Turning negativity around in the long run (pun intended)

Another crazy long run is in the books. How is it that I can whip out a 25km long run relatively easily but anything over 30km feels monstrous? Maybe I have a short attention span? Maybe it’s all mental – ha! I’ve been trying to combat that over the last few weeks (well, years actually) because I really want to get better at this long distance thing, but I think I still have a long way to go.

I’ve worked on building my mental strength, and I’ve run almost three months worth of long runs completely solo without any music – which is HUGE for me because for the longest time, I didn’t think I could do anything over 15k without my iPod. I was beginning to actually enjoy solo long(ass) runs and thought I had turned a corner. These days, I feel like I’m regressing a little and it has been discouraging.

Which brings me to yesterday’s long run. It was so full of drama (mostly self-inflicted, some related to my physical state) that I feel compelled to record it for future reference.

My typical breakfast over the last few months – muesli with a few nuts, rice/oat/cow milk and sometimes a bit of yogurt. It was working really well for a while, until recently when I hit Munich, and it hasn’t been the same for me since.

For starters, I’m still dealing with a lot of stomach issues lately. It’s something I’ve never really experienced before and the most annoying thing is that I never know if I’m going to have trouble until I’ve actually started running. So, from about 500m into my long run yesterday, I ran feeling like my stomach was full of acid sloshing around. Gross? Yeah, it was disgusting and not pleasant to run with. I began texting Mike for the first time (I don’t normally do this too often during a run) because I was starting to panic.

“My stomach is burning. I hate my body. :(:'(
It’s gonna be a slog if I even do the whole 35”

I was about halfway between my starting point and Aarau, the next closest village, so I decided to aim to get there and reevaluate my situation once I got there. It was an agonizing first 7k, filled with lots of breaks and pain in my stomach. I was fully expecting to call it a day when I got to Aarau, but when I stopped to take my first gel break at 7k, it started to turn around. I can’t imagine the gels would have helped, but maybe they did. I tried to stay positive and even repeated “I’m okay” a couple times out loud (after glancing around to make sure no one saw me, obviously ;)). I texted Mike again.

“First gel. Made it to 7k. There may be hope for me.”

By the time I made it to Aarau, I glanced down and noticed that I had forgotten to un-pause my Garmin. I wasn’t really sure how far I had run, but I was guessing about 1km at least. I know these long runs aren’t about pace, but it still irritated me that I had messed up my only measurement of distance and pace so early on in my run. On a normal day, I would have brushed it aside and moved on. But today, I was already irritated about my stomach so my tolerance level was low. I sent Mike another slew of irritated, self-deprecating text messages.

“Omg I fail today. I forgot to start my watch after pausing for my gel. Then I stood there with it unpaused and PAUSED it again when I started running again. I’m an idiot.”

Oh, and it was extremely windy outside. There was a wind warning and we were told to stay out of the woods to avoid branches and trees falling on you. Yeesh. At times, the wind was so strong that it felt like I was pushing against a glass wall. It was also hilly. To be fair, it was flat by Switzerland’s standards, but it felt mountainous after running in pancake flat Germany for three weeks. It was as if that month of running in Switzerland never existed and my body was learning to run hills all over again.

“It feels like all I’m doing is running uphill into the wind. Trying to stay positive. Does it even out and go down? :(“

Despite the route being hilly, at least you’re rewarded with views like this when you get to the top.

By the way, I was only 10kms into my 35km long run by the time I sent Mike that last message. I also think Mike was starting to get irritated by the frequency of my text messages. He was doing his last longish run before his taper and he really didn’t need me texting him every 20-30 minutes. For the record – I hate pulling out my phone and texting someone mid-run too, but I just really needed some help yesterday (apparently). Mike wins the husband of the year award for not snapping at me and telling me to go away. <3

Not even 2kms later, I hit yet another roadblock and couldn’t for the life of me find the street I was supposed to run on. I kept going back and forth in circles. This is a special talent of mine. So I texted Mike, again…

“FYI I’m only at 12k. Going to take as long as I have to. You might just want to go back home. Pausing way more than I’d like, but I’m doing the best I can. Also currently going bananas trying to find the right street. *sigh* I’m hopeless.”

I actually breathed a sigh of happiness when I saw this path. I could run up and down these paths forever.

As soon as I sent those last messages, I got tired of beating myself up over a training run and decided to snap myself out of it. I started by listing all of the things that were going right with the run – the fact that my stomach had stopped rebelling against me, that I wasn’t feeling any major injury pain, and that I was back in Switzerland which is my all-time favourite country to run in.

“2nd gel break which means I hit 14k! Lol. You’re probably almost finished your 30. Seriously, I will meet you at home. I’m just going to focus on running and not stress out about breaks, time, and you waiting for me. At this rate, I could be out here for hours.”

As soon as I sent that last message, I felt a sense of peace and felt myself calm down. I actually pulled myself out of my own rut without relying on Mike to help me through it. I’m sure Mike was grateful that my text message frequency dropped off after that as well!

Ironically, that’s when my pace started normalizing again and I stopped feeling the need to take breaks. Things started to click. I ticked off the rest of the kms like clockwork, minimizing my breaks for gels and the occasional map check. I also turned a corner on the path I was on and finally hit one of my favourite running routes along the river. Although it was cloudy and raining, the water looked blissful against the backdrop of colourful houses built along the edge.

What do I have to do to live in one of these houses some day?

The final 10k was boring but I got it done and felt relatively strong . I was still running music-free and it was an out and back with the wind pushing against me for the last 5k. It was also raining pretty steadily at this point. It wasn’t pretty, and I didn’t break any personal records, but I got the damn thing done.

So where am I going with all of this rambling? Despite my long run on paper looking like a real slog, distance and time statistics don’t come close to telling the story of what really happened during my run. It doesn’t tell the story of how I started off in a really bad physical state which impacted my mental state. It doesn’t tell the story of how I got sick and tired of wallowing in self-pity and forced myself to change my perspective. I’m telling the story now so that I can look back one day and draw from this experience when I need to.

On a side note, while I was slogging away for my long run, my running friends and teammates were racing the Around the Bay road race in Hamilton. It’s a race that has been on my radar for years, but different circumstances have always kept me from attempting the 30k distance myself. So many people executed incredible races yesterday (on a course with major hills at the end) and I ended the evening full of inspiration from hearing all about their performances. I hope that can be me someday. I hope I can rock a 30k race and beyond (but seriously, how do you run a continuous long distance race like that without dying? I can’t get through an entire long run without taking multiple breaks – is that bad?). I’m working on it.



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