Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

Distance. The magic, manic, monster, marathon maker. The most important ingredient to marathon success is the long run; it mirrors the marathon itself. ‘Going long’ is a hallowed weekend tradition that is despised and loved, feared and revered, bragged and complained about. (But wait! The marathon message is not due for another eight letters! What’s this all about?)

This is what it’s about. There is something about distance, whether it be a mile or a marathon. The first time I ran a full mile without stopping is as memorable to me as my first full marathon. It was sooo un-do-able at the time. (Remember, there was no one else doing consistant running when I started…who knew? We had no role models, and common sense certainly wasn’t very helpful; run ten miles? Get real.)

I began by trying to finish that half mile, then the mile, then seeing if I could get to the highway (we lived in the country) and back without dying. It was a mammoth achievement when I stretched my limits to four miles; in those days I called it a long run..

Distance is the marker by which we identify our ability. Dangerous in that it’s addictive; more is not always better, but time on the road does pay big benefits. The endurance, strength, time with Mother Nature; all combine to take the pressure off the mind and soul (not soles). I’m happy with my three to four miles a day during the week, but—marathon training or not---I need my long run fix on the weekend. That changes with the training schedule, of course, but a ten miler is the basic minimum for my maintenance level. And that’s not just for the endurance. Time on the road means not only my gift to my body, but time for my rosary, creative thinking, and the realization of personal power. It’s also a great way to celebrate the gift of the hills and to appreciate any city or locale you happen to visit. Beats a car…both in scenery and in the people you meet. Miles and smiles go together.

Distance is also applicable in everyday life. “Going the distance” is what success in any endeavor is all about. It’s easy to start something, but to have the endurance, perseverance, and focus to finish…that’s where the long run syndrome comes into play. You start it, you finish it. Even though there are boring times in the middle of anything, there is strength and power and confidence in ‘running’ through those arid spots and enjoying the satisfaction of finishing a prodigious project.

If you’re considering beginning a running program, add distance first in order to improve your general fitness, then you can begin to add the other related components to your work-out. Prepare the battle ground first. If you’re a beginner, don’t be concerned with the distance you cover, just listen to your body and think in terms of time instead of total miles. Later you can stretch it out and accrue some bragging rights, “Oh yeah, I did a fifteen today…” (we like to think people care).

And it works. As I was running a marathon in Myrtle Beach, I happened upon a runner of like pace and we began to talk. The usual questions, then always, “How did you start running?” She said she had been very overweight, so she would slip out the door in the predawn and walk around the block. She kept this up for some time, always careful to be back in the privacy of her home before the sun came up. Then one morning she just turned the other way and kept on going! She braved the traffic, ignored the real or imagined stares, and increased her distance. The result was more and more weight loss, more and more awareness of personal control, and more and more running than walking. Soon it was distance that dictated her run, not spectators. When I met her, she was trim, quick, fit and confident. Distance and determination had made a difference.

Y’know, sometimes in life ya just gotta turn left.

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