11 FEBRUARY 2013

Here’s the thing about building up your mileage: naturally, it means that your long run is going to get longer. Which is fine in theory. It’s absolutely fine when you’re working everything out mathematically and writing on a calendar how long you’re going to run for on which day, which run is a speed run, which one is hills, how many minutes you’re taking on on your Saturday morning. And it’s also fine, for me, when my long run is hovering around the two hour mark. Since a few months after I took up running, my weekly long run has settled comfortably between an hour and two hours. In fact, on Wednesday morning (thank whoever invented public holidays) when I ran an hour and a half, I had the foolish and incredibly premature self-congratulatory thought that a ninety minute run had become pretty reasonably easy to do.

So this Saturday, I set out to do my first two and a half hour run. Two hours seems to be the tipping point for all the advice you get from well-meaning, far more experienced runners around you – two hours is when you have to carry hydration, two hours is when you have to carry food (though I’m sure my body could find plenty of energy somewhere in itself if it looked hard enough), two hours is when you have to eat a couple of hours before you head out. Two hours is also, for the record, not a great previous longest run when you then head out for two hours forty. That forty minutes makes the world of difference.

I ticked off all my preparation on paper. I had a vague idea of what convoluted combination of tracks I’d need to put together to get to twenty-five kilometres, which should work out to around the two-and-a-half hour mark. (For the record, if any Aucklanders are reading this, drop in to the Pipeline Track from Shaw Road, run out to Titirangi, up the very optimistically named Mt Atkinson, down to the water station on Huia Road, through the Pipeline Track to Mackies Rest, up the Beveridge Track to the visitor’s center, around the Kauri loop track, back down the Beveridge and Pipeline Tracks, and double back to Shaw Road. Then come to my house down the street and I’ll give you some Powerade and a hug.) I’d even braved my own cooking and made pasta. I got up at 5am to have breakfast and went back to bed for a couple of hours (that advice courtesy of Mark Douglas, who rightfully can’t believe I usually head out breakfastless). I had gels packed in my little zip pocket, I knew where all the water fountains were on my route. I wasn’t incredibly enthusiastic – I believe I may have muttered something along the lines of “I don’t know why I’m ***ing doing this” as I left the house – but I knew it was a necessary evil.

Building up mileage is a sneaky thing. It feels absolutely horrible at times. (The twenty-third kilometre of a twenty-five kilometre run is one of those times.) But it’s incredibly beneficial, and you only really realise it after the fact. All of last year I was running three times a week, having read somewhere that that was what was required for fitness maintenance. Only now, running four times a week and building up to what’s currently over five hours running time each week, do I realise that three times a week is exactly that – just maintenance. To improve your fitness and endurance, you really do have to be out there more than that.

I don’t mind the long run at all. When I started running it would be 45 minutes long to my normal 30 minutes, and I could definitely feel the difference. I remember how amazed (and exhausted – I’m still new to this!) I was the first time I ran an hour. The first time I ran an hour thirty I was staying at a friend’s house in Wellington in the middle of the winter and almost died on his front doorstep trying to wake him up to let me back in, I was so tired. Two hours was a milestone I met not long before my first half marathon. But two and a half hours was, in my mind, something different. (If nothing else, it’s an incredibly long time to have not much to focus on.)

A new distance is never easy. In the same way most of my google searches over the last year have included pained phrases like “why do people run”, “please tell me running is good for me” and “why does everything hurt”, on Friday night I was busily searching tips for doing your longest distance. And I found, unsurprisingly, that a big part of it was psychological. Of everything I read, the one thing that stuck with me the most was that you couldn’t let the difference between your new distance and the distance of the race intimidate you. Accounting for different gradients, the Routeburn is probably a good eight kilometres longer than what I ran this weekend, but the thing to keep in mind is that this run (after which I sort of sat down on a seat in stunned relief that it was over, and tried to decide how best to crawl back to my house) had only a couple of two hour runs in my history before I attempted it. The Routeburn, in another couple of months, even if I don’t do any greater distance than that (which I will) – sees me with this run under my belt. And that’s a pretty good reason to keep going.