Sunday, March 6, 2011

In the long run

"The long run puts the tiger in the cat.” — Bill Squires, coach
Since I am getting ready for the Boston Marathon, I am doing plenty of long runs. I have tons of time to think while I am out there, and I realized that I have been doing a long run every Sunday morning since 1993 when I started running at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Aside from some illnesses, injuries or pregnancy, it’s just part of my weekly routine.

Of course , my long runs have, well, come a long way from when I began running.

In high school I ran about 20 miles a week. My long runs were about 50 minutes.

My first day at UNC was a 55-minute run (about eight miles) and that was considered an easy run. I guess I would say my training did not officially begin until I went to UNC and began a structured program.

Gradually, I worked my way up to 80 or 90 minutes while in college, but I was wrecked for the rest of the day. I remember barely making it back to my apartment on my bike because I was so tired and light-headed, and then sleeping on the couch before tackling my studies. Long runs were always a struggle for me in college, so it is a bit ironic that I ended up in the marathon.

While I was getting my masters in physical therapy I had a little more freedom with my training and starting putting in more miles. I found the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a long day of class was go running, so I started doing most of my running before class. I often would slip out when it was dark and come back to find my roommates had locked me out. I would always forget to carry a key, which meant I broke plenty of windows getting back in.

At the time, I was doing most of my long runs with with one of the best steeplechase runners in the country — Jon Russell, my future husband.

We met a group of other competitive guys every Sunday morning at the park for a 7-mile loop around a lake. Training around the lake made me increase my long runs to 14 miles each week.

One time I decided to jump into a 30k (18.6 miles) trail race around the lake for my long run. It was the first time I had run that long, and to my surprise I kept feeling better and better. That race is what planted the marathon bug in my head.

When we moved to Boston to work with my current coach, Bob Sevene, I was still doing about 14 miles for a long run. It was not until I started to train for my first marathon in 2003 that I consistently ran longer each Sunday aiming for two hours or more or around 18 miles.

The key with doing long runs week after week is to do as much as you can on trails to minimize the pounding on your legs. I ran by Walden Pond and the surrounding trails almost every Sunday.

Now, even if I am not in marathon training I hardly run less than 2 hours on Sundays. In fact, this past Sunday was one of my longer runs at 22 miles.

While I was running in the former Fort Ord, I passed some mountain bikers and said, “Good morning.” I then realized that it was just past noon. I had started running at 9:30, and it felt like time stood still.

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