies, and when I got in my truck to leave, I noticed the white fuzzies all over my face from the tissue. I sent them a text asking them why they allowed me to look like that! Haa! Do not use tissue! And, learn to snot rocket. It took some time getting used to, but now it’s done effortlessly with no fuzzy mess! And without its own paragraph, you specialize in stealth mode bladder release.
• You Wonder Why You Started
You are excited to start your run for the day. You are amped and prepared your vest with water, electrolytes, nutrients, phone, TP, and all the other goods you take along with you on a long run. In the beginning you feel great. Then, the first big hill, and the next. You begin to wonder why you started this in the first place. No turning back your committed, although you think to yourself, what the heck was I thinking!!! Can I really complete this run? Am I prepared? Do I have enough nutrients to get me through? And, it never fails. You finish the run thinking, that wasn’t so bad. You look at next weeks training (or race) and think, oh boy….that is 2 more miles than what I just did. Can I do that?!?!
• You’re Going To Chafe
Being a chubby runner, I was surprised to not experience this right away. My trainer and I went for a run and she always told me I could wear shorter shorts – since I am the self-conscious type. So, I met her for a run with the shortest pair I own. And, I chafed – bad. I found out how bad in the shower that night! Chafing doesn’t only happen on thighs. Any place where a body part rubs together can cause you to chafe. Even a bra or hydration pack can cause chafing. There are products on the market to help with this, and I now use them regularly. Especially when the temperatures rise. But, if you find yourself unprepared, use chapstick.
• You Will Blister – Or Even Worse, Loose a Toenail
If your feet blister, it is a good bet you have the wrong shoe size or socks on. When trail running (or distance running for that matter) your feet swell. You always want to buy at least half size bigger shoe. Depending on the brand, you may even want to go up a full size. The shoes will be big when you first put them on. But, during your run your feet will comfortably fit right into them. Socks are also important. You want moisture wicking material. But, even with these precautions, you may still get blisters. I was, and I found Injinji toesocks and haven’t had the blister problem since. Also, don’t forget, you may end up with a black toenail or two. If this happens, just allow the toenail to either recover or fall off. Don’t pull it off – I mean I am shrieking as I write this. Ew!
• You Will Feel Aches And Pains
Your body will retaliate against you. If you don’t take care of it, you will know! Aches and pains come out of nowhere. During a run, after a run, while your sitting at your desk two days after a run – they sneak up on you. It is important to stretch! Stretching before a run is great, but don’t miss the after run stretch. I learned the hard way which ended my running goals for 2019. Proper recovery fuel is also important to feed your muscles after a long run. There are so many recovery fuels on the market, or just get your healthy fat burger ASAP!
• Running Will Become Part Of Your Identity
When you invest so much time, energy, and devotion into your running goals, it becomes part of who you are. You live, dream, speak, yearn for it. It is a huge piece of your identity. I never felt it had a stronghold over me until I was unable to run. I felt a piece of me was taken away. Running provides positivity, strength, release, faith, belief, and even support. There is no doubt running is a benefit to a body, soul, and mind. You continue to see your capable of more than you give yourself credit for. Keep it up. And, remember…you are inspiring yourself as you also inspire others!
• You Go Places
Have you ever seen pictures taken by ultra-runners? They are in desolate places. Trails in the back country, on a buff above the oceans, on top of mountains all over the world. You go places cars can’t take you. You hear sounds that are not interrupted by city sounds, notifications from emails or social media. You go out to escape the world we live in to a world we are meant to live in. The air on your face is refreshing. The smells are liberating. The miles are enjoyed. There is nothing wrong listening to music on the trail. I do it often. But, I also shut off the sounds and just listen to my steps hit the trail. It’s one of the most mesmerizing sounds. Let the trail take you somewhere new today!
• You Strive For More
No matter what you say after a run, you will always strive for more. More races, more distance, more time on the trails. Running releases endorphins. A natural defense against stress and pain. Endorphins also have been known to help with depression. I’ve heard many ultra-runners say that is why they began ultra-running. It is a great part of self-preservation. Its not about wanting to be the best, or showing off stats, but about caring for yourself. It’s why I run.
I remember saying, “I can’t run.” Looking at friends who started running and think, “but I am not like them. I can’t do that.” Getting down on myself when I struggled with the start of the Couch to 5k plan. Distance running may sound like there are bad aspects to it. Your body will question your motives at first. You may end up with blisters, chafing, or a black toenail. You also may end up seeing places you never thought to reach, finding a new form of confidence in yourself, or a shot of energy though a smile from another runner. Distance running isn’t for everyone. And, if you are reading this and know in your heart it isn’t for you, that is okay! More trail for the rest of us. But, if you read this and think the gains might possibly outweigh the fails , you might find the process is well worth it, just as I have.
I promise, it’s all worth it!
Happy running, my friends! To the trails we must go!!!