Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Distance Running

Last night I ran a 12-miler, my final long run before the Covered Bridges Half Marathon on June 5. It's been nearly a decade since I ran that far, but having run a marathon each year from 1995 to 2001, I found myself in familiar territory. Make no mistake, there’s a world of difference between training for a half marathon and a marathon: the training commitment for a marathon is easily 3 to 4 times what’s required for a half. But at 13.1 miles, the half is long enough to require long training runs, and it’s those long runs that develop physical and mental toughness.

It may sound strange if you're a non-runner, but I realized last night how much satisfaction I get from the challenge of pushing my body and brain on those long runs. Long runs are about finding and pushing your limits in a way that's different from skiing, hiking and climbing. Whether it's in a marathon, a half marathon, or just a long training run, the process of conquering pain, fatigue and fear can be cathartic. I like this passage from the short story The Runner, by James Tabor:
"Out of the silver heat mirage he ran. The sky burned, and under him the paving was a black mirror reflecting sun-fire. Sweat sprayed his skin with each foot strike so that he ran in a hot mist of his own creation. With each slap on the softened asphalt, his soles absorbed heat that rose through his arches and ankles and the stems of his shins. It was a carnival of pain, but he loved each stride because running distilled him to his essence and the heat hastened this distillation."
I didn't have to run through a silver heat mirage or sun-fire last night, but I was out there for just shy of a hundred minutes, pushing my pace, ignoring discomfort, and dealing with the uncertainty of what it would be like to get through the final miles. The distillation was every bit as real.

A few more favorite running quotes:

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement."
Legendary runner Steve Prefontaine

"When the guy says go, you start to suffer -- or you might as well not be out there. It's a small piece of your life, make it hurt."
Aaron Cox, Winner of US Mountain Biking Championship

"Run like hell and get the agony over with."
Clarence DeMar, 7-time winner of the Boston Marathon between 1911 and 1930

"The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals."
Hal Higdon, Runner's World senior writer

"To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who's never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind."
Jerome Drayton, 1977 Boston Marathon winner

"It's better to burn out than to fade away."
Neil Young
My work for the CBHM on June 5 is now mostly done. I'll still run over the next two weeks, but just short 4- or 5-milers, with maybe a 7-miler thrown in a week from now. I don't know how I'll do, but I feel ready.

Photo, left: my time last night, just under a hundred minutes.

Quotes from "The Quotable Runner," edited by Mark Will-Weber.


  1. Thoughtful and interesting post, Jeff, but I must point out a mis-quote in The Quotable Runner:

    "It's better to burn out than to fade away." is actually a line from Neil Young's song, "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black). Full story here:

  2. SBR, I agree with the Neil Young citation. I found the Petty reference on this website rather than in The Quotable Runner, and took it at face value. A number of other sources attribute the quote to Petty as well, but I can’t track down the song if it’s a lyric. I like both Petty and Neil Young, but the Neil Young reference is more solid, so I’ve changed the attribution above.

    (Blogger not allowing me to comment using my Blogger ID...)