I’ve been thinking about hedonism this week, and how it plays a role in my training. I know that the idea of running as an exercise in pleasure will sound odd to a lot of people (including some athletes), but bear with me while I try to explain.
In his book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall recounts a conversation with ultra-runner Ann Trason: “You have to listen closely to the sound of your own breathing; be aware of how much sweat is beading on your back; make sure to treat yourself to cool water and a salty snack and ask yourself, honestly and often, exactly how you feel. What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body?”
This was on my mind as I set out this morning for a 15 mile training run. The thing about a long run (as Trason points out) is that you have to be in touch with your body. My goal today was to enjoy the run, and do my best to really feel good the entire way. I’m not talking about endorphins (which are terrific, too), but about paying careful attention to how my body felt and responded throughout the run. And really, what is more liberating and more hedonistic than putting one’s full focus on the body, its sensations, and how to make it feel good?
I kept an easy pace, mindful that I was running my longest distance in almost a year. When my legs started to stiffen, I stretched out my stride. When the path went uphill, I slowed my pace. When my back got a little stiff, I moved toward the center of the trail where the slope is less severe. I drank often and when my energy flagged, I treated myself to some carbs gels.
By the second half of the run, I was confident and relaxed, and so I tested myself just a bit. I’d push the pace for a short distance looking for the knife’s edge between the pure pleasure of pushing my limits and hard work, then back off and enjoy the feeling of my body recovering from the effort. It wasn’t a fast run, but the time passed quickly. Moreover, I had the satisfaction of finishing faster than I started, and knowing I can go farther and faster my next time out.
Not all runs are exercises in hedonism. Some runs are meant to be hard (tempo runs and races), and others are just plain painful (intervals and hill work fit into this category for me). But for me the long run is a chance to play and explore and test my limits; sometimes sticking to an easy pace where everything feels good, and other times to push through my limits and see what is waiting for me on the other side of them. And of course enjoying the running rewards that I refuse to resist after a good, long run.