Yesterday, I ran a 20 mile training run. Alone. Solo. Just me, myself, and I. Don’t get me wrong, I love training with friends and do so often. But I also make sure I have some solo longer runs woven into my training plan. Because in addition to increasing mileage, tempo runs, speedwork, and hill repeats, I believe training for mental toughness trumps them all.
Fortunately for me, I’ve never bought into the “loneliness of the distance runner” theme. When I run by myself, I’m never lonely. In fact, I look forward to the sound of my breathing, my footsteps, and my frequent internal conversations. Although I love music, I’ve never run with an iPod and will likely not do so anytime soon. During my bachelors and masters programs, my long runs provided a healthy flame that fueled my creativity. During stressful times, long runs also remind me of perspective; things just don’t seem so bad when I return from my run. So the quiet of a solo long run clears my head in a way no other activity can.
Some of the strategies that get me through a solo 20 miler –
- I try to map out the most appropriate course
- I visual the “before the run” and “during the run”
- I eat/drink in preparation (in advance)
- I get myself excited about it (fake it ‘til you make it!)
- I break down the course in my head
- I plan ahead with ample water stops
- I plan ahead to have husband check on me (whenever possible!)
- When I’m hurting, I dial it back and remind myself that pace is not the goal on a 20 miler
- I stop when I have to – but also don’t beat myself up for it
- I remind myself that solo training helps when I’m running solo on race day
When I’m alone with myself at mile 23 of a marathon, feeling like my legs have 50 lbs weights strapped to them, wishing I could just be done, and wondering why I’m there in the first place, I have my solo long run memories to get me through it. It’s not enough to say “Dig deep Lisa”; the fact is, I gotta have something to dig from. And because I have the memory to draw from in training, it comes a lot easier when I need to push myself in the actual marathon.
I’m no coach and I’m no elite runner. What I am is a woman who tries to achieve balance in life and in running. I have lots of things to practice and don’t always get them right. But once my head’s in the game, my feet are happy to follow.