They sit on your training schedule like tombstones, all lined up, each a little more ominous than the next. To be trained for your race, you have to do them. And they know it.
For a week they sit there staring at you with that look of contempt. "You don't seriously think you can beat me, right?"
And it works. You haven't run that far in months, maybe ever. And how long is it going to take? What?! I have things to do! Whoa... I need to get up when? Those numbers aren't even on my clock! Too often, the long run wins without a fight.
If you do make it out, the first miles seem to take days, and are only a tiny fraction of what you have to cover. You start to do the math: "I already feel like a pound of crap. I'm only 10% done. By the time I'm finished I'm going to feel like 10 pounds of crap." You're not even sure what that means, but it definitely not encouraging.
And then you hit it.
Every long run presents you with a reason to quit. A perfectly understandable, reasonable, explainable, not your fault reason to turn your ass around and go home, or better yet, call a cab.
Here was mine...
The route I'd carefully planned included a bridge with a perfectly safe pedestrian path that I've run across a couple hundred times. But I haven't run that far in quite a while.
As I approached the bridge not quite 3 pounds of crap into my run, I realized that it was way under construction, as in there really wasn't a bridge left on the pedestrian path side anymore, which I knew from having driven over it a different couple hundred times but had forgotten. You don't really notice the presence or absence or sidewalks when your driving.
The construction erased the perfectly safe pedestrian path. What bridge there was left was 100% assigned to cars. Just on the other side of those concrete barriers were speeding cars driven by texting teenagers, husbands heading out to drink beer and drive an electric cart around a big yard for 4 hours under the guise of "playing golf", and some really pissed off wives with errands to run who were screaming to their friends and/or sisters through their cell phones about how their husbands are not help at all. That's just my best guess, but still, not a good place to run.
The dog looked up at me, wondering why the hell we were still here. "Surely that idiot isn't thinking I'm going across this."
This was the moment when I could have turned back. The dog was all for it. No one would have said a thing. No one except the long run, whispering "I knew you didn't have it in you."
Being a long distance runner is as much about defeating those voices inside your head as it is beating a rival, or a time goal, or a distance. It's about pushing yourself when you really don't want to. And more, it's wanting to be challenged just so you can prove to yourself that you can do it.
Looking closely, with the eyes of someone looking for a solution, not an excuse, I saw that the construction left a lip of about 15 inches of concrete, right up against the barriers, littered with rusted loose nails, that seemed to go all the way across. We took it slow. Stepped carefully. And when we reached the other side safely, we flipped the long run, and the bridge, a righteous bird, and pressed on.
The rest of the run was actually enjoyable. My pace picked up. I felt better, stronger. Once over that bridge I knew I was going to get it done.
That's the feeling we're looking for when we head out for a long run.