It took me years to figure out the key to getting the most from a long run. I have come to appreciate and refine the theory and application of the many aspects of training mind and body to keep going all the way to the finish. This morning, my dog Punkin and I enjoyed our standard twice weekly 3 hour run, this one exploring the edge of Glorieta Mesa. The first hour, we climbed an 800′ peak and the second, we headed up an arroyo to the top of its watershed at the north edge of the mesa. That part of the run was the precursor to the critical final third.
Running well when tired is what distance running is all about. If you can maintain your pace and even step it up the final third of a race, confident that you can sustain the effort and pace to the finish, it is likely that your results will improve and you will go far toward reaching your potential. Watching the pack dwindle is energizing, and prevailing in the war of attrition in the later miles is satisfying regardless of your relative pace.
Likewise, length of your long run is immaterial. Running well the last third of the distance is what we are after. As with all training, repeated efforts are rewarded and with each effort, confidence grows and performance improves. I look forward to the last hour and engage mentally and focus my whole being on maintaining good form and employing various methods of achieving a solid effort all the way to the finish.
Picking up the pace a few notches, I start by maintaining a steady rhythm and letting myself experience and enjoy each moment. Running cross-country as I do, a faster pace requires more attention to obstacles at all levels. The same holds true regardless of surface, particularly as form tends to erode as the legs get heavy. Sometimes when my mind wanders, I’ll envision races I have run, appreciating a taste of those competitive days long ago. The feeling of passing fading runners with the certainty that the pace to the finish would not slack, but instead could still be ratcheted up a few notches, is powerful.
Once the long faster effort starts to wear, I might slow to recover for a minute or two and then shift gears and throw in some fartlek, zinging the legs and providing time for recovery and perhaps checking out the landscape. Sometimes I’ll even stop for a few minutes of stretching. The final third of the last third is a celebration and always ends the same way. Once I feel like there are a couple of miles remaining, I’ll begin my drive to the finish. From here, it is serious business. I was always confident that I would not be passed the last 5K of a race. Sometimes I was, but because another guy was faster than me, but not because I fell apart.
After 35+ years of strong finishes, I know that I will make it. It’s not a matter of a sprint to the finish over the last few hundred yards that we’re after. It’s making your move with a mile or two to go. Back in the day, I could count on closing with a sub 10 minute 2 mile in any race up to a half marathon, including a kick if necessary. Going early was my move. Sitting and kicking certainly was not.
That’s it. Doing what it takes to run well the last third of your long run is the best advice I can give on the subject. I have other particular thoughts about speedwork, but that is for another day. Also to come is a post about preparing for the altitude, uphills and downhills at Santa Fe Thunder.
Best wishes in training your body and mind to run well when you are tired.