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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Long Trail

"You RAN how far? Isn't that boring?!" gawks the face of another non-believer after a failed attempt to stifle the latest incarnation between runner and non-runner.

We all face the plethora of ignorance and the run down of cliche responses to our lifestyle as runners. Whether we run 3 miles or 30 or 130 miles at a time those people who have never climbed that place in the existence can't understand, so we try to appease them and protect ourselves from this conversation. You have all been there, and here, we are not going to visit that place... while it can be good for a laugh amongst friends.

What I want to discuss is the actual thoughts that come out of thin air, that clean air, found on the roads but for me to a greater extent on the trails. If you missed it, I went out for my longest solo mileage to date this past weekend, covering 3 hours and 54 minutes of Earth and 30 miles of trail.

While true that most of the time I am thinking of literally nothing, these still periods are interrupted on regular occasion by a variety of thoughts. These thoughts may fall into one of several categories: practical training, life planning and suffering onward.

Practical Training 
This is where the majority of runs begin. Reminders of the focus of a run act like shifting your car into gear for achieving the adaptations of the day. On a long day full of hills I let the pace fly by the wayside, I figure that will take care of itself. Instead I focus on what I can control for the longest stretch of time... effort.

My thoughts are stay "easier than easy" because the hard part is waiting out there somewhere, you don't need to find it. It will find you, it is a patient stalker. On the long run my hope is to play cat and mouse with fatigue, I want it to find me, but not dominate me. I want to run along with fatigue, to use it and develop a relationship we both can live with. By showing it respect and not fear, I end up with my most enjoyable successful and important runs.

But these thoughts dissipate away with an effort of some random hill, or a broken branch laying in full bloom on the trail, or a crumbled rock or a pack of hikers or spotting a bear below in the hollar... the point being that many distractions are out there, and once you have the proper gear for a given day, a long run, these distractions can be all that keeps you going at times, to give your brain that nice flat open place to relax and save its energy for the more demanding sections when fatigue catches you.

Planning for Life
During the middle hours of long trail runs my thoughts float from nothing, stillness to issues of life and dreams for the future. Most recently I covered a 4-5 mile section of technical trail without any short term recollection of it, just like when your realize you have been zoned out while driving for an hour... I came back to the present and wondered where I had been... then I realized I had been off building a tree house 3 or 4 years from now... really.

In my mind I had gone out to the woods around my home, had chosen the perfect set of trees and had constructed a tree house to be the envy of all who have ever set eyes on a tree house. This felt like a true memory, my mind was on autopilot, my body meanwhile hopping down logs, twisting up and down muddy trail, ducking low branches heavy with recent rain... this is what brings me back to the trails despite the inevitable  suffering when time and effort join forces to conjure the spirit of fatigue, the heaviest of ghosts.

Suffering Onward
As the miles mount and disappear eventually the mind becomes very still, but the body is in turmoil. Small pains creep in and leaps and ducks once insignificant become mountains themselves. Here, the run comes full circle. There is no luxury, there is little momentum and any comfort stems from the knowledge that you are one step closer to your car... but really you can get to the place where there is no consoling.

This is where experience, visualization and plain old toughness and training pay their dividends. And the ability to deal is temporary, and it comes along more slowly and leaves more quickly. This is an area you need to develop and taper just as much as the fitness side. We have all run with that person who "looked" fitter, but when the time came for performance they faded quickly... I am sure at least one of us has been that person too...

So pay attention to your thoughts, take note of the good ones and see when and why they arise. When the demons pop up give them their respect as well- they are there for you, they are you. If you just run away from them, they will catch you and destroy you. So while you dodge rocks and limbs out there, don't dodge your mind. As we all know, one trail can be many things- so go see what your trail is today!

Happy Running!


  1. " when time and effort join forces to conjure the spirit of fatigue, the heaviest of ghosts".. Love this! Fatigue is certainly a heavy ghost with an oppressive presence. I've been struggling to come to terms with that ghost lately. We have yet to reach an agreement.

  2. Great post- my favorite line: "When the demons pop up give them their respect as well- they are there for you, they are you."..Good stuff :))

    btw, congrats on your longest run to date. And (from my fuure self) congrats on the amazing tree house!

  3. hey! forgot to tell you that I really like the new look of the blog:)

  4. You are looking very contemplative on this new blog makeover. Very serious. I wonder if there is room for a few snide, off color comments from those that deem it necessary to leave them? Not me of course...I ask for others that are too shy.

  5. your writing seems like you took a tape recorder and spoke into it..very fluid, nice and contemplative...great stuff! Fav lines are at the end (good reminders too):
    "So pay attention to your thoughts, take note of the good ones and see when and why they arise" and "while you dodge rocks and limbs out there, don't dodge your mind." And yep, great new website design too :)


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