I’ve been a runner for a long time. I started running in junior high school, so I could be on the track team. I’ve had a few long stretches where I didn’t run, but for most of the past 25 years, I’ve been a runner.
It wasn’t until the 2005 New York Marathon though, that I really felt like a runner. I had already run 2 marathons, but I had walked a lot in both of them. I ran the entire NYC Marathon from beginning to end. That, to me, was a huge deal. Before 2004, I don’t think I would ever have believed that I could do that. I don’t necessarily think that using walk breaks makes you any less of a runner. But, for me, using walk breaks was a crutch. I’d gotten to the point that running 3, 4 or even 5 miles was easy. I dreaded anything longer than that. If I was planning a 9 mile run, I would start doing math in my head around mile 3. “OK, I’ve done 3 miles, now I just need to do that again… and then again…” And that’s where I would defeat myself. I mean, I was already tired at mile 3! How was I going to do that same distance twice more?
Sometime around 2004, that changed. I was working at Metropolitan Hospital, which is on 96th street and 1st avenue in NYC. I had decided to run the NYC Marathon in 2005, but I wasn’t training enough. After the subway ride home from work, I would be drained, and going out for a run at 6 or 7 PM was just too much to even think about. I’m so glad that I had made the decision to run the marathon. I hadn’t even signed up - it was way too early - but that decision in my brain was firm. I knew that I had to find a way to train. Running in the morning was an option, but if you know me, then you know that it wasn’t. :-) Ironically, I’m now up before 5AM every day these days because of my 2 precious little ones. But, back in those bachelor days, mornings didn’t exist.
I decided to make running part of my daily commute. I would take the subway to work and then run home after work. I was living on 22nd St and 3rd Avenue, so it was a 5 mile run along the East River. Living in NYC was so convenient in that way. I never had to worry about leaving a car at work or figuring out what to do if I couldn’t run all the way home. The subway was always there. I started out by running every couple days, then every other day, and then, as many days as I could. It was great for training and for my peace of mind. There’s no better way to release the stress of a workday than a long, easy run. I got much faster during the summer of 2004, and in September, I ran the Staten Island Half Marathon in 1:41:56, which is much faster than I ever dreamed was possible at that time.
But getting faster is not the point of this article. Running longer is.
The other thing that happened that summer was that I met and fell in love with Mala. By the next spring, we had decided to move in together, and we were both living in her tiny little apartment in the Bronx. At first, this curbed my running a bit. But, eventually, I came to the same conclusions that I had made the year before. I had to run and the only feasible way was after work. But, the commute was now 8 miles instead of 5. And instead of a leisurely jog along the East River, I now had a somewhat exhausting urban trek through some shady neighborhoods. I never had any real problems, but I always felt a little fear during parts of my run. Every once in a while a teenager would see me running and shout something at me, or run along with me for a few steps. But, it always seemed playful, so I never felt too threatened. Running with a backpack through the South Bronx probably made me the craziest thing in the neighborhood, so I didn’t need to worry :-) Anyway, the point is that my run was now longer and subway stops were fewer and further between. In addition, I had all that fear, so I felt that I needed to conserve energy in case, you know… I needed to sprint!
So, I ended up running a lot slower. Even though I was pretty sure I could make it 8 miles, I started a lot slower and didn’t start speeding up until I was within a mile or two of home. And I don’t mean just a little slower. I would run so slow that I felt people were thinking, “Why doesn’t he just walk?”. That was tough for me. As much as I hate to admit it, I do think about what other people think, and the last thing I want anyone to think is that I’m a slow runner. But, I purposefully shed those superficial inhibitions in the name of survival. I would slow WAY down. This eventually served two purposes. The most important immediate purpose was that it allowed to me to get home safely each night. The more lasting purpose was that it gave me the confidence that I can always build up energy by slowing down. No matter how tired I was, if I slowed down enough, I would build up energy again. I know it makes sense, but I didn’t believe it until I tried it. And I guess I thought I had tried it before, but the problem was my ego. I had never let myself really slow enough to the point that it was valuable. Slowing down was the best thing I ever did as a runner.
So, that’s how I was able to run the NYC marathon without stopping in 2005. Now, even when I haven’t been training regularly, I know that I can run 10+ miles on any given day. Just by slowing down. They won’t be the fastest 10 miles I’ve run, but it’s such a great feeling to know that I can do it. It gives me freedom in my runs, too. I know I can take any hill, just by slowing down. I can speed up at any point in my run, just by slowing down before and afterwards.
So, if you’ve gotten to the point that you can run 3 miles comfortably, but couldn’t dream of running 10 or 20, slow way down. So slow that you feel like a fraud. See if that doesn’t let you run longer. And if that fails, try running in the Bronx :-)