I recently ran my most stressful and life-sapping half-marathon. I don’t know the exact reason why that run was deadlier than the others, but I have never wished to drop dead so many times in a single run. Kidding aside, I really had to dig deep just to finish. And through that run I was able to see some kind of pattern, a system, if you will, in the feelings I was going through. Let’s dig in.
If I could hazard a guess, my weak run was probably caused by one, or all of the following factors:
- I took a week off from running and only ran another heavy effort 10km a few days before the half-marathon
- I was consciously trying to correct my heel-strike for most of the run and my calves were aching because of this
- I did a medium-distance bike ride earlier in the day so my legs weren’t as fresh
- I was suffering from a little lack of sleep that day
- I hadn’t eaten much before the run
Well,I’m not gonna make excuses, I was able to finish and, even with more difficulty than usual, finishing is what matters. A slow run is better than a no run.
Anyway, while trying to distract myself from the aching in my legs and the voice telling me to stop running and just go home, I noticed that my feelings during running were somehow divided into stages. I’ll enumerate them and also go into detail what each stage meant to me.
Stage 1 – Run with your FEET
In this stage, muscle memory is at it’s strongest. With my legs fresh and still responding well, every stride I make is clean. This is the part of the run where my legs are just warming up and there is little to no discomfort. My steps are perfect and I am aware of my surroundings. In this stage, running is very natural and I am able to think of a lot of things aside from just running. Through constant training, I can probably run at this stage for 8-10 kms at a steady pace.
Stage 2 – Run with your BRAIN
This is the stage where it starts to get uncomfortable. I’ll notice this when my pace starts to slow noticeably and my form usually starts to falter. I’ve recently been on a vindictive quest to change my striding from heel-strike to mid-foot-balls. I’ll know that I’ve entered Stage 2 of running when I have to consciously tell myself to correct my form. This stage is named as such because my legs will already be fatigued and I have to mentally tell my legs to keep going. Focus is needed on every step to drown out the voice telling me to stop. Basically, this is the part of the run where I am approaching the limits of my comfort zone. I think that I am able to run somewhere between 2-3 kms in this stage.
*Note that when I mean Comfort Zone, I do not necessarily mean the place where you are perfectly comfortable. I mean that you are still at a stage where discomfort is tolerable.
Stage 3 – Run with your HEART
This is the last stage of my long-distance runs and obviously the hardest. This stage can also be called “The EGO stage” because it doesn’t seem to be powered by anything else but your desire to keep going. It sounds cheesy, but this is really what it feels like. This is when everything is uncomfortable. Your shoes are wet with sweat, your singlet is chafing your underarms, your calves are cramping, your Achilles tendons are in pain, and there’s a giant voice in your head telling you to stop and JUST WALK! But still you keep going.
For example, I have vowed that unless something really bad is about to happen, I will never walk in my 10km workout runs. That means no walking until I have completed my route. Now every run is different. Some runs are good, some runs I feel like shit. But no matter what time I enter Stage 3 in, I make sure that I DON’T WALK UNTIL MY STRAVA SHOWS 10KM.
You know the part in anime where the good guy is almost defeated by the bad guy, but suddenly the good guy summons up one last push to win the day? This is Stage 3! This is the insane stage where your true limits are being tested. This is your feet and your brain telling you to STOP but, somehow, you are still keeping on moving. This is you walking the line between your comfort zone and discomfort zone. This is where you’ll know how bad you want it. THIS IS WHAT SEPARATES THE MEN FROM THE BOYS. GET HYPE!!!
I could go on all day about Stage 3. It’s actually the part of the run I hate the most, but it’s not until I’ve entered this stage that I know I’ve had a good run. It’s quite paradoxical, noh? The part of the run where I feel like I’m dying is also the part of the run where I feel most alive. So cheesy, I should’ve renamed this the cheese stage. But I think other runners can back me up on this. Post-Stage 3 is the most satisfying part of the run. Usually, I’m on this stage for 1-2 kms before fatiguing. But I do my best to finish my runs before Stage 3 passes.
After Stage 3 is the Rest stage. After completely fatiguing (mentally and/or physically), I’d slow down and do a half-jog half-walk kinda pace or I’d just straight up walk. This is my way to recover a bit. After that, it’s back to Stage 1.
As you can see in my Run Stages Cycle, I may or may not directly proceed to Stage 3 from Stage 2. Sometimes, when I see something that distracts me or think of something deep, the discomfort in my legs can shift to the background and my mind thinks of something else. This pseudo-Stage 1 can carry on for a few more kilometers before the discomfort begins to be noticeable again. This is why some of my runner friends listen to music while running because it serves as a distraction. As for me, I just tend to focus on different things, because aside from training my body, I like to somehow work out my mind through running as well.
But most definitely after exhausting Stage 3, I need to get a few minutes of a slower pace. Then the cycle begins again, only this time, the time between each stage will be noticeably shorter due to fatigue. The second cycle won’t be nearly as long as the first because I’ve already expended energy. Fortunately, in my case, I’ve only had up to a maximum of two cycles in my longest distance fun-runs (21km). Now, my goal is to run a half-marathon in just once cycle. I should be able to do this by shifting through Stages 1 and 2 for the majority of the distance and then going into Stage 3 maximum overdrive in the finishing stretch. It’s all about expending your energy wisely.
And so that’s the Stages of Running I go through in my long runs. There’s really nothing scientific about this process and everything is anecdotal i.e. based on my own experience. So if you made it until here, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up.
Again, I implore y’all to start running if you still haven’t. It will arguably be the best and worst thing you can do to yourself.