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The Loop


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Jeff C.


A long time ago…

The four of us huddle in the dorm room, lights low, a single candle burns on the coffee table. The candle sits in a mountain of wax covering what was simply a Budweiser bottle just a few hours ago. Each of us digs at the candle, at the wax-mound with glowing hot paperclips. Heat the paperclip in the flickering flame, sculpt the wax; heat, sculpt, repeat.

We’re stoned silly. And profoundly drunk—yet hyper-aware, attuned to our surroundings. Deafening music rattles the room. Screaming guitars, pounding bass. Each note dissected and analyzed. Our sharpened senses register the smallest nuances—the pulse, the electricity in the room. Our dilated pupils catch the slightest movements. All except for the half-full bottle of beer sharing a bookshelf with the stereo speaker. Ever-so-slowly, the bottle has vibrated its way to the edge of the shelf. It teeters. Eight eyes snap to attention, watching. The bottle tips, plunges to the carpeted floor.

It hits just beyond parallel, spits out a splash of beer and bounces up straight. It lands squarely upright and sticks the landing. A small fizz of foam escapes from the neck. But barely enough to dampen the carpet. We dissolve into laughter.

A half an hour later, it’s obvious the trip has climaxed. We begin the long process of sobering up.

Wait. This story is about the other LSD. Runner’s LSD—Long, Slow Distance.

The last time I ran fast was a year ago—during the first loop of the two-loop Big Elk Trail Marathon. I was well trained, fit, properly tapered, and mentally prepared. I attacked the first half—a brisk pace, everything according to plan. But then the heat picked up, and it picked me apart. The temperature took control. The second loop was more of a jog… or a walk. I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered.

It took me weeks to get my legs back. By then, I’d settled into a plodding jog—sixty to ninety seconds off my pre-marathon pace. My running program stalled for the summer. Maintenance mode: one run per week. Out at sunrise each Saturday, the grass drenched with dew, pockets of chill still in the air, I’d jog off for an hours-long run. Slower and slower each week.

Months later, for my October birthday, I checked an item off my bucket-list. I knocked out a 50K. Running at a pace I could sustain all day, I did just that: I ran all day—or most of it. My languid pace reinforced by achievement.

That slightly sore heel I ignored all summer finally stepped from the shadows. Plantar fasciitis—a hobbling case. I took a break from running. Nothing until March, almost: In November, I ran my favorite season-ender. A rocky, hilly 15K in the foothills of the Appalachians. When the gun went off, the small crowd raced away from me. The men, the women, the seniors, even the children, they all set a pace I couldn’t match. Historically, I’m a mid-packer, occasionally an age-group winner. For the first time in my life, I lost a race. I came in last.

My winter break is over. My foot is mostly healed, but I’m limiting my distance anyway. I’m capping my runs around five miles right now. When I started up again, I vowed to use this cautious, low-mileage period to work on speed. I planned to push my pace back down to a respectable clip. I’m not trying to win races, but I set myself a clear goal: don’t lose again. 

In the two months since I restarted running, I’ve focused on a couple of primary workouts. Tempo runs and hill repeats. These are my favorite ‘hard’ runs. Speedwork? No—I figured I’d put that off for a while.

Here’s what I found: The running I’ve enjoyed the most this year is when I’m grinding up a long, relentless hill. As it turns out, I like running slowly. It relaxes me.

I enjoy my runs more when I jog. I don’t mind running hard—many of my hills are tiring even to walk—I just don’t seem to like running fast anymore. My long, slow distance runs throughout last summer left me feeling peaceful, happy, maybe even intoxicated. I didn’t notice because I wasn’t paying attention.

I gave up drug use decades ago, but I only quit drinking last year. Alcohol was an addiction that weighed heavily on me. There was no joy in it, it no longer relaxed me. Alcohol became something to fret over—it stressed me out. And a few months later, without realizing it, I replaced alcohol with distance—long, slow distance. My new drug.

I won’t say that I’m done trying to push my pace; I might even attempt to train-up for another age-group medal someday. But for now, I’m done beating myself up over LSD. It’s become my favorite way to get a buzz.

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LSD is my favorite.  I recently discovered the joy of speed work but I don't think I'll ever love it the way I love running mile after mile, hour after hour.

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LSD was the way my teammates and I really bonded when I was in cross country.  And yes, I'm talking about the running kind!

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I like long slow distance, too. But if you're ever in the mood to go fast and don't feel like putting in a ton of effort, try opening up for some downhills like Dave said. Soooo much fun!

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Wow - congrats on kicking those things. Those long slow runs are quite addictive & whilst I'm struggling to get my fitness back it's such a joy to be out doing them again even if they are shorter & slower than I'd like.

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