As distance runners, we often talk at length about our long runs. No other run inspires as much passion, anxiety, preparation or recovery as the long run. We build entire training plans around them. We obsess over this run more then any other run. We make plans weeks in advance. We go to bed early on Friday nights, and rise even earlier on Saturday mornings. We build entire rituals to prepare ourselves for the epic miles ahead. Yes, the long run is the key workout that makes the entire race possible. I often tell new distance runners that if there is one thing they MUST know about training for a marathon or longer distance, it’s that the long run always wins. A missed tempo run, hill workout or easy day does not make or break my race. Nope, not at all. I am flexible with my weekday miles because I know that a 5 mile easy run will have little bearing on me at mile 24 of a marathon. However, what about mile 18 or 20 of a long training run? That right there might actually have some weight on how well I perform. If even from just the mental perspective that I covered 20 miles easy peasy in training, so I must be able to do it in a race situation. I think more then anything physical, the long run imparts the mental strength necessary to cover the distance. I love early morning Saturday running-it starts my weekend off on the right foot, so to speak. I love spending 4, 5, 6 hours out running to start the day and I love the feeling that comes from so thoroughly working your body that you feel your muscles for the rest of the day. It’s a satisfying fatigue that I’ve grown to love over the last 6 years of performing this long run ritual.
The plan for this run was for Leighanna to meet at my house at 6 and then drive to a trailhead in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. My alarm woke me up at the exact same time as a flash of lightening followed by thunder and then a lot more lightening. Leighanna and I quickly changed plans to meet one hour later and I enjoyed the extra time to “sleep in.”
I can’t say that I felt all that motivated to run but I knew that once I started moving, my legs would perk up and I’d feel the zest and (caffeinated) motivation I was hoping for. Leighanna and I set out starting on the Lake Trail and headed over to Pine Hollow and the famed Sound of Music Hills. Apparently runners are the only ones who refer to these hills in that way. I have no idea how this name started but within the trail running community, it’s common knowledge that these of the Sound of Music Hills and they are just extraordinarily beautiful. And steep.
From Pine Hollow we headed over to the Cross Country Trail, to Little Meadow, back to Lake, over to Pine Grove, to Ledges, to Happy Days, to Boston Run and back. We stopped at each trail connector and just mentally flipped the coin regarding which direction to head in. We had no real agenda but planned to run for about 4 hours or 20 miles or whatever came first. It was really nice to just meander through the trails and it felt a little like being an explorer and going whichever way struck as the most inviting.
We moved slowly, took lots of pics, socialized with other runners, hikers and dogs (always a must with Leighanna!) We caught an amazingly beautiful sunrise. We felt the icy cold emanating off the ancient walls of the Ledges. We explored a century old cemetary. My legs were tested as climbed up and over myriad ankle twisting rocks. It was the perfect long run. My tried and true nutrition strategy held up (lots of water, peanut butter sandwiches, a honey stinger waffle, a taste of Leighanna’s gel).
We wrapped it up and headed back to my house. Upon returning home, crazy road runner Sara from years past showed up and I decided to “finish” my run on the roads in order to get to an even 20 miles. I headed out in the blazing heat with my almost 3 year old Liam in the stroller and we finished up our run together on the hot AF roads. Despite running for a cumulative total of 4 hours and 45-ish minutes (I think), my legs felt great. I feel fantastic going into the last two high mileage weeks for the Columbus Marathon.