Keeping Busy

When lay-persons hear about long runs – the kind that are clocked in hours rather than minutes – their first comment is often “Don’t you get bored?”  It’s a question that applies far more to us mid-pack runners than the elites because every one of our miles takes a lot longer than it would for, say Shalane Flanagan or Jim Walmsley; or even the local hot-shots. Still, whenever that question comes up, this half-their-pace-on-a-good-day slogger feels very fortunate to shoot right back and say, “Never!”

Maybe it helps that I live in a notably scenic region, but as much as looking at your surroundings can help maintain a positive vibe, it’s near-impossible to pay much attention to scenery if you want to stay on your feet!

It’s safer to fill the seconds with people watching, if they’re available. Checking out other runners or walkers to evaluate their pace, the grace of their stride, the much-nicer-than-mine clothes they’re wearing. Cyclists always rate a runner’s attention – and sometimes demand it (come on, guys; because yes, it’s always the guys who pass within arm’s reach without any warning…). Plus, the free ride they get on downhills where runners still have to ‘lift ‘em up and set ‘em down’ is enough to occupy this runner’s mind with a mix of envy or contempt for several minutes after a sighting.

Which brings up all the other technical aspects of executing a long run: keeping track of pace so you know when to push a bit more, when to pull back; noting if your pace is lagging on this slight uphill – and trying to recall if there is a downhill coming up to pay that effort back? Chalking off the miles to know how much is left, or strategizing how best to navigate that intersection coming up, the one with the overgrown rhododendron bushes making it impossible to see if there’s a car coming around the corner?

Fuel and hydration are another place to distract oneself; should I take some water soon, or suck down a gel first? Can I afford to squirt some water down the back of my neck to cool off, or will I need it all for drinking?

Then there’s listening to the body – is it worth a stop to remove that grain of sand that somehow climbed up and into my left shoe? And what is that hot spot under my right big toe – is my sock curled up and it’s gonna cause a blister? How can I adjust my stride to ease that complaining tendon in the back of my left thigh, and would it be more efficient to short stride for a while and take more steps, or to slow the rhythm and stretch out for longer strides? Maybe change to some complex asymmetrical breathing pattern that takes conscious effort to maintain?

Speaking of listening, for some there’s music and for others, there are podcasts. Personally I find the former helpful in the later stages of a big effort, and the latter too distracting (anytime I get absorbed in verbal media, I eventually wake to find my effort and pace have slacked off considerably).

And we still haven’t really gotten outside the moment; to things like going over your schedule for the rest of the day (week), fuming about some news story you read before heading out, or suddenly realizing the solution to that lingering problem in your outside life has suddenly become obvious in the middle of your run – and then hoping to heck you’ll still remember that brilliant idea once the sweating stops.


Who would have guessed that something as simple as running would offer so much to keep the mind busy? A Mid-Pack Runner, that’s who!

(In an upcoming post I’ll admit to another coping tool that’s less objective than the ones above, but maybe even more effective.)

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