As 2013 rolled in, I started noticing that just about everywhere I looked, I saw articles prompting runners to ditch their long runs in favor of shorter, speedier runs. Outside magazine's January issue features an article that outlines the Crossfit Endurance franchise's approach to marathon training (longest run 13 miles). January's Competitor urges runners to "Ditch the LSD" and incorporate "hard effort" runs into training. One online running site I read implored runners "don't let your mind wander on long run days or before you know it, you've logged nothing but junk miles."
Short, fast running seems to be the Vibram five fingers of 2013.
It seems rather odd to me that so many sources appear to be implying that the worst possible thing you could do to improve your running is -- RUN.
Let me say now that I know that if you are striving for a PR, increasing your running speed is paramount. Tempo runs, fartleks, speed workouts all are good tools to improve your speed. I also know that cross training is also a great way to improve your running. We all know those people who do NOTHING but run, logging insane weekly milage, ignoring overuse injuries in the making, never picking up a weight or jumping in a pool or on a bike. I think they are missing out on many wonderful training opportunities. However, the recent trends in fitness publications appear to be saying that for runners, running is a complete waste of time!
I'm going to go out on a limb here and confess that long slow distance is my absolute favorite aspect of running. On Sunday afternoons on the beach or along the waterfront or by the canal, I love just logging the miles and letting my mind go blank. Those long runs for me are about so much more than fitness, they are more like therapy.
Several years ago, after a difficult break-up, I was suffering from insomnia and having a hard time coming to grips with what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-now? Fortunately, a friend of mine asked if I would train for a marathon with him. Lo and behold, as the weekly milage increased and the Sunday runs got longer, I noticed that I could actually find some peace and clarity. Until then, my mind was always going a mile a minute, keeping me in a frantic, anxious, sleepless state. But somewhere around mile 6 or 7, my brain's incessant chatter (the "monkey mind" in Buddhist teachings) would actually shut up. I had minutes and later hours of delicious silence in my head. As the training progressed, my monkey mind left at mile 4 then 3 then 1 or 2. I could sleep at night. By the time the marathon arrived, I felt like myself again.
In various races over the years, I have met people who have through running, gotten past the death of a loved one, divorce, mastectomies. I have met people who have found self esteem, courage, direction through running. I have met people who, like me, found themselves once again through running.
Training hard and fast is good. Striving for personal best and trying to improve your race time is also good. Cross training is good. But in the world of running, we must not forget that running for the sheer joy of it is good, too. Running long and slow with absolutely no purpose whatsoever than to just run is never a waste of time.