On Distance Running

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but never got around to it. Last night I came across the following quote by David Goggins that re-kindled my inspiration to write it:

Running is running. It hurts, but that’s all it does. The most difficult part of the training is training your mind. You build calluses on your feet to endure the road. You build calluses on your mind to endure the pain. There’s only one way to do that. You have to get out there and run.

So, the hard and cold truth about distance running is that it hurts: hurts your feet, your joints, your muscles, your lungs, your guts, your heart and even your skin. One of the things that I’ve noticed that tends to discourage some newcomers are the so-called “joyful runners”. You see them out there gleefully kicking pavement, focused in the moment, steady and graceful pace. Then you see yourself struggling to run couple miles at a much slower, border-line walking, pace and for some people that’s too big a wall to climb and they give up. But this is what I want to tell everyone who’s thinking about starting a distance running training plan: no one, and I mean no one, starts out as a joyful runner. Only now after nearly two years of pain, wear and tear worth of distance running is when I’ve finally begun to be able to go on “easy 10-mile runs” or go long distances while actually enjoying the whole experience. Doesn’t mean you it will take you that long at all. Some people adapt to running faster than others, so you could as easily be blazing trails with a grin on your face in six months. The gist and whole of it is that “adapting” to running takes time – period.

The reason I used quotes around "adapting" above, is because it is somewhat of an euphemism. Yes, your body needs a number of physical adaptations before it can be an efficient running machine: muscles, ligaments, skeleton, intestinal fortitude, lung and cardiac capacity, etc. But the truer definition is you need to build pain tolerance and mental toughness. Your brain must learn that running pain is “OK” and that you are not running for survival or hunting, it needs to learn not to shutdown your GI completely, it needs to learn to keep endorphins and adrenaline in check and so forth and the only way to teach it, as the quote above so succinctly puts it is to you have to get out there and run.

Finally, in spite of all the perils, pain and punishment, running is extremely rewarding in many aspects. It can (and will) literally change your whole outlook in life. This is not whimsical, hand-wavy, motivational bull shit. This is the impact I have experienced and the impact I have witnessed it has had on other people. It also will help you achieve a level of physical fitness that you never thought you were going to be capable of, which feeds your emotional state, which in turn feeds your gumption and hunger for running and it evolves into a full-fledged virtuous cycle† of awesomeness and the reason you, too, should consider, if at all possible, taking on distance running.

† term I first heard of from Ken Perkins, a colleague.