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Sunday

An Unconventional Beginner's Tip for Running Longer Distances

Written by Steven Chaffin, Jr.

Before my oral surgery in mid-July to have my impacted wisdom teeth removed, I was running six-to-eight miles several times per week.  For some people that’s unimpressive or practically sedentary, but for someone who was borderline overweight and lost his breathe at the thought of exercise, that was pretty good.

Since then, I have found running to be frustrating and more challenging.  I couldn’t figure out what happened.  While surgery is enough to slow anyone down, I recovered quickly and was back to running only three days after the operation.  I thought I was in the clear, but it appeared that months of hard work had deteriorated in just a couple of days.

For awhile, running was on the verge of becoming a former hobby that I would never fully enjoy or commit to again.  I was discouraged.

As you might be able to imagine, this was an upsetting time for a guy whose blog has the word ‘runner’ in it.  I’d either have to give up my domain name (and thus waste money) or get off of the couch and run ‘till I felt the love.  The unemployed college student that I am, the former wasn’t an option, so I decided to keep on running.  Today, on my weekly run around Creve Coeur lake, I felt the love (and the usual discomfort, too!).

:: The Intermediate Stage ::

I’m neither a beginning or a pro.  I can run several miles without stopping (I intend to run a marathon as soon as possible, and a half-marathon even sooner), but I am not so confident in my abilities that I would be confident competing or running out the door to run a marathon at a moment’s notice.

I’ve broken through the early stages of hatred, but my relationship with running is just about as strong as a middle schooler’s promise ring.  I’m intermediate.

I make this distinction because the way a novice runner motivates him or herself is different from the way a professional runner does.  As James Fell points out in one of his humor-packed, brutally honest pieces:


  •  The beginner needs to be distracted, or in a “dissociative state”.  This is because early runners are generally more prone to discomfort and are less experienced in dealing with the sensation.  Music is a common method people use to dissociate themselves with the task at hand, and something I still do often.
  •  The professional, inversely, needs to be concentrated.  Unlike beginners, who simply want to come out alive, the pros are focusing on speed, efficiency, and perfecting their form.  All runners should keep good form in mind from the get-go, but it’s a little more difficult when you’re on the verge of coughing up blood and throwing up your last meal.


:: Running Long Distance :: 

You’re probably wondering why I mentioned the differences between a beginner and a professional.  The reason is this: When you begin to start running longer distances (6+ miles), you’re probably in the intermediate stage, like me. You’re not quite confident enough to ditch your Sara Bareilles playlist altogether, but you’re also not prepared to fully embrace the pain and collapse on the side of the road covered in blood and sweat.

What I realized today, and what I learned a month ago when I was running double what I am now, is that long distance running requires you to begin making the mental transition.  You can’t be fully distracted.  When the pain begins to creep up your muscles and each step tightens your muscles further, and trust me it will, you have to consciously decide to carry on.  Things like music keep the discomfort at bay for awhile, but ultimately it will break through, and you’ll be ever-more tempted to come to a screeching halt.  In my experience, the only way to keep going is to tell myself, definitively and without any hesitation, that I will keep going.

Looking back on the past few weeks, that’s what changed.  When I ran 14 miles, I wasn’t absorbed into my music.  I felt the pain.  My toes were cramping, one of my nails had turned purple, and my lower back aching.  Today, I let that mindset reign again.  When the pain surfaced, I sucked it up and kept going.  It hurt, but by ruling out the very thought of slowing to a walk, I was able to hold my stride.  Before I knew it, the pain was gone and I was having a blast and thinking of new ideas for blog posts.

To runners who are ready to up the ante and start aiming towards running that first 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, here is my advice:  

Let some of the distractions go.  As unintuitive as it may be, you will have to rely on your conscious to keep yourself going after you’ve exceeded what’s easy for you.  Whether it happens at 1 mile, five miles, or twenty miles, there eventually comes a time when you want to stop.  Only you can decide to keep going.

Do this, along with all of the other things you should be doing to stay healthy, and you'll see your performance improve and waistline shrink.

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There are an abundance of different methods to running long distance, and I would like to explore each of them in future posts.  This simple method is what has worked for me most recently, and I’m confident it will help you break barriers, too.  Try it out, and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

In a world of people who criticize and loath running, you might consider sharing this with your friends and family.  The more people who adopt this mindset, the more people who will advance from being a beginner and towards being a runner-for-life.  You can share this effortlessly by using the social media buttons below.

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