This summer, every Monday morning, I woke up early to complete my weekly long run. Physiologists and running coaches have long touted the value of a weekly long run for every serious training program.
For reasons, I don’t understand, the magic number is 70 minutes. After 70 minutes of running, increased physiological adaptation occurs at the cellular level. The “long-run” increases the number of mitochondria in your cells and creates denser capillary networks. This allows you to use energy more efficiently and deliver more oxygen through your blood vessels. The long run is very important.
In addition to physiological adaptations, the long run also produces important mental benefits. Running for more than 70 minutes is a long time. You have plenty of time to think, feel sorry for yourself, and doubt whether this is really what you want to be doing at 5:30 am on a Monday.
Country Park carrot
It is important for me to pick a destination or meet a running buddy for the weekly long run. It gives me the carrot I need to not hit the snooze button or put it off until later in the day.
This summer, with one exception, I started every single one of my long runs at Country Park just outside of the Lewis Center. I would hop on the greenway and let my mind wander without much direction. Some days, the miles seemed to run themselves. Most days, it was hot and miserable.
When I start, I usually feel pretty sluggish. I pass the Spencer Love tennis courts, run by Safety Town, and cross the street facing the back of Mount Pisgah Church. When I get on the greenway, I head up the hill behind Herbie’s Place.
I am sure there are people who think that the smell of bacon cooking always smells good. I am not one of them. When the humidity is over 90%, the smell gives me a stomachache. I head down the hill past Forest Lawn Cemetery and then Old Battleground Park (that’s what I call it). Usually, by the time I get into the park I feel loosened up and awake.
Then I take the bridge over the Urban Loop (840). Before that segment of the loop was completed, I would check in on the construction progress. It was sort of like watching a time-lapse video, only different. Usually, I cross Lake Brandt Road and disappear into the woods of the greenway.
Occasionally, I would run into church members on this section and apologize for how short my running shorts are. Other times, we would pretend not to see each other. I love running over the two Lake Brandt bridges. I almost always see an incredibly large Blue Heron. On a good day, my turnaround point is Strawberry Road. On a not-so-good day, my turnaround point is the bridge just past Bur-Mil Park.
Make it to the car
I usually run between 80 and 90 minutes. Yet, after an hour of running, I am ready to be done. I slowly start to reel my car back in. I have found it helpful to make the long-run out and back, so by the time you get tired, you still must make it back to the car. It takes cutting the run short out of the equation.
I ran that same route for most of May and June. However, by the end of June, that route started to get stale.
So, instead of crossing the urban loop (840), taking a right on Lake Brandt Road, and taking a left onto the greenway, I just went straight. Which took me straight down the Old Battleground Road hill. As I went down the first time, I was not looking forward to coming back up. That thing is a monster.
Right before you get to the bottom of the hill you pass Carolina Estates Retirement Home. You are reminded that “Heroes Work Here.” You eventually link up with another great greenway which takes you west across Battleground Avenue, back under the Urban Loop, and towards Well•Spring. Right across from Well•Spring, you dip back into the woods on the forgiving gravel and crushed limestone path. On this route, my typical turn-around point is at the corner of Horse Pen Creek and Quaker Run. Sometimes I stay on Drawbridge and do a lap around Kernodle before turning around.
Chalk at the hill
The way back is brutal. I am usually 65-70 minutes in by the time I make it back to the bottom of the monster hill on Old Battleground. My glycogen stores are depleted, my joints hurt a little, and the heat waves from the sun are radiating off the blacktop to make it look like the Pacific Surf. I love running, but this bit is no fun.
The first time I went straight down the hill instead of turning right was one of the hottest days of the year. I just looked it up. It was 88 degrees and 93% humidity.
The previous weekend the sidewalk chalk warriors were out in full force. The bridge over the urban loop was full of encouraging messages. One stood out over all the others. As you run south to north over the bridge there were three humongous words written in blue chalk. YOU! GOT! THIS!
The phrase was revealed slowly. YOU! Ten meters of running. GOT! Ten meters of running. THIS! Who could blame the sidewalk chalk artist for a short encouraging message on a greenway during the middle of a global pandemic? I thought it was sweet. In any case, it doesn’t deserve the kind of critical deconstruction it is going to incur in the paragraphs below.
But on the return
It was hard to disagree with the sentiment “YOU! GOT! THIS!” right as I was hitting my stride. Immediately in front of me was a break at a stoplight and then an easy ½ mile downhill stroll. I got this; it’s going to be easy.
I mentioned above that I typically do out-and-backs for my long runs. The problem with writing YOU! —GOT! —THIS, while going south to north, may not seem obvious at first. However, coming back you read what was meant to be an encouraging slogan, in reverse.
I ran up the grueling hill on Old Battleground in the miserable heat and was greeted with the message, “This got you!” THIS! Ten meters of slogging. GOT! Ten meters of slogging. YOU! The artist was right. I had been ‘gotten!’
In certain contexts, encouraging phrases can conceal what is going on. They can fill an empty impulse. They can exist where a person feels the need to speak but has nothing to say. In an even rarer context, they can reveal hopelessness and despair, almost as a denial of a difficult situation being faced.
On the other hand, “this got you” is a disciplined assessment. It strips the situation bare and reveals what just went on or what is really going on. Those words coming back towards my car, going north to south tells me a lot about my fitness, preparedness, and mental discipline.
The slog up the Old Battleground hill works to expose instead of to conceal. I must face the realities of my rapid heart rhythm, the straining of my muscles, and the soreness in my joints.
Even though “this got you” seems much harsher than “you got this” there is something more truthful in the former phrase. Facing a difficult obstacle near the end of the long run always gives me an opportunity to reflect. What could I have done different? Did I prepare well? What does this reveal about my ability to face another difficult challenge?
Revelation is the primary (some believe the only) vehicle of knowledge for Christians. In the protestant tradition, we have tended towards a greater emphasis on Special Revelation. The Catholic Thomistic tradition shares an understanding of Special Revelation but also emphasizes General Revelation.
Without getting carried away:
- Special Revelation is the understanding that the primary (for some, the only) way we know God is through Scripture, Supernatural Occurrence, and through the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
- General Revelation is the understanding that we can know God through nature, philosophy, and reason.
Regardless of where you come down, the point is to draw the connection between what has been revealed and our capacity to know. It seems like an obvious sort of thing when put idiomatically. “The things I know are the things that have been revealed to me.” Yet, I think often, we conflate the phenomena that have been revealed to us with the “cause” of that phenomena.
In the long run
Let me give a concrete example. Running up a massive hill causes me to get tired, but what it reveals is my level of fitness. The hill itself does not “cause” my fitness. It reveals how prepared I was to take on the challenge. It reveals what I have valued in training.
Perhaps, it reveals my arrogance. It also reveals what areas are hurting and which ones have the physiological resources to sustain a challenge like this in the long run. I can choose what to do with what I have learned, what a great challenge like this has revealed. I can make sure underserved and underprepared aspects of my body get the proper attention they need.
What would it mean to fail to address these problems? I could ignore them. I could pretend that the next time I face the long run, the hill won’t be there, it may just miraculously disappear. I could also continue to prepare the way I have been preparing. I could prejudice and privilege the mental side of the challenge and hope that it trickles down to the physical side. There are several responses to the knowledge that I have now that something so obviously has been revealed to me.
Yet, even though it has so clearly been revealed that this challenge got me, I can still choose to do nothing about it. I am in a position of great privilege over my own body. I hold all the cards.
When you know, you know
This is just a short essay about my grappling with the challenges of the long run. So, I will end with something that seems so obvious. Something was so clearly revealed to me during that long run.
There are not encouraging slogans or empty hyperboles that are going to help me face the challenges of the long run. I can no longer rest on the excuse that I didn’t know how bad things were.
I am acutely aware of things that I can do that will prevent greater suffering. If I fail to do anything, if I fail to act after this revelation it is no longer a matter of knowing, it is a matter of choosing. I have chosen not to do anything about it, and it will continue to lead to great suffering.
It would be a great failure.