The day before a long run: I eat a lot, especially carbs. I consume plenty of whole grains (rice, beans, maybe quinoa), several pieces of fruit, and at least one big salad. Processed foods like chips, crackers, and energy bars are sometimes part of the mix, too.
The night before, I lay out all my gear: socks, shorts, shirt, sports bra, water bottle, gels, snacks (to keep in the car for afterward), headphones, license. I examine the map and choose my route. When deciding where to start from, I take into consideration the type of surface (pavement? gravel? dirt?), elevation change, safety (will there be other people around? because that’s what I want), location of restrooms and water fountains, opportunities for shade, and overall length of the trail. I pick out a couple of podcasts and some Spotify playlists. I set my alarm and make sure my phone is plugged in before I go to sleep.
The day of: When the alarm sounds, I get up and dress. I eat some granola bars and a banana. I guzzle a strong cup of coffee to get my digestive system moving before I leave (ahem). I give my family a hug and let them know where I’ll be going, what my intended route is, and approximately how long I’ll be gone. I drive to my starting point and stretch a bit (I’m currently learning about dynamic stretching). I apply sunblock, have another quick snack, put my keys and gels into the little “backpack” on my water bottle, and make sure my shoes are tight enough but not too tight. I secure my hat and slide my sunglasses onto my nose.
Then I hit the “start” button on my running app, and I’m off. My current strategy is a run-walk approach: run for 0.9 miles, walk for the last tenth of a mile, then start running again. It’s during that last tenth of each mile that I guzzle water and eat something.
During miles 0-6 of the long run, my thoughts go something like this: “Geez, this is going to take forever. That’s okay. Don’t think about it. Just take it mile by mile. What do you want to listen to first? Podcast? Music? Let’s start with music. Okay, now just go. No. No. NO. Agggh, not that fast! Slow down. Slow waaaaaay down. You’re playing the long game here. Literally. Okay, that’s better… Except my shoe feels weird. I’m going to stop and adjust it. Done. Go. Wait, what’s up with my knee? Is it okay? Just a twinge, I think. Please just be a twinge.”
Between miles 6 and 13 or so, I’ve worked out any minor aches and have found my stride. If I’m going to experience runner’s high, it’s usually during this section of the run: “This is so great. What a beautiful day. Look at the flowers! And the trees! And the cheery hot air balloons in the crisp blue sky! Is that a roadrunner? Wow. Man, I feel great. I love running. I love running so much that I probably don’t need to slurp those gels or drink that water because love alone will get me to the finish line.”
In other words, I become elated and slightly delusional, which is why I need to have a game plan in place well ahead of time. “Listen,” I say to the executive part of my brain before I get going, “not everyone is going to be okay with this. Just override any objections.” And it usually works. My executive brain is a tough cookie.
Around mile 15, I start to feel it in my legs. The mental monologue turns into something like this: “Ugh. Right leg is sore. That’s okay. Keep going. Water break in half a mile. Try moving to the gravel part of the path. How’s that? Better? Okay, great. Just be sure to pick up your feet so that you don’t trip. That wouldn’t be pretty. Want to change up the music? Want to listen to a different podcast? That’ll help. Hey! Walking time. Walking is nice. So is drinking water. And eating. These gels are tasty. Mmmmmm. Chocolate espresso. The best. Damn, it’s gone already. I should have brought some chips… Just three (or four, or five) miles to go… UUUUUGH. WHYYYYYY. That’s like forever. I’m hobbling. I don’t even look like a runner at this point. I look like I’ve sprained my ankle or like I really, really need to go to the bathroom. Another runner approaching. Smile! Look alive! Pretend you’re having the time of your life!”
By the end of the long run, I’m often physically uncomfortable – which is, well, uncomfortable – but mentally, I’m laser focused. I’m not thinking about politics or the 2016 presidential election. I’m not worrying about the environment (sorry, environment – give me an hour and I’ll start stressing again). I’m not wondering about career stuff or whether I’m a good parent or if I’ll ever pay off my student loan and buy a house. My brain has shifted into a mode of, “Ouch. Food. Water. Almost done. Food. Water. Nice scenery but food. Hurt. Pretty mountains. So close. NEED CORN CHIPS NOW.” To be in a place where you’re focused on just a few things, where there’s no room for anything else, is oddly liberating and maybe even slightly addictive.
I eventually make it back to the car, where I stretch as best I can, guzzle more water, eat every food I’ve brought with me, and start daydreaming about the contents of my refrigerator.
Tell me: What do you think about when you run or work out?