Monday, January 30, 2012

Anatomy of a long run

This is for all my friends who are NOT runners.  I'd like to share with you a tiny glimpse into what a long run feels like, so you can rest assured that it isn't akin to some medieval torture device.  Not most of the time, at least.  You may even be surprised to find that it's something us runners look FORWARD to.  Yes, I know...crazy in the head.  We all are.  Maybe that's why we tend to get along so well.

I came across this quote in Runner's World:

"I think I get addicted to the feelings associated with the end of a long run.  I love feeling empty, clean, worn out, starving, and sweat-purged.  I love the good ache of muscles that have done me proud." - Kristin Armstrong

That's the closest I've ever come to describing what a long run feels like.  I know, it probably makes no sense to you, but I'll try to break it down.

The first 20-30 minutes for me is always a warm up.  I gasp for breath and feel awkward and clumsy and freakish.  My arms flail and my legs trip over each other.  I sometimes have to will myself (sometimes even out loud) to keep going because it WILL get better.  Yes, it's not uncommon for us runners to talk to ourselves during our runs too.  Or sing out loud, or scream, or even cry.  I've been known, on occasion, to do all of the above.

Minutes 30-45 get better for me...I get my breathing down and no longer feel like I'm going to run out of air, my arms and legs fall into sync, and usually I have a random burst of energy.  Sometimes the burst isn't so much random, but a direct result of my chowing down on a Gu Chomp or two.  Gotta fuel the fire!

Somewhere around the one hour mark I almost always get into a groove.  This is the part that's so hard to describe.  It's like I forget that I'm running - my legs have a mind of their own and they just go - in perfect tandem - perfect stride - and my breathing is easy and my mind is completely clear and all I'm doing is listening to the music blaring in my ears and forgetting about the aches and pains and letting my body run on autopilot.  I am running on pure adrenaline.  I feel the sun on my face and the wind at my back.  I don't look at my watch, I don't second guess myself, I just fly.  This is the part that feels SO AMAZINGLY GOOD, and I try to make it last as long as possible.  I wish it could last forever.  Unfortunately, depending on where I'm running, it is often short lived due to a crosswalk or an intersection or something I actually have to pay attention to.  Which is why I prefer running on a path like the Roswell Riverwalk Trail where there are fewer obstacles in the way of total running enlightenment.

Typically, during the last mile of my run, when I can see or just know that the end is in sight, I book it.  A really good song also typically comes on right about this time, which always helps.  In fact, I wish there was a way to chart out my pace relative to which song is playing on my iPod, because I'm positive that certain songs (Soundgarden's "Outshined", for one,) press some imaginary gas pedal in my hypothalamus that makes me book it like a bat outta hell.

Then, when it's all over is when I feel all of the things that Kristin Armstrong described so eloquently in her quote.  I feel completely spent.  Worn out.  Empty.  Exhausted.  Starving.  Invigorated.  Inspired.  Elated and impressed with what my body just did.  I make sure to stretch and I use that time to run my hands over my hard worked muscles and remind myself of what my body is capable of.  I am reminded that I am strong and powerful and capable of whatever I put my mind to.

Honestly, I can't decide which I enjoy more: a big meal or a hot, steamy shower after a long run.  BUT WAIT!  I almost forgot about the other post-long run ritual I recently adopted - the ice bath.  Once I get up to 9 or 10 miles, or before that if I'm feeling especially tight and overworked, I'll fill the tub with cold water to my waistline, dump in a large bag of ice and slowly ease myself down into it for 10-15 minutes.  The visual is actually pretty amusing, because I'm typically wearing a swimsuit bottom, 2 or 3 layers on top including a heavy hooded sweatshirt and a hat, and I'm always sipping hot tea.  It warms my hands and my insides.  Speaking of medieval torture devices, yes, I too thought the ice bath sounded like one until I tried it.  Fact of the matter is, your legs and feet go numb after a few minutes anyway, so you don't feel much.

I hope that I've captured for you the essence of what we runners experience on a long run and what the much revered "runner's high" feels like.  Like Kristin says, "I think I get addicted to the feelings associated with the end of a long run."  Hello, my name is Callie, and I'm a running addict.

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