Saturday's long run was 11 miles long. Whew! My first thought when I think of running that long is..."I am going to get SO bored!" Pleasantly, that has not yet happened when I've run long distances.
Theoretically I am supposed to be running my long runs at about a 12:30 min/mile pace. I tend to go a bit faster than that, but nevertheless, once I'm over 10 miles that's at least 2 hours of doing nothing but...running! What do I do to keep myself from getting bored?
1. I listen to opera. Ha - I suppose that would increase boredom for some! One of the reasons I typically do my long runs on Saturday afternoons in the winter is that starting at 1pm the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast begins! Whee, 2 to 3 solid hours of riveting, interesting music and/or interviews and information about the opera. I find that I can run at my own pace even if the music is at a different tempo; I have a really hard time not running "with the music" for other genres of music that I enjoy, and that leads to too-fast or too-slow speeds. Another bonus is that, while I enjoy listening to the opera broadcast, if I were at home I would probably not carve out 2 hours of my time to listen to it. If I run with it, I get to take care of 2 things at one time! Listening to the opera prevents boredom because I am subjected to a lot of emotions coming from the music. And...since I really don't know what is happening (I can't see it, and it's in a foreign language), I am constantly wondering "Is this the part where Jose returns? Or...not yet?" Another thing I value about listening to opera instead of other music is that I can still hear what's going on around me. Sometimes, especially if I'm running on roads or on trails that seem creepy, I will NOT listen to anything - because I want to be SAFE! In training for my first half-marathon, I did most of my 10+ mile long runs without music because the race organizers for that one prohibited MP3 players, radios, etc., which I thought was a very wise idea on their part. Having been startled drastically by people running up behind me as I've jogged around town, I believe running without distraction can be as important as driving without texting!
2. I count my steps. I do this for a couple different reasons. One is to get a relative idea of how fast I'm going...if my cadence is too fast, I'm running too fast! Another is because sometimes the only way I'll get through the next 5 minutes of the run is if I break it into smaller parts - so I run 100 steps...then 100 more...then I'm nearly halfway through that 5 minutes!...another 100 steps -- and hey, I can run 200 more, if I have to! It's a mental thing.
3. I do math. Knowing my cadence and approximately how far I've gone and how far I have yet to go gives me all kinds of things to calculate. "If I need to slow down to 12:30 per mile, how many steps is that each minute?" "Given that, how many steps do I have left to go in this run?" When I was in middle school I took a career-placement assessment, and I distinctly remember one of the questions being "Do you enjoy adding large columns of numbers?" and I answered an emphatic "YES!!!" I also enjoy doing long division. ...In my head.
3. I think of where I'm going to go. Usually I have a pretty good concept of what route I'm going to take to reach my mileage for that day. But, I don't always know exactly where I'll go. On Saturday's run I started out walking and thinking, "Do I want to go up the Blue Course hill, or run down it?"...that set me off on my first leg (I went up). And since the uphill loop intersects with another loop I know the approximate mileage for, I had that option -- to veer off onto a new loop and finish the first one later. And if I'm not quite sure how far a loop is exactly (i.e. this week I doubted my concept of the second loop thanks to the 2-mile-off-calculating from February X's run!), I brainstorm some "outs" where I can add in some extra distance or take a shortcut once I get a better idea of what mileage the planned loop is going to give me. And...sometimes I just run off course because it seems enjoyable - on Saturday after the second loop I still had 5 miles to go, and I happened to be by a very beautiful path, so I turned and ran through the golf course and some trails for the next 3 miles, which was much more exciting than simply pavement if I'd stuck with my original plan. (Sometimes I plan-on-the-go because I really want to avoid running a particular part at a particular time...like, I really hate finishing my runs on this bike trail by my house. This Saturday I gladly accepted the golf-course distraction because it meant I wouldn't need to go to the bike path!)
4. I observe - especially when I am running by something lovely. I started running because I thought it would be enjoyable to experience the woods and outdoors by jogging past, so I am reminded to take a look around and enjoy what I see and hear and smell and feel. On Saturday I heard birds singing, I saw lots of dogs on walks with owners, I felt it get warm enough to take off a layer of clothing and then get cooler forcing me to re-dress. Saturday was also the so-called State Patty's Day "holiday," and I briefly ran past downtown State College, so I saw and heard some reveling. ...Plus, when I'm running and I don't exactly have a plan, I need to pay attention to where in the world I am so I can get back if I need to turn around!
5. I pray. I sometimes feel like I ought to do this as my primary activity while I am running. What better time? Instead of wasting 2 hours listening to opera, why not spend it with valuable prayer? I try, but so far I haven't excessively successful at staying focused on this. I suppose it's in part because I'm doing all those other things -- observing, thinking of where to go, doing what needs to be done mentally to get through -- and I don't currently have the ability to pray and do something else at the same time. (Case in point: today I was praying while filling up some jugs at work...I finished and went to do my next task, still praying, and arrived at my new location with the realization that I had brought the jugs WITH me, although they were supposed to stay at my original location. Um...) On Saturday when I heard and saw the State Patty-ers, I did pray for a while for them, for the city, for everyone else who was praying.
So, before I knew it...I was done! Eleven miles past me, and I'd hear pretty much all of Carmen, counted to 80 about 50 times, recalculated my plan until the very last second, saw plenty of things including the sign for Saratoga Drive where I need to remember to turn or risk getting lost in a tangle of subdivision streets, and prayed. No wonder it's not just my legs that are tired afterwards -- it's also my BRAIN!