It's all in the head



I seem to have been giving a lot of advice about getting through long runs recently: shame I don't seem to be able to take it myself. Breaking it up into smaller parts in your head, adopting mantras to get through the tough bits ... I know all the tricks but can't seem to actually use them at the moment. Yesterday's attempted 20 miler turned into 16 when for some reason I just went out with the most negative attitude from mile one. I can't really work out why - perhaps it's because it's been a while since my last marathon and therefore since I ran these kind of distances.

Perhaps it's a kind of equivalent of a virus - once the negative seed is planted in your head, it multiplies and won't leave you alone. At any rate, by mile eight I was having something of a meltdown. I knew it was in my head, my legs felt fine, my lungs felt fine, yet somehow knowing that did nothing to stop it.

One strategy to counteract this I've used in the past is to run a race in the middle - three mile warm up, half marathon race, four mile easy and voila! A 20 miler is done. Or run seven to the start line. The best thing about that is that being part of a race gives you a shot of adrenaline, some company, and a good reason not to just stop. Of course, no one gives two hoots if you do stop and walk, but there's always part of your head that thinks people will watch, and judge.

So, 16 it was. But I am  nothing if not stubborn, so later in the day I went out and ran (well, jogged, very slowly) another four. Pretty pointless, as runs go - I'll be the first to admit - except that my head needed me to do it, so that I would at least have chalked up 20 in a day, albeit not in one go. Peversely I kind of enjoyed it. Running, eh? It's such a simple sport ...

So, over to you. Anyone else gone (or going) through a bad patch in just their long runs? As always, your weekend exploits below the line please.

Comments

  1. "I seem to have been giving a lot of advice about getting through long runs recently: shame I don't seem to be able to take it myself."
    I know all about this feeling. I act like I'm one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to dishing out advice, but whenever it comes to applying that advice to myself I'm awful. On that note; sometimes it just doesn't click, you just have to get annoyed, swear a lot, and be happy it didn't happen on race day.


    Not meaning to brag after that, but I kind of had the opposite with my long run yesterday. After 4 weeks of being pretty nervous about my first marathon, with the distance and target pace just being daunting as hell, something finally changed yesterday and I ran really well; quite a bit quicker than previous long runs and I felt like I could have kept going. Mind you it was a whopping 10 degrees and sunny up North, so I'm crediting Vitamin D for this and am now going to get 2 weeks in Portugal prescribed from my GP.

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  2. I've just come back from my morning 2.4km swim and reading this whilst eating my breakfast. I couldn't help but nod and smile at what you had written Kate, knowing that at the moment I am having the same experience with all aspects of my swim/bike run training! For me, it seems as thought the reason is that training starts to feel like a job and is not fresh or invigorating. However, I am lucky in one respect, when I'm pissed off with one discipline I can turn to another and I do get a bit of a lift.

    Last weeks training was quite intense and left me needing to do a 1hour 40minute run yesterday with a tired body and sore(ish) legs. I planned an 11 mile route, so just over 9 minute miles, as the plan was to treat it like a long slow run. However, I woke with a gurgling and grumbling stomach, legs that were telling me they didn't want to go out and a head full of anxiety (about running!) But I managed to get out at the exact time I'd planned and my strategy for coping was to see the run as 10x10minute blocks. It probably took the best part of three blocks for my head and stomach to settle, but that gave me another seven to do. I always find that once I cross half way, whether it's measured in time or distance, my head and body tend to relax and things start to become easier. However, yesterday I hadn't factored in that my out and back route meant me running into a cool steady headwind all the way home, at a time when my stomach decided it wasn't happy and my legs had got fed up of playing out! At that point I then broke the blocks of time down to 5 minutes each, just to get through the bloody things. The good thing was that my head was in a much calmer and organised place. I got home okish, just under 11 miles, but given the circumstances, the fact that I'd achieved it was a win for me.


    On a swimming day, the training is done early in the morning, so now I can have fun for the rest of the day. Yes!

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    1. How does your overall training time compare to when just running? Roughly the same with the disciplines divided out or does it take a lot longer?

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    2. Definitely longer HD. I've never been just a runner, but I went back to some training data on Strava from when I was in the USA at the back end of the year and I was only running. I was running for between 3.5-5.0 hours per week (23-35 miles). Last week, I ran for 3.5 hours, cycled for 5 hours and swam for 2 hours, a total of 10.5 hours. The training programme makes sure that I'm doing each discipline 2/3 per week and doubling up once a week, so going straight from a bike activity to a run. Overall, whilst it might be hard, it is a lot of fun. Just need to make sure that no injuries develop.

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  3. I think I often feel that way Kate...even with a short long run I often decide to include my warm-up even though I know that technically I’ve been told to do 15k at ‘x’ pace...so it becomes 2k easy + 13k at ‘x’.

    I’m *just* back from two weeks in Mexico and Guatemala with the family...running was tough and just as I managed to feel like I’d acclimatised, we were homeward bound. Now I have to recalibrate my brain and legs all over again.

    In general my running is still improving...gradually. After my 20 minute 5k near-miss at NYE and subsequent discussions with the physio and the resident quack I had decided on a conservative goal of 10s improvement per month during 2019. So this Saturday (a week early but necessity etc) I’ll be having a crack at breaking 19.45 (19.50 acceptable, just). Mentally, it’s as big a race as I can remember doing - if I dont see proper improvement I might well chuck all of my toys out of the pram.

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    1. Ah, that's why you weren't visible Asta! Hope you had a great time.

      Even your conservative improvement of 10 seconds a month is taking 2 minutes off your current position, quite a decent improvement, though I'm sure you will look to see if there are any more gains you can make. Hope it all works out and try to remember to keep all the toys in the pram!

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    2. Good luck! Only a month to wait if it goes wrong but from Strava you seem to be picking up again.

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  4. I've had some long runs like that. The worst ones I think I've made the mistake of thinking 4 miles done, 16 to go. If there's no inherent structure to the long run in terms of planned paces, then I usually break the run into thirds to avoid the occasional sense of horror that arrives when your mind isn't prepared to commit to over 2 hours of running. Working with blocks of 5, 6 or 7 miles at a time usually does the trick for me.

    My running is going well at the moment, planning a cut-back week now as I picked up a place for the Wokingham HM next weekend. Hoping today's recovery runs loosen my calves up after yesterday's progressive long run.

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    1. I'll be at Wokingham next Sunday too, although I guess some way behind you. Good luck with it.

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    2. Thanks, good luck on Sunday too. I'll be wearing a bright neon yellow vest with "Sutton Runners" on the back - essentially looking like a pacer but without a flag on my back :-)

      I've heard it's a good event at Wokingham, so looking forward to racing my first HM in almost two years.

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    3. I will be there too (orange t-shirt and hair most of the way down my back...) - will look out for you both! Good luck all!

      I did it last year and it's a great event, nice and flat.

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  5. Pete's doing a lot of training by time and I think there's a lot to be said for that e.g. 20 miles at 8 min/mile pace becomes a 160min workout - hence, you're fully clear even before going out that you're going to be out there for 2 hours 40. You can even programme it in the Garmin that way so there's a clock that has to count off the 160mins; either single piece or more manageable chunks - e.g 4 x 40 with short rests. Then, there's no way to 'cheat' - you can't try to get it over with sooner by running faster which would defeat one of the objectives of the long steady state run anyway.

    If it's any consolation Kate, my long run pace would be more like 10-11min/mile, so my 20 milers will be more like 3h 20 to 3h 40 - can't wait!! Just think of all the aerobic development benefits!

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  6. Righto. Just getting over a virus, but managed a 12km long run on Saturday. I went out a bit late in the morning and by the time I got back at around midday it was 29C. I felt pretty stuffed, but felt better after drinking a gallon of water and half an hour in the hot tub.

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  7. I've always applied the 80-20 rule to running. But whereas Pareto developed this rule to describe the extent of land ownership in Italy, for me it means that your legs do 80% of the work and your head the other 20%... or vice versa. I've certainly had runs during which the head was doing the majority of the work. Take Saturday, for instance. I set out on a 43 km run with an empty stomach. The aim was to keep the pace slow and fuel as I go. The first 32 km was pleasant with about 500 metres of elevation gain. A fair bit of climbing, but nothing too demanding over that distance. The final 11 km, however, was hellish with yet another 500 metres of elevation gain crammed in. This after three hours on my feet. The constant ups and downs in the final quarter of the run really became a mental effort as the legs had clearly decided that they had had enough by this point, but I still got home just under four hours after setting off. Yesterday was an easy-ish hilly trail run of 13 km, which certainly consisted of the legs doing 80% of the work. Rest day today before starting all over again tomorrow.

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    1. That's some great running though Mark, head or legs!

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  8. There’s a saying I really relate to; …’take my advice, I’m not using it!”

    It’s hard to get out of the mental doldrums with running with they occur, sometimes a simple successful interval training run or (always) a well-run race will lift you to searing heights but without either of these it can be a phycological slog when you’re in that zone.

    I may have bitten off slightly more than I should have been chewing yesterday with a 20 miler, but had unwittingly broken it in to thirds thereby helping the first 21k go by really quickly and subsequently leaving me 11k from home with no choice than to run back, but the weather was so fantastic I just wanted to be out. It was worth it : )

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  9. The racing for a long run is an interesting one...it's definitely easier but I always feel rather meh afterwards - not only do you not have the competitive buzz everyone else has when tanning their beer after but because it's easier I find it doesn't replicate the thisisafuckingmisery feeling for when you do race. That said, given I've stuck marathons in the box not to be opened for several years, I never have to do any truly long, long runs any more so that probably helps!

    My week was excellent, mainly because I got fat basking in the glory of Barcelona. Day 1 of 84 en route to the Big25 started today with a commute to work though so time to shake off some cobwebs

    Well done to everyone getting out and about.

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  10. You're right Kate, so much of running is in the head. I've had plenty of runs like yours; if you start with the negative thoughts it's hard to shake them off. However this weekend's 20 miler went really well, 2hrs 58 which is almost as good as it gets for me - I didn't get anywhere near 3 hours last year. Whether is was the perfect conditions or that I'm in better shape I don't know but at the 25km point where my form usually tails off I still felt strong. Halfway through my marathon plan it's good to have a confidence boosting long run for a change.

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  11. Yesterday was my longest run so far this winter - 14 miles ahead of a half marathon in two weeks time. I prefer to run on Sunday morning and have quality sofa time in the afternoon but family commitiments meant I couldn't get out till mid-afternoon so I was already grumpy. There is something very daunting about taking those first steps out of the door when you know you're not going to be back for a couple of hours and when you do return you'll be knackered. However, as is so often the case, a couple of miles later I was having the time of my life, meandering along the Thames towpath towards Kew in beautiful spring-like sunshine. I felt absolutely great until the last mile, which was very hard work. Albeit a bit I still got my quality sofa time... and a roast.

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  12. I've been struggling for the past several weeks to enjoy any kind of longer or faster runs beyond 2-3k (really!). I couldn't put my finger on why; it started after I pushed myself a bit too much in the first couple of weeks of the year to start my preparation for the Wokingham Half (next weekend). After that, I took it easy for a week, then tried to start upping the distances/paces again... same again. Another easy week...

    Finally, on Friday, I bought some new shoes (all four pairs I was rotating around had reached over 1000km and I think they were giving me quite some problems - all sorts of odd aches and pains creeping in), and the new shoes were just the placebo the doctor ordered - yesterday went out for a 16k-strong-effort and actually enjoyed the whole thing. It wasn't fast enough to give me any hope of a new PB next weekend at Wokingham...

    But - and this is the important thing - I actually enjoyed a long, decently-paced run for the first time in nearly two months. Yaaaay!

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    1. Great! I finally learnt last year that shoes really do matter. More than a placebo I reckon (not that there's anything wrong with a good placebo effect!)

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    2. You are very right Brussels, I can normally feel when the shoes are on their way out and swap them out, but I had finally run out of my preferred 2017-vintage Brooks GTS so had to go try some new models instead of just getting another of the same.

      I'm LOVING the 2019 Brooks GTS so far though; I hope they last well because I haven't felt this good in a running shoe for many years, if ever. They've completely re-engineered them this year, much bigger change than the usual new-colour-extra-£5 annual refresh, and for me, it's definitely a change for the better.

      And, I always love me a good placebo :D

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  13. Not doing a marathon this year, so no really long runs for me in the near future! My longest training run at the moment is 10 miles which I do every other week.

    I was very much focusing on short runs this weekend and managed to get a new 5k PB at my local parkrun

    It's a tricky place to PB, there are two laps, with the first third of each lap being up a very steep hill and I have chucked away a few good times by blowing up on the incline during the second lap.

    The real benefit of the course is there is a nice bit reasonably gentle descent on the other side which gives you some nice, easy speed.

    On Saturday I had the benefit of someone to chase going up the hills and someone chasing me down to motivate me to go for a big kick about 0.5 of a mile from home and finished in a time of 19:32, 15 seconds knocked off from my previous best.




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  14. I have not done anything that can be called a long run for a while. I seem to be staying around 10-12K (parkrun as an exception) since this can be fitted in around life and when I finish, I am still able to do things without feeling exhausted from the run. I might have to do at least a couple of HM length before I have another go at the Y3P. I did it last year as a 'spur on the moment' thing and while I did get round, it was not pretty.

    No running this weekend, as I must have done something to my ankle in the week. It twinged a bit going down stairs, so I thought a rest would be in order. Particularly so, since I have a big Winter mountaineering week coming up. I don't really want any injuries going in to that.

    As a result, it was a bike weekend not a running weekend. Nice sun for it here in the Southeast.

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  15. 10k is a long run for me; 11k is nigh on a marathon. This week I did 3 tensies and a little 'un -5. Did a canal run in a howling gale- horrid; a river run that I really enjoyed; the little 'un round the streets of Tottenham - eek; finally an official tensie round Hyde Park - 4 rather bleak circuits and 3rd in my age category. The first two were well ahead so that's OK.

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  16. Long runs, 20 milers - nowhere near but in my way back.
    Holiday back to back with flu has meant 3 weekends and 3 long runs missed. Sunday was my first attempt at any kind of run in just over 2 weeks, a measly 3 miles when the training plan said 20.
    Easing back to it this week, trying to get to ideally a 20miler this weekend.
    My legs are a bit sore after just 4 miles today!

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  17. Hello folks, it's been a while, the reason being its been a while since I did any proper running, the reason for that being that in the meantime I have taught myself to ice skate. As some might remember, this has been a bit of a dream for me, and since I was going to Russia and would be once again faced with lots of magical, snow-covered, fairytale outdoor ice rinks, I decided now was the time. I'm still not very good, but I've been going two or three times a week and really love it.

    Some observations: in Japan at least, it's mostly a sport for little girls and older women, but there are usually a few blokes too so it's not too painfully embarrassing, whereas in Russia there are always loads of blokes, some with girlfriends, some alone practicing their moves. It's also surprisingly athletic - I always come away soaked in sweat, and my weight has stayed at its lowest for years despite pigging out in both the UK and Russia. Costs a bloody packet here in Japan - about 13 quid a time including skate rental. I'm planning on buying my own skates though.

    As for running, I did two parkruns when I was back home in the UK - they were both slow (how the hell did I ever do it in 24 minutes flat?) but I enjoyed them as usual. Then I went off to Siberia for two weeks, where it was insanely cold, even for Siberia. There is a parkrun in Novosibirsk, which I hoped to take part in, but it was around -38 on the first Saturday morning I was there and -30 on the second, and I thought I really might actually die, so my running stuff stayed in the suitcase. Astonishingly, around 5 or so hardy souls went out there and ran it. I did skate a total of 5 times, though, and although I wasn't quite as smooth as I pictured myself being, it was great fun, out in the cold, on a frozen lake in the middle of Siberia.

    I also did a single 9k run this week, which felt tough, unsurprisingly. I don't have enough time to run 3 times a week and skate 3 times a week, and I would really hate to not be able to run any more, so I'm going to be building the running back up from here and cutting down on the skating.

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    1. Good to hear from you again...ice skating is cracking when you get going (not that I ever really did) and when you're not used to the movement it's an agonizing work out!

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    2. Hi TD, good to hear from you. Ice skating eh, sounds very exotic! I used to be a roller skater in my youth, speed marshall at the Electric Ballroom roller disco in Camden Town no less, ha ha!! I found it fairly transferable to ice but didn't keep it up. Great workout though, including core. Can you log these on Strava? I'm sure you must be able to!

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    3. I wish I'd worn my garmin when I was skating outdoors in Russia. Gutted I didn't! They would have been great to look at. I'll try it next time I go to the rink and set it to indoor workout.

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  18. My training runs are usually not much longer than two hours, and temperatures here in Wellington are not extreme. So motivation to get out and run isn't an issue. I really admire those who run in snow and ice or high temperatures.

    My motivational difficulty in training is keeping up the pace when I run uphill. When I look at the Fitbit's chart of my heart rate, it's substantially lower when I'm climbing than on the flat. This wasn't a problem, however, on Sunday when I ran a half marathon in Wellington's Round the Bays event. The course is almost flat, and my heart rate for the duration hardly changed. I was aided by perfect running weather - fine and mild with a light, cooling breeze. Furthermore, the race was well organised, and supporters were great. I came second of three in the F70+ category, and was pleased to get a personal best (2:09) for this distance.

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    1. Very well done...no need to mention how many people were in the category, second is second :-)

      When going uphill don't worry about losing a little pace, focus on keeping the same perceived effort. If you can, shorten your stride a little and try to use your arms as if you were pulling yourself along on a rope.

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    2. Congratulations on you PB Frances! Impressive!

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    3. That's a really good time - congratulations! There's a fine balance I find when running uphill - I'd expect the pace to drop a bit, but I'd like to keep the perceived effort similar to running on the flat. It helps if you know how long/steep the hill is in advance though, as you always want to be able to recover quickly after you've gone over the top.

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    4. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

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  19. My approach to breaking a long run down usually involves gels - I'll generally bring enough to have one every 6-8 miles and that neatly sub-divides whatever distance I'm doing into manageable chunks.

    Saturday was my longest run since my last marathon: 21.5 miles, with 7 at the back end at marathon pace. It was probably a little too soon after a fairly hard run on Thursday; the marathon-pace block felt pretty tough and the last couple of miles were a proper slog but overall a good confidence boost with 7 weeks to go.

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  20. My long run on Sunday was miserable. It was "only" 16 miles, after weeks of building above that and up to 20, but I had to do the middle 6 at 7:35 mile pace. I did 4 on my own, met up with my local club, and talked a friend into "pacing" me through the tough part. (That's an exaggeration. Very little encouragement was required. Get yourself running friends who are very fast, strong runners but not training for anything right now.)

    Despite being very lucky to have a friend run with me, I never got up to the goal pace. My average over the 6 miles was 8 minutes, which is my goal marathon pace. The whole time I was struggling. Legs seemingly refusing to move, breathing hard, fantasising about giving up. The "easy" final 5 miles were far from a relief, more a slog.

    Feeling somewhat demoralised today, and tomorrow I have a tempo session planned: another 6 miles, this time at 7:03-7:15 pace. I'm going to need some superhuman mind magic to believe that's possible.

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    1. Hi Brussels, I just plugged your goal MP into the Jack Daniels calculator - 7:03-7:15 pace sits somewhere between equivalent 5k and 10k goal pace. That pace-range seems on the quick side for a 6 mile tempo. An alternative might be to do a progressive 6 miles, running the last two miles in that range, previous 2 miles at +10s/mile, first two miles at +20s/mile.

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    2. Hmmmm, why do you say that's too quick? I think the idea is to be at some kind of vo2 related threshold pace.

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    3. If it's meant to be VO2-related then it's probably OK, but I'd say the volume is too high. Unless you're breaking the 6 miles up into reps, or the 6 miles includes a warm up and cool down.

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