Miles are all in the mind. I think…

My day job involves working freelance for various ad agencies. And frankly, most of the people I work with are couch potatoes, who find my running obsession pretty funny. (You’re 44 and you still run marathons? Weirdo!)

But the main thing that strikes me most about conversations with non-runners is their total lack of understanding about distances. Which at first amused me, when I spotted it, but which now strikes me as being a fairly profound psychological ‘heads up’ for all of us who get our kicks out of running.

In conversation last week, with a fairly young guy at work who plays football and goes to the gym three times a week, I admitted that my favourite training run is a 6 mile there-and-back course that I do a couple of times a week, and which I mix in with a bit of speedwork, cycling, swimming and longer runs at the weekend.

When I told him that I’d be doing 12 miles today as part of my preparation for an off-road event called Hellrunner, he was totally bewildered, as 12 miles is almost half-marathon distance, and obviously, in his mind, seemed like a ludicrous distance to try and run.

So I tried to explain, and the best I could do was to say: “Look, 6 miles is just 45 minutes of very moderate exercise. You probably do that 3 or 4 times a week at the gym! What’s the big deal?”

He took my point, and that was the end of the conversation. And while I’m sure he forgot the conversation instantly, I was left thinking about it for quite a while. I’d never put it in those terms before. And when push comes to shove, my favourite 6 mile course along the sea wall is just 45 minutes of pretty low key exercise.

Yet when I returned to running 7 years ago, the ability to run 6 miles seemed like an impossible ambition. And I think that’s because I measured the distance in miles, rather than minutes of exercise. But now that that kind of distance has become commonplace for me, I simply regard it as a 45 minute run and don’t pay it too much heed. Even the 12 miles I ran today didn’t faze me too much beforehand, as I no longer think in terms of ‘oh my God, that’s virtually a half marathon!’

Instead, I just had to pick a part of my Saturday when disappearing for an hour and a half or so wasn’t going to cause too much chaos on the domestic front. In fact, while a few years ago, a 12 mile run would have been followed by a couple of hours in a darkened room making low, moaning noises, all I did today was get home and mow the lawn before taking a quick shower, prior to heading out for a carb-rich Chinese takeaway.

Now, you may be thinking that I’m boasting about what a wonderful runner I am these days. But I’m really not. You may think that I’ve simply, and quite naturally, improved my fitness over the last 7 years.

Well, you’d be right to think that, but I still think you’d be missing the point. What I think has mainly happened is that I’ve overcome my fear of scary-sounding distances, simply because I’ve been there, done that, and made the t-shirt sweaty so often now.

And the natural corollary of that is to make me think that most of the problems I had with long distances in the early days were all in the mind. 7 years ago, 12 miles sounded like an immensely long way. Today it just sounds like a chunk of time out of my day. Yes I’m fitter and more experienced. But I honestly believe that what I’ve really learned to do is to think in terms of time spent rather than miles covered. And that makes every run, and every race, so much easier.

Any thoughts from anyone out there? I’d love to hear your opinions on this – even if you just want to tell me I’m talking rubbish…


7 thoughts on “Miles are all in the mind. I think…

  1. Think you’re spot on with your hypothesis. I started running 8yrs ago, couldn’t run the length of myself, progressed from couch to marathon distance, completed 5, joined a club, lost my running ‘mojo’ over the last year, rattled on 21lbs and am now avoiding running at all costs because I know my initial runs are going to be very, very uncomfy as I’m back to being unable to run the length of myself….rrrrrrubbish. Like you I adored running in cold, wet weather yet now the mere hint of light drizzle and the shoes are back off…go figure. Looking back, most of my ‘success’ & motivation was driven by my head not my legs….know where I can get a new one?!!

  2. Well, I lose my own running mojo every now and then – mainly when I’ve failed to get into the FLM again. I’ve found that varying the type of running I do helps quite a lot, as I now do more trail running than road running, and I’m planning to run either the Loch Ness or Windermere marathon, just so I’ve got a motivational goal in mind. I’m even considering the OMM. After all, it’s much easier getting out the door for training runs if you’ve got a race in mind that you need to be fit for. Hope you get back into your running again June. You know that it’s worth making the effort…

  3. A ha, now that’s what I meant about needing a new head…goals have indeed been employed but have had a divisive influence on my motivation!! Over the past 2yrs I’ve entered and managed not to do 4 marathons – 1st one due to a legitimate (but well exaggerated injury) and the rest just due to expertly sabotaged training. But thanks for the gentle shove in the right direction, I do know I’ll get back to it..and I’m not totally back on the couch, I’m still getting a vicarious fix support ‘crewing’ for friends doing ultra’s (much respect but no envy).
    Love the blog by the way.

  4. Spot on! I talk to non-runners and say “I’m just going for a 6 mile run”. “JUST”, they say, “I wouldn’t even manage a mile”.

    It is all subjective, when I started, to actually run a mile without stopping was my goal. Now I regularly do a 10k distance, trying to beat my PB each time. It does sound a long way to the un-initiated, but like you say, maybe if I explain it’s only a 45 – 50 min exercise session then maybe they won’t look so aghast!

    Don’t you find it adictive though?! I’m currently a half-marathon runner – can’t even think about running for 3 1/2 – 4 hours or training for a marathon, but during my half-marathon training I keep increasing the distance so that my normal training runs (10k) are now the distance that I used to race! Who knows maybe I’ll hit a marathon by the time I’m 40 – it gives me just under 8 years.

    Anyway, it’s not 26 miles, it’s just 3 1/2 to 4 hours of exercise 😉

  5. Oooh, I dunno about that last sentence Nick. I found the jump from 13 miles to 26 pretty massive.

    (It’s worth pointing out that experienced marathoners refer to the 20 mile point as ‘half way’, and I’m inclined to agree with them).

    But if you can get your long run days up to 20 miles or so, you should be fine over 26. If an old plodder like me can do it, anyone can…

  6. “experienced marathoners refer to the 20 mile point as ‘half way’” …. gulp! Maybe I’m a bit further away from training for the “big un” than I’d thought!

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