Seven Lessons Learned from a 37 mile run

On Sunday I ran from Bloomington, Indiana to Nashville, Indiana, had lunch with some friends and ran home– a 37 mile round-trip in an almost 44 year old body. Here are seven insights I learned from the experience.

1. Choose your own adventure

My longest runs prior to this had been some 50k (31 mile) runs. Before a race day I usually sleep poorly from anxiety about the event and missing my alarm clock. For an organized race I might need to wake up at 5 am. It’s no wonder such events are tiring.

Before my self-designed adventure I slept soundly and woke without an alarm clock. I had committed only to having a good time. I had multiple bail out options if I didn’t feel like completing the full distance.

I had wanted to try this round-trip route since I saw Katie and Jeff Yoder posted it as one-way trip on Strava recently. As a “choose your adventure” run, I kept it in mind for a floating date sometime this spring when conditions seemed right.

Another beauty of self-designed adventures is that flexibility that let’s you adapt to conditions.

Finally, give yourself permission to go. At least for me, it’s not often I feel like I have time to take away from work, family and all the other things I could be doing for something that’s just something I want to try for the heck of it.

This time I told my family a day off to run was my birthday present from them, but in these times the mental benefits of escaping from pandemic news for a day are clear enough.

2. Embrace mixed terrain

The running industry has divided running into “road running” and “trail running”. Events are binary choices, shoes are binary choices.

When choosing your own adventure, a mixed terrain route becomes an option and I recommend it. Roads and faster, helping you cover distance. But trails are often more scenic, with softer surfaces easier on the bottom. Switching between them is also a great way to mix up the run and keep different muscles in use.

My route linked up three different trail sections with paved, gravel and dirt roads in between. I loved the mix, stayed of busy roads and saw very few cars.

3. Go Light, Go Gentle, Go Longer

It’s a double stressor to go for a longer run than usual and carry more weight.

I had a goal to not any carry any more weight then I often carry run commuting and possibly less. I also wanted to not get injured despite the distance.

For this run, I used the same lightweight gear that I used on a previous self-supported adventure, a solo 50k run on New Year’s Day.

Gear selection for my New Year’s Day solo 50k was very similar

While I could carry my gear in my UD Fastpack 15 run commuting pack which weighs only a pound, I opted to go lighter. I fit some of what I needed into a two ounce UD Utility Belt and the rest into some Patagonia Strider Pro shorts, which have five pockets across the top.

The end result was that I wasn’t sweating extra due to some backpack and my run could still feel like a run, not a slog or hike.

Knowing I was going to be running for a long time, I was also very intentional to keep my effort at easy level. I ignored the real-time pace on my watch and focused on my effort. On up hills I slowed my pace or walked to keep the effort easy. On downhills I also limited my speed to not trash my quads.

With a “light and easy” approach I was able to keep up fairly steady pace throughout the day. In fact, my average pace in the second half was a little faster, even though I had more climbing to return to Bloomington’s higher elevation.

4. Carry less water when the streams are running

If I followed the wisdom that I should be drinking about a liter per hour, I would need to start out with about 3 liters or 5 lbs of water. That would work if I wanted to refill once in Nashville, but would also require a pack that weighs another pound or so to carry it.

Meh. I had a better idea.

When I left the house for my fully self-supported 50k run on New Year’s day, I carried no water at all, yet planned to stop at no stores. The plan was simple. I knew where there flowing streams along the route and brought a BeFree water filter and some Tailwind drink mix. I would pass the first stream at about mile 7. To save water weight I would drink right at the stream and then carry the water I needed for the next hour of running.

In this case I didn’t know all the streams along the route, but I knew it had just been raining for multiple days. The route followed country roads and forests that had streams nearby. Also, I was definitely going to pass right by Yellowwood Lake around the halfway point coming and going, so I could rely on stopping there if I didn’t find better spots. As it would happen, there were many choices and I carried more than .5L of fluids.

Right up front in the Utility Belt I kept a .5L soft flask. Even when completely full, it didn’t bounce much. In the small of my back, I had a second 600 ml soft flask with the BeFree water filter installed in it. This was usually empty or nearly empty, as I tried to drink most of my water at streams rather than carrying it, but sometimes it was a nice to break from Tailwind.

5. Long runs don’t have to make injuries worse

I’d had a minor irritation in my right Achilles since mid-December. It’s slowly getting better but isn’t fully healed yet. Sometimes I put some KT Tape on it which definitely reduces the irritation. Iran my New Years Day 50k just two weeks after the injury wearing KT Tape. The Achilles did feel a little worse by the end of the run but it held up and the experience didn’t seem to set back overall much. I expected this run would be similar and was prepared to bail if it started to feel injured.

I’m writing this three days after the run and I can say the Achilles feels no worse than before and possibly better. By keeping the pace relatively gentle I doubt the strain on it was much more than walking all day.

6. Find a transportation pace

The book Born To Run describes ancient and modern cultures where running long distances for transportation was and is normal.

Mainstream running culture has lost that. If you walk all day, I think you’ve good a good shot at sustaining an easy jog all day.

Bike tourists practice the art of spending all day the saddle while moving from place to play, but there’s parallel in mainstream running culture. As a regular run commuter, I’ve found this “transportation pace”. I need to get there, and once I get there I need to have energy left. I’m running to get there, not to wear myself out. I brought this mindset from bike touring and run commuting this long run and it was a perfect fit.

7. Humans Crave Connectivity

Humans really like to get places efficiently. Explore the boundaries of two neighborhoods that are supposed to be cut-off from each other and there’s a chance you’ll find a hole in the fence or a well-worn path. If think it’d be nice if there was a direct route from here to there, you are not the first.

When the world is seen from behind a windshield, it may seem that the only way to connect towns efficiently is on roads clogged with cars. Look more closely and there’s often another network side roads. Runners have the most options as we can slip through connections not even suitable for bikes.

Check the Strava Heatmap and pay close attention to what your neighbor’s post on Strava. Boundaries are porous and there’s a new route awaiting your discovery.