COLUMN: Difficult training reaps its rewards

My friends and I are currently training for a half-marathon in April. Our team name is a joke, but we’re definitely taking our training semi-seriously. Last week was the first time we ran more than five miles, and it’s the first time all year that I’ve felt a little apprehensive about running.

I know that I can run five miles in any condition. Even if I forget to drink enough water or eat something prior, I still know that I’ll be able to finish with relatively little struggle. If I don’t have time to stretch afterward, I don’t sweat it because the soreness the next day would be minimal or even nonexistent. More than five miles, though, is an entirely different ball game.

No matter what distance the mental and physical hump may be for you, I’ve found the key to playing a different ball game: preparation. Sure, you’ll never know what running six miles feels like until you’ve done it, but it can feel a lot better with the right pre-game rituals.

In a perfect world with a well-planned and well-executed training schedule, runners would work up to the challenge by starting at a distance that they are comfortable at. One of the pieces of advice that I still remember from an old marathon teammate was, “If you can run one mile, you can run three miles. If you can run three miles, you can run five miles. If you can run five miles, you can run 10 miles. If you can run 10 miles, you can run a half-marathon. If you can run a half-marathon, you can run 20 miles. If you can run 20 miles, you can run a marathon. So if you can run one mile, you can run a marathon.” By adding on a little more mileage every week, longer distances become easier and even enjoyable.

The truth is that it’s not always that easy. I sleep in some days and don’t leave myself enough time to run. My running buddy goes out of town for the weekend, and I don’t add on the extra mile. Sometimes I sign up for races out of impulse and don’t give myself enough time to train for them. (I might be the only person whose impulse buys are 13.1-mile races.)

On those days that I know a long and arduous run is ahead of me, I do everything I can the day before to make the experience less painful. Mostly, that means drinking a lot of water. There’s nothing worse than trying to slog through a long run with cramps and a dry mouth and a nauseating feeling every time you put one foot in front of the other. Drinking water the day before makes all of the difference.

The weather is often a major factor in how I feel during my runs as well. I love just-under 60 degrees and cloudy weather. If it’s much colder than that, I’ll wear long leggings to run and spend about five miles of my six-mile run hating how overheated I am. If it’s hotter than that, the sun will tire me out much faster than my legs will. Lamenting about the weather is useless, but wearing the right gear or picking a shadier route can take the elements out of the equation.

If all else fails, I try to pinpoint exactly what is making me so miserable on my long runs. Is it the tension in my arms from holding them a little too tight? How long did it take for that side cramp to go away? Will slowing down my breathing help? Am I even physically tired or is it just my brain trying to undermine me? Finding the answers is enough motivation to keep going.

Long runs can be intimidating because it’s hard to know what to expect. I finished six miles last Sunday. To my surprise, though, it wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t remember what I was so worried about in the first place.

Meghan Coyle is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the digital managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Chasing Pavements,” runs Tuesdays.