At 8:00am last Saturday morning I found myself just a couple of miles into my training run. I had planned to run a marathon, preparing a route the previous night which would follow the Thames until Putney, my half way mark. I was to run the entire distance alone.
From the moment I started running, my mind was full of doubt. Some days I’m like, “I’ve got this” but on this day, I couldn’t comprehend the distance and it had been 8 months since my previous marathon. I wasn’t sure what form I was in, both mentally and physically. Within minutes of running, I was questioning if I could face such a long distance and that… is the importance of a long solo run.
Running in a group or with a friend can be so much more enjoyable. While I love running alone, the camaraderie of a group shouldn’t be downplayed nor ignored. The fact is, during a race as long as an ultra marathon, there are times when you will often find yourself alone. I was fortunate enough to be dragged along for around 70% of Comrades last year but that 30% of running taught and tested me more than any run I had ever done. It is during that 30%, those minutes spent alone when you remember what you are doing; you begin to panic. It’s during those moments that the pain, the fear and doubt creeps in and you are left wondering if you’re even going to finish at all.
While I was half listening to podcasts, a mixture of Rich Roll and Steven Furtick, my mind flickered in and out of concentration. There are times during a run that I am able to totally zone out, enter a state of pure isolation and detachment where the only noise I hear is that of my footsteps. Yet, this weekend wasn’t like that. I heard and felt everything: every breath of wind, each child that screamed, any dog that irritatingly jumped at my feet. I heard, felt and smelt it all. I didn’t once escape the realm of my doing and that was a little concerning for me. I checked my average pace yet again and realised it was time for another sip of water and most importantly, another bite of flapjack…
Don’t stop. It’s that simple really. Never, ever stop and that way, you’ll get there eventually. The moment you allow yourself to stop is the moment you allow those demons in your mind to take control of your thoughts, thus lead you into believing what you are doing is not possible and that you are not capable. On a long run, there will be stages when you feel more tired and stages when you feel stronger. The highs proceed the lows and it’s often just a case of battling through, focusing on your breathing and maintaining a steady, even pace.
It’s inside you somewhere: the strength to pull through against all the odds. You just have to look hard enough and in the right place.
I finished my long run, absolutely shattered but beating my marathon PB by 3 minutes. It felt really, really good. Unlike the Stellenbosch Marathon, I took a long walk to loosen my legs and by the following morning I was feeling pretty fresh again.
Long solo runs aren’t just a chance to switch off and escape our worlds; they are a means to strengthen your mind and make us realise that actually, we are nothing but what we think are… and that, can be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to you.