OSU Cascades MFA, Trailrunning
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How To Run a Very Long Way (& Have Fun the Whole Time)

*Please note, I originally wrote this post as an assignment for my MFA in Creative Writing. See the original blog post here: http://osucascadesmfa.com

This past fall, I ran my first 50-mile race. I may or may not have been influenced by the promise of “You’ll love it!” and “You’ll feel great,” both of which were a draw and an improbable, unimaginable scenario. Can you truly enjoy running 50-miles? Can you learn to enjoy squeezing plastic pockets of gels that constitute one’s food during the race? Can you look forward to tromping into a tree-lined field to relieve yourselves on the dirt and, hopefully, finding a rock, twig, or other creative, organic substance that can serve as toilet paper? This is a step-by-step process to success, so, let’s start with the most important step: acceptance.

So, here’s how to run a very long way & have fun the whole time:

  1. Acceptance
Feeling tired. Note that to an ultra runner, an "easy, fun jog" = an "all-day adventure with 4,000 feet of climbing

Feeling tired. Note that to an ultra runner, an “easy, fun jog” = “all-day adventure with 4,000 feet of climbing.”

Accept that, during your run, you will go through the emotions of anger, frustration, disappointment, and resentment. It doesn’t matter whether you are in first place or last place–you will, at some point or another, wonder why you are doing this to your body. Accept that you will not have fun the entire way. Accept that you will question why you are training so hard for a race that will take an entire day to complete. Accept that you will have to train so hard for the same race that will take you weeks to recover from. During the race, you will feel awful, and then you will feel great, and you may go back to feeling awful. But, know this: none of these feelings will last the entire time. Let them pass as they will.

Once you’ve accepted that you cannot control all aspects of your run and/or race, then it’s time to have fun.

2.   Gear

You know, just a normal amount of gear...

You know, just a normal amount of gear…

A runner is not a runner until s/he has all the latest equipment. Forget the notion that you only need running shoes. What about gels? Hydration packs? Compression socks and sleeves and pants and shirts and god-knows-what-else? Being a runner is all about having your own runner’s style and owning it. This is especially important for long distance runners, who are a breed unto themselves. Some go for the dirtbag style, which means anything is game: trucker hats, bikini tops and board short bottoms, and shirtless are all great options here. Others prefer to wear costumes and are known strictly by said costumes (The Jester for example). Some less-than-lucky distance runners must represent their sponsors and are decked out in such brands as Patagonia, Nike, Salomon, etc. These poor runners don’t have many options of what to wear. And let’s not forget the technology–Garmin watches that show your cadence and elevation gain and Nike apps that paint your routes and certainly your account on Strava! Ensure that all runs, whether important or not, are uploaded to the website Strava so that fellow runners can see just how hard you are training. Make sure you stop your watch when you bend down to tie your shoe or stop for a water break–you don’t want others to think that you ever slow down!

3. Training

Doesn't everyone have training plans invading their kitchen?

Doesn’t everyone have training plans invading their kitchen?

A runner is not a real runner until s/he has trained for a race. Hire a coach or look up on an online plan, no matter. The only truly important thing is that you let anyone and everyone know that you are thinking about going on a run, are about to go on a run, are on the run, and have finished the run. Don’t forget to tell us about your post-run fuel either. Will it be a donut or a hamburger? A salad or a salad leaf? Make sure that you post all of these feelings to all of your social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, and definitely Instagram. Pictures of your Garmin and your recorded run time are a surefire way to let everyone know exactly how far you’ve gone and how long it took. Add a caption like, “Easy jog!” and we’ll understand just how fast you are, too!

4. Choosing Races

Why yes, I would love to run at 4 a.m. with mountain lions stalking me through the Grand Canyon.

Why yes, I would love to run at 4 a.m. with mountain lions stalking me through the Grand Canyon.

This is perhaps the easiest step of all: ask everyone BUT yourself what and where you should race. Feel free to ask this on a public domain. Again, Facebook is a great option here. Once you have received an assortment of answers, pick the hardest, most badass race you can find, (aka, don’t listen to any of the advice!) Does it matter that you’ve never run even close to that far in your life? Does it matter that the race is on the other side of the country or on the other side of the world? Of course not! Dream big. Who says you can’t go from running a 5K to running a 100-miler? Your friends will be THAT much more impressed when you tell them of your brilliant feat.

5. Fuel

Are you really trying to tell me, Nick, that these delicious wild blueberries won't actually sustain me for our five-hour escapade up the mountain?

Are you really trying to tell me, Nick, that these delicious wild blueberries won’t actually sustain me for our five-hour escapade up the mountain?

A runner’s diet is as personal as a runner’s ultrasignup.com race profile. That is to say, make sure you share it with the world! You will discover runners that are vegetarians, pescatarians, paleo, vegans, raw vegans, fruitarians and gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free food photographers. Nutrition is a hot topic amongst runners and most do a great job of ensuring their body is fueled well during training. However (HOWEVER!), no matter your diet, (unless you have confirmed allergies or necessary dietary restrictions), all categories go out the window at the race. Don’t typically eat cookies? Watch yourself devour three chocolate chip cookies at mile 18. Craving something salty? A selection of boiled, salted potatoes, pretzel sticks, pickles and turkey sandwiches should do the trick. Need a drink to wash it down? Forget the energy drinks and boring old water–bring on the Coke! While this is not necessarily recommended, it’s hard to fight your willpower on both food choices AND running long, long distances. Sometimes, it’s one or the other.

6. Competition

Cashew, my dog, and I trying to be competitive.

Cashew, my dog, and I trying to be competitive. Unfortunately,  Cashew is running the wrong way down the trail.

Distance runners (specifically ultra runners) are a special bunch. Most will mention that they began running long distances strictly because it feels good, because the land is beautiful, because it’s a chance to be at one with the mountains. These are all great reasons, and the majority of the time, they’re true, but very few runners race to find enlightenment. Really, they’re there to win. You’ll hear elite runners speaking about “just having a good time” and “enjoying the course,” but try to pass them on the course and suddenly they’re running at breakneck speed! Depending on how the race goes, these runners might say “really, this was just a recovery run for me,” if their times were less than stellar. Even if they WERE stellar, you still might hear the same sentiments. Face it–races are races!

7. Post-Run or Race

At the finish of my first 50-mile race, Santa Barbara Red Rocks.

At the finish of my first 50-mile race, Santa Barbara Red Rocks.

Perhaps one of the most joyous parts of running a very long way is finishing your run. For the past ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred-something miles, you’ve probably thought about a) what you’re going to eat after you’ve finished, b) what you’re going to do after you’re finished and c) that you’re never going to do this again. If you’re like most long distance runners, you will probably decide a) beer, b) stand around and chat with other runners about the race and c) sign up for another race. I cannot speak for the intelligence of any of these choices, however.

Running a sort-of long way (& having a good time!)

Running a sort-of long way (& having fun!)

Now that you know how to run long-distances, I’m sure you’re wondering where to sign up! Look no further than ultrasignup.com for the closest races within the United States. If you’re itching to get out as fast as possible, however, I suggest just taking those first few steps out the front door and forgetting any advice except–truthfully now–enjoying the privilege and feel of hot sunshine, or cold rain, or damp fog on your moving, breathing body! Good luck!


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