I have switched on my music and taken my first running steps. My legs feel stiff and awkward and I immediately check my posture and my footfall. I try and breathe evenly as I know it will get harder before I settle into a good breathing rhythm. I let the music flow into my ears and into my movement and relax. I try not to think about the distance ahead. I know I can do it, I have done it before. But it will take me the best part of two hours and that can feel overwhelming right at the start. As my heart rate increases, so does my breaths, in and out and I check I am not racing off too fast as is it easy to do at the start. As I move on from half mile distance, I have a feel for how strong my legs are today, I can feel if there are going to be any aches or niggles, or perhaps stiffness left over from my last run. As my muscles warm up and the stiffness dissolves, I start to ease into my stride.
I am often still feeling a little breathless as I reach the first milestone and as I head towards two miles, I work hard to adjust my pace and even out my breathing. My legs may still be warming up but I have found my rhythm and I am thinking less about footfall and allowing my mind to wander and take in the sights, smells, the sunshine, the cloud patterns.
As I push towards mile three, the initial stiffness in my legs has gone and I am feeling strong. I now have a good idea of how the run will go and what kind of pace I will run at. My breathing has evened out and I could easily run up an incline without too much trouble at this point. If I get a downhill, I will let gravity do its work and lengthen my stride to enjoy the pull downwards. I check my posture...my head is level, my shoulder down and shoulder blades pulled (not too tightly) together. My waist is gently pulled in and I ensure I am not striding out beyond my body. My feet hit the ground, mid-foot first, followed by my heel. My knee bends as I hit the ground and I push off from my heel.
As I pass the three mile mark, I feel at my strongest. This is how I used to feel after two miles, so it's pleasing to know I am peaking later on in my runs, getting stronger later on, being able to run well, later into the run. I am starting to feel a surge of energy at around this point and I can increase my pace without too much trouble should I choose to. If I was running a 5 mile run, I probably would do just that, but I keep myself in check and reserve my energy for the miles ahead.
The strong feeling continues and by this point I often feel as though I have lost a bit of time somewhere, the miles are passing quickly and I know I am reaching half way. I don't feel daunted at running another five to six miles, although I know the last few will be tougher than this. I enjoy the feeling of easily getting lost in my run, lost in the music and feeling strong as my feet keep on pounding. I quite often want to grin as I run and dance along to the music. If I am running alone, I often wish I was running with a friend, to share the euphoria. I'm all too aware of the sun shining, or the clouds frowning and I take in the colours of the trees/fields, I watch the farmers in the fields, or grin at the cyclists as they whizz by. My senses all feel sharp and I am very much in touch with my mind and body. I am smiling inside and out.
As I approach mile six, I can feel the first touches of fatigue sinking in and often will need to recheck my posture. I find I lean forward as I start to get tired so I check myself again from head to footfall. My feet can sometimes feel slightly numb, although this is often a sign that the run is going well (ie I have stopped thinking about them, they are just there, running, running). If I have to run over uneven ground at this point, I can often feel the effort required to keep a constant pace is greater now. The sensation of wanting to increase my speed is starting to pass, although with a check on my posture, I still feel strong. I still have a lot of grins left in me!
As I pass the six mile marker, I acknowledge the fact that I just ran a 10km distance which is something I do quite regularly, but is still something to be proud of. Six+ miles is my 'pat on the back' distance. I know now if I had to quit and walk home, I have had a good run, I have pushed my legs hard and I have had a decent work out. I still run uphill reasonably well, much easier than on cold, legs (ie at the start of a run), though I would need to adjust my pace to a slower jog to tackle hills at this stage.
By the time I have passed mile 7, my legs are aching. Not unbearably so, but this is the point where my enjoyable pace can seriously decline and I start to feel noticeably tired. If I were a runner who ran round in circles or laps, I could easily bow out a mile seven to eight if there was an option to do so. If I am lucky, dropping my pace down a little gives me relief and I start to think about the distance I have done and the distance I still have left. Ten miles is in sight and despite the discomfort, I want to carry on and reach my target. (Besides, as I like to run a circular route, if I stop, I still have to walk the distance to get home!)
Under two miles to go. That itself is a relief as I know two miles is not very much. Thinking about what's left to run distracts me from the stiffening sensation in my calves and if I am unlucky, in my hips. Again I benefit from straightening myself out and checking my posture. I am very likely to be leaning forward by now, tiring myself out means I lose my good form. I immediately feel better for pushing my shoulders back and getting my pelvis aligned. There is little I can do to relieve the tightness in my calves now, but I concentrate on my form and check I am not starting to plod, and still hitting the ground lightly and consciously.
I can't lie, by this point I am fighting myself to keep going. In my mind I know it's less than one mile, that's about ten or eleven minutes of running for me, and this last little bit will be tough whether I choose to run it, or walk it. I also know that amazing post-run euphoria is waiting for me. But my body hurts, my calves are tight and threaten to cramp and my hip aches. My shoulders ache too and I can feel irritated quite easily by my wires from my headphones or carrying my bottle. Any change to my pace can really throw me out, going up/down a curb annoys me! I have to work hard to keep things steady and light. I often think about 'sprint finishes' and chuckle at the impossibility of such a thing, by now I have given absolutely everything. I do my best to keep my posture and tighten up my core and work at light footfall. I still get some relief from keeping this all in check, but by now it's a matter of just getting to the end. One foot in front of the other, don't stop, one foot down, another down. I know my face sometimes gives away the fact that I'm a runner at the end of a long run, I no longer care what face I am pulling or how red/sweaty I am. I may be gritting my teeth and I am almost certainly leaning forward again.....
As Endomundo tells me I have passed the ten mile marker, I immediately slow to a walk. The relief is immense and my calves feel much better at once. The aches in my hips take longer to go, but that's OK because I have just ran ten miles and actually those endorphins kick in immediately. I have a nice five minute walk back to the house and I stretch my calves as I walk. I pick up my pace as I get closer, I grin a lot and realise my stomach is growling and I want a drink! I want to look at my route and see it written down: TEN MILES! That feeling should be bottled and sold. If you haven't felt post-run happiness, I pity you. I want to shout it from the rooftops and enjoy every breath in and out which brings a self-satisfied feeling of YAY! I get showered and hydrate myself and eat, eat eat! I have used around 1200 calories of energy and I know I will need to eat a fair bit of food for the rest of the day, and probably into tomorrow too! I share my achievement with other running friends and the post-run buzz lasts a long, long time. This is why we run. It was a journey full of grins and endorphins and now the run is finished, they have been replaced by an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and an urge to get out and do it all over again. Or enter some crazy event which is even longer than 10 miles....