Yesterday I did my third three-hour training run in as many weeks.
Unusually I had company during the first 50 minutes as Tim ran with me. He has been sick and so had to run easy. That meant I started my run easier than I usually do - and it probably was a good thing.
It was nice to run together at an easy pace and chat. When Tim turned around I put on my iPod and settled in for the remaining 2 hours and 10 minutes. I was about five minutes behind on my usual pace and that was OK. Long runs are all about time on your feet, rather than about speed.
Because of that relatively easy pace for the first 90 minutes I had plenty of energy. I suspected that I'd run a bit quicker on the way home, so I turned around at 92 minutes (two minutes extra on my way out should mean I'd arrive at home in 3 hours and 4 minutes if I ran the same course back at the same pace).
I'd already picked up my pace slightly and was really enjoying my run, especially with the knowledge that I was on the home stretch - even if that was still more than 80 minutes away.
Then ... I spotted a runner ahead of me. The runner was too far away to determine whether it was a he or a she or even what direction the person was running. And even though long runs are not about speed, I couldn't help myself - I sped up.
I felt the need to try to get closer. And it seemed like I was but the runner was still far away until the runner slowed to a walk, and then stopped for a break by the side of the road. So I was chasing a guy. Because of his stop, I'd gotten a lot closer when he resumed his run. And all I could think about now was passing him.
I was still running at a reasonably comfortable pace, but faster than before. I was slowly reeling him in - it wasn't so much about catching him per se, as it was a mental way for me to focus. This is exactly what I - and probably most runners - do in races. Focusing on catching the person in front of you - while running at a realistic pace - is such a great way to concentrate.
Focusing on finding the happy medium between catching him and making sure I wasn't running too fast for my long run speed was a great way to occupy my mind. When I passed him, we exchanged greetings, and I checked my watch again I'd been running for 117 minutes.
And soon I found myself at the point where it would take me 35 minutes to run home - except I'd actually picked up my pace that I had a little over 40 minutes of running left to do. My mental games of catching the other runner had me run a lot faster and I expected to pay for it now.
By now, I'd relaxed my pace a bit and to my surprise I actually felt great. I had to do an extra loop near my house to ensure I'd run for the full three hours. That means I ran the second half of my session at least 5 minutes faster than the first.
It was only in the final five minutes of my run that my muscles started protesting, and on any 3-hour run that seems negligible. So I finished this long run on a great high. I now have an easy week, with reduced volume and without speed sessions.
Next Sunday's long run is only two hours - what a treat. And then I can't wait to do my two remaining three-hour training sessions. I'm starting to get pretty excited about the Vancouver Marathon.