I had a lovely long run the other day. Cool temperatures, a slew of podcasts lined up, and I even managed to sneak out of the house before the rest of the family woke up. I covered 14 delightful miles and ran into several friends along my route.
And then I ruined it: I scrolled through social media.
“22 miles and time for a bath with a cup of coffee,” said one friend’s Instagram post.
“15 miles at 8:39/ mi,” said another’s Strava entry.
By the time I was done stretching and rolling out my calves and IT band, I was tense again — this time seething with resentment that other people could spend so much less time on their long runs than me.
You see, I’m not setting any land speed records. I do my long runs at a solid (but right-for-me) tortoise pace which slows when the weather is warmer. That 14-miler? It took me more than two and a half hours. I’d love to be done with my runs sooner to stretch, roll, spend more time with my family, relax, and just get stuff done, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Even if you’re of the school of thought that most training runs can be done by time, not by distance, the long run is an exception. Matt Fitzgerald writes, in his book 80/20 Running:
“A long run is simply an extended foundation run that is measured in distance instead of time … With most workouts, time is a better way to give runners of different abilities an equal challenge. For example, if I tell two runners to run five miles, and one runs ten-minute miles and the other runs six-minute miles, the slower runner is going to be out there for almost an hour while the faster runner is only going to get a half hour of training. It’s better to give everyone a time and let the faster runner cover more distance in that time. But long runs are different, because their job is to build the endurance needed to cover a particular race distance. So long runs really need to be prescribed in distance to give every runner equal preparation to go the distance in their race.”
Basically he’s saying: The marathon doesn’t get any shorter. The marathon, all 26.2 miles of it, doesn’t care if you cover 20 miles in four hours or two. Do the 20-miler and deal with it. Put it this way: the caboose covers the same distance as the rest of the train.
So what’s the solution? Wake up earlier? (OK, sometimes I set my alarm for 5am. Sometimes I prefer a lie-in. And sometimes I wake up at 5:30 to a toddler exuberantly yelling “WANNA MAKE PANCAKES” in my face anyway.) Split some of my longer weekday runs in two? (I do that regularly, too.) But the long run…is the long run.
It seems like an easy fix to quit social media so I don’t care about what other people are doing. But let’s face it, as an (elderly) millennial, that’s how I keep in touch with friends. And I actually like Strava for accountability. There’s no fudging your training there, because the Garmin (mostly) doesn’t lie. There’s no pretending to yourself you did eight miles when you really did 7.65 … ish. In fact, I looked again at my training log there and discovered that last week’s 42 miles of actual running had really only taken me about seven and a half hours. That includes a long run, a speed workout, a tempo run, and a couple of playground runs with stroller and kid. Seven and a half hours!! That’s an hour a day and change. Surely I can find an hour a day for what matters.
Time management guru Laura Vanderkam agrees. Vanderkam argues that if you work 60 hours a week and sleep 8 hours a night, that still leaves you 52 hours to do things that matter the most to you. Obviously, some time is lost to the friction of commuting, daily life stuff (food doesn’t prepare itself, nor does laundry fold itself) and other transitions, and you’re not going to have equal physical or mental energy during all of those hours, but the principle remains. Let’s say I do 10 hours of running during peak weeks; that still leaves 42 hours for everything else. More, even, because I don’t work 60 hours every week.
I don’t have to do this, obviously. I didn’t sign up for a marathon because I wanted a walk in the park. I’m doing all this running because I like to run, and I like to push myself. I want to finish a marathon to the best of my ability – to race myself, if you will – and feel that I genuinely put in a good effort. And part of putting in this genuine effort, part of not lying to myself, is showing up and doing the training for it. I don’t have to do a long run that takes me three or four hours. I choose to. And I get to. Says this caboose.
Are you jealous of faster runners? How do you make the time?