Book: The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run

I’m heading out for my first run of 2012 and plan to do exactly the same run I’ve done the last two days. This is a training style my coach Gary calls a “double long weekend” where I do identical back to back runs with the goal of having the second one be stronger than the first. Today I’m doing my first “triple long weekend” ever where I do three in a row and depending on how I feel tomorrow I might do it again because I love this particular run.

Last night while the world was celebrating New Years Eve, Amy and I spent the evening doing one of our favorite things that we do together. I read a book and she knitted. Sometimes she reads, sometimes she knits, but we always play footsie while we just hang out quietly together, listen to some mellow music, pet our dogs, and relax together.

I read Robin Harvie’s The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run. I think I have four copies of this – I bought it for myself on my Kindle, Amy gave me a copy for my birthday, and two other friends gave me copies of it. I started it in the bathtub yesterday just before dinner time (after my run) and finished it around 9pm mountain (so well before New Years Eve New York time).

If you are a runner of any distance, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s part biography (of Harvie’s running, including his effort to run what is known as the world’s hardest run – the Spartathlon), history of long distance running, storytelling about great runners, travelogue, and philosophical treatise. Some of the sections were dull – I just skimmed them – but everything about running, especially Harvie’s very personal introspection, was fascinating, inspiring, exciting, scary, and often easy to relate to.

As I begin 2012, I find my long distance running becoming an even more important part of my life than it has been. I love to run alone, with no music, and just experience the running. I much prefer trail running to street running but I do plenty of both. I still track my data and use it to guide my effort, but I find I care much less about my times and more about how I feel. I used to be satisfied with five hours a week of running – I’m now finding that I’m hungry for more like eight to ten and feel this amount increasing.

Combining my running with travel, work, writing, reading, being with Amy, and all the other things I do is hard. The travel has made it especially challenging and I’ve decided that I’m going to try some things differently this year, both around my travel and my running. One chronic mistake I make when travelling is breaking my routine and starting my “work day” too early. At home, I usually have from 5am to 9am to do my own thing, which includes a run. On the road, I’m often at a breakfast meeting by 7am. No more – I’m going to start my “on the road days” at 9am, no matter what’s going on. I’m also going to use the time to explore the cities I’m in – I love to run in cities as they are waking up, even in the dark.

It’s light outside and the trail beckons. I’m off to complete segment #3 of this weekend’s triple long. See ya.

  • Very nice. Your routine note on the road rung a bell. Well, a gong.. really.

  • Sounds like a worthwhile read. Since I started, I’ve always been serious about running, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually ‘felt’ like a runner. I love that running is a means of discovery – a pretty effective way of learning more about yourself and your immediate surroundings.

    Enjoy the double/triple long weekends! – reminds me of my best days in Oz…

    • “running is a means of discovery” – that is a great line that sums up the beauty of it!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve come fairly recently to longer running, but I am finding that on shorter training runs I am abandoning my Galloway bent and just running hard until I need a break, getting my pulse back down a bit, and then running again. I find I am running faster and enjoying it more.

    I always train with music, which makes competitions very interesting – it’s a big divide between my training and my racing.  Perhaps that’s why my race running is so much stronger.

    In the end, what I’ve really learned is: it’s mostly in your head anyway.

    Enjoy your run, I’m on taper and just lifting for a week.  I kind of miss it already.


    • And it’s an awesome thing to let all the stuff in your head just leak out and be left on the trail!

      • Anonymous

        That explains why my  shoes smell so bad.


        PS – Going to change my running belt to either an Ampihpod Fully Adjustable or a Nathan. You have any thoughts?

  • Running cities when travelling is great – I feel like I got know San Francisco, Boston and New York much better for seeing so much of them on foot. So hard to keep the habit up though – stick to your 9am start plan, sounds like a great idea!

    • Totally agree. I was uncomfortable with Paris until I spent a month running around everywhere.

      • Cool that tools like runkeeper are starting to make good loops shareable too – 

        Looks like you have an Embarcadero loop run pretty much identical to one I have on runkeeper – one nice extension is to go up and over The Presidio after the Golden Gate Bridge. The first part of the route down the other side isn’t ideal but it gets you over and up into Golden Gate Park. Then you can drop down back to Market street from the other side. It’s a long run but a kind of “join up the dots for San Francisco”.

        • I’ll that next time. That’s the SF Marathon course, right?

          • I wasn’t aware if it was – but looking at it ( it’s somewhat similar, but the Marathon has a fair few extra loops. If you just did the straight loop it would be about 23-24km. The Marathon course goes further over in Marin, loops Golden Gate Park and then also zig-zags a fair bit of soma.

            Maybe I should make 2012 the year for taking a shot at it!

          • Try this route in the Headlands if you’re looking for an awesome trail route near SF:

            If you start at Presidio & Lombard instead of the north side of the golden gate bridge, it’s a nice ~18mi round trip with a couple of places to refill water along the way.

          • Cool – thx!

  • I loved getting up first thing in the AM and going for a run.  There’s something really relaxing/inspiring about running as the sun comes up.  Or, running before everyone else is up.

    More recently I’ve stopped the morning runs in favor of a new schedule.  I follow Crossfit endurance which has helped my endurance tremendously, and leads to WAY less time in the gym and on the track.

  • I’ve recently made the change not to let travel impact my running (much) as well. Somehow it’s really empowering to prioritize my morning run when I travel. I find I have so much more energy and am less cranky – and I don’t have enough data to prove it yet, but I’m convinced I get sick less, too. 

    • Great reinforcement. Check back in in a month.

  • Glad to see your passion showing good luck and keep running

    • Thanks! It’s a super important part of my life that I’m amping up this year.

  • Good stuff, Brad.  I’ve recently found that reading about running definitely helps provide motivation for my own running.  In 2011 I absorbed “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” “Born to Run,” and “Chi Running.”  Looks like I’ll start 2012 downloading “The Lure of Long Distances” to my Kindle.  Thanks for the tip.

  • Ulf

    Brad, I understand all about the need and want in a good way as it relates to running. Be sure, however, to leave some rest days so you don’t get injured, your joints wear out. As. runner I’m my late forties, I am finally learning I can get injured. Here’s to your happy running! Ulf

    • Yup – my coach doesn’t let me do more than six days in a row and usually it’s no more than five.

    • Unless you opt for “streak running” (, which I started again 34 days ago. It is NOT for everyone, clearly, but I look at it kind of like Extreme Programming – I noticed that I’m happier on days when I run, so why not run every day?

      A buddy of mine ran every day in 2010 (, and I actually tried to emulate him but stalled out after about 60 days – I later realized I hadn’t absorbed the modifications I needed to make to my life and my training in order to make running every day work. 

      The modification I needed to make to my training was to train a bit less hard in order to support my streak. Specifically, I’m not trying to become a faster runner, and I’m building up my weekly miles more slowly than I typically would for running a 25k in May and a marathon in October. There are some days that feel like training and some that are just a 1-mile meditation.

      The modification I needed to make to my life was to prioritize running higher, and that’s a good thing. My last streak ended while traveling – when I simply FORGOT to run one day! That really sucks when you think about it. What’s more important than 15 minutes for my health and happiness?

      There are people who have been doing this for years – Mark Covert has been running at least a mile every day for more than 43 years! ( Again, it’s NOT for everyone, and I don’t think it’s going to make you a “better” runner … but dammit, it’s fun 🙂

      • I’ve got a couple of friends who are streak runners at shorter distances (5K-ish). I’m much more obsessed with long distances and I know I need the rest to sustain it.

        • Makes sense – I think running is more fun when you have a purpose – whether that purpose is to run far, run fast, or run frequently 🙂

  • James Mitchell

    See Brad run. Brad runs all of the time. Why does Brad run? Because Brad is an absolute idiot (in this part of his life, not in others, where Brad is often brilliant).

    See Brad’s orthopedic surgeon. Reasonably soon, this surgeon will become a lot wealthier from the money he makes operating on Brad’s knees.

    • I encourage you to learn more about long distance runners. There are many who run successfully for long periods of time late in life. I’ve done my homework (gait analysis, sports medicine evaluations) and I’m lucky in that (a) I’m physically symmetric, (b) I have no pronation, and (c) my joints are well put together. I’m starting to have a thorough running physical on an annual basis which includes MRI of joints – I’m fortunate that I can just pay for this. I take it seriously and so far have been lucky to have a body that holds up very well from the running.

      • James Mitchell

        I will pretend I understand what you wrote. Why take the risk? You can get just as much exercise cycling with much less impact/stress on your legs and knees.

        There are people who jump out of airplanes and do not die, there are people who buy lottery tickets and win, and there are people who have unprotected sex with hundreds of prostitutes and do not catch a STD. But why take the chance?

        • And a car can hit you while you are on your bike and you could die. Why take the risk?

          Because I love to run.

  • Hi Brad, Hope you had a great run.  Wishing you a joyful 2012.

  • Endurance running is a crazy, intense experience.

    I “paced” a friend for ten miles of the Wasatch 100 a few years ago…

    We ran together during miles 50 – 60 approximately. 

    I distinctly remember finishing our section just after dark. I was tired from my ‘exhausting’ ten mile run and went home, and to bed. 

    He still had 40 miles to go, in the dark, in the cold, at elevation and having already completed 60 arduous miles.

    He finished successfully and has run numerous 50 and 100 mile events since – he’s hooked. 

    • I’ve got my first 50 coming up in April. I’ll think about what I really want to do after that one.

      • Good for you, that’s awesome.

        That same friend says the pace in the 50’s is relentless. 100’s are insanely long but considerably more measured. 

  • One of the reasons why I’ve stuck with running as my primary form of exercise is its portability. I use to discover routes in new places – I like being able to search by distance. It’s cool to see past runs in other cities I’ve saved as a scrapbook of where I’ve been.

    • Yup – portability is a huge one. I like that I can just put my shoes and clothes on and go.

  • Thanks for the recommendation on this one, Brad – picked it up over the weekend and enjoying so far. This book seems to fit into the “athleticism meets spirituality” genre, which I generally enjoy. If you’re looking for other good reads in this category you might like:

    • Bone Games: Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for Transcendence by Rob Schultheis (
    • West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief by Steven Kotler (

    • Thx for the suggestions – getting them both now.

  • Running in cities I’m traveling to is now one of the top things I look forward to, sometimes more than the pitch/conference.