The power of positive thinking?

So. The thing is. I really, really hate long runs. This is my third tilt at the marathon and it’s just a fact that anything over 22 kilometres is the equivalent of going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. Necessary, sure, but inconvenient and really quite painful.

It feels kind of shameful as a long distance runner to admit this (like, are you even a real marathoner?), and I know that if I want to PB in London this year I just have to suck it up, lace ’em up, and slog it out. 

To save myself from misery and madness, I’ve decided all I need is an attitude adjustment. Rather than battling the long run, I shall embrace it. I’ll simply trick myself into believing that it’s my friend, not my foe. After all, if I consider it hard enough, there’s plenty that’s great about going out for a long jog in a big circle to end up back where you set off, only now with cramp and some blisters.

Most of these positives, let’s be honest, are about what comes after the run. The post-run snack (mine’s an orange Calippo, thanks), the post-run bath (embrace your basic with a scented candle and too much chocolate), the post-run hunger (look how many burgers I can eat!) and the post-run smugness (hangover? what hangover?).

Photo by Jacob Hilton on Unsplash
St Paul’s by Jacob Hilton

But there’s also the joy of actually spending time outside rather than hunched over a computer or phone screen – which becomes only more true as we go into spring, and it becomes sunny with a chance of tan lines. Plus, since I’ve taken up long distances, I’ve got to know my city a whole lot better. 20 miles is quite a long way (duh), and means taking yourself through at least five boroughs, along various waterways, through parks, royal or otherwise, and down questionable alleyways (it’s a shortcut, I promise…) You might be a South Londoner, but you’ll travel to Hampstead for the trails, or Brick Lane for the bagels, or Willesden Junction for – well, because it’s a decent distance along the canal and you’ve run everywhere else already.

And then there’s the company. Go out by yourself, and embrace the fact that no one can get hold of you for 3 hours. I’ll take my phone for emergencies, but won’t check it – which means no Instagram, no WhatsApp updates, no group Messenger chats, no emails, no worrying that I need to get back to someone immediately. I’m not available! I’m out running! Some people like to disappear into music or catch up on podcasts. But running with headphones annoys me (I have weirdly small ears), so I’ve had to learn to dissolve into my thoughts, which, after a few miles of them swirling around me, becomes almost meditative.

Or, you team up with some fellow masochists and head out together, forging lasting friendships in the fire of shared suffering; comparing war wounds and looking out for each other when you have to run behind some bushes for a wee. You’ll get some of your best advice on these long runs, too, from people who have been there, done that, got the blood-stained t-shirt. And, at the end of it, high fives, a shared satisfaction, and enough Instagram content to see you through to #motivationMonday.

But, on the days when it’s a real, real struggle, there are few thoughts that keep me on track, putting one foot in front of the other. First, no one is making me do this. Signing up for and running a marathon is purely for a sense of self-achievement and no one really cares if I finish this run, or beat my PB, or even complete the marathon. On any measurable scale, it only matters to me. Which, perversely, pushes me onward.

Second, I can do it. There are so, so many people for whom being able to come to a park on a Sunday morning and run silly distances is, for one reason or another, not possible. (There are also plenty of people who could do it but absolutely do not want to, and who’s to say I’m not running for them, too?)

Third, when it’s really damn hard, I remind myself that this is where the steel is forged; in the pain and the boredom and the determination it takes just to go one. more. mile. This is where the race is won, against your other self who didn’t get up this morning, who stayed in bed and is warm and cramp-free but also a bit regretful.

See? It helps.

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