Runners seem to enjoy doing the same thing over and over and over again.
Preparations are underway for the 17th annual Self-Transcendence Race, which currently holds the distinction of being the longest footrace on the planet. At 3,100 miles, participants have 52 days to complete the distance, making for an average of about 60 miles per day.
Also, the course itself is only 883 meters around a single city block in Queens, New York. Yes, that’s right: 5,649 laps. Of the same block. In Queens.
And you thought your normal route was getting stale …
I suppose this shouldn’t sound too far-fetched to most runners, though. Many of us do something similar with our own training routes, tracing the same path day after day. From my own home, I have several routes I visit in the course of a week: there’s a flat 3-mile loop, a rolling 8-mile loop, and a hill-repeat loop. I’ve got a route with a half-mile of monster uphill at the beginning and four miles of speedy, gradual downhill the rest of the way home, for when my fragile ego needs to see some fast pace numbers on the Garmin. There’s also a route that takes me past the fire station at the very time the shirtless eye candy — er, firefighters — are washing their trucks.
In fact, I’d say about three quarters of my runs are done on the short list of routes above. Sometimes I spice it up with a new trail or join a friend for a run on the other side of town, but I always take it back to my own familiar tracks, waving to my neighbors once again and wearing a rut in the dirt like a trained circus pony.
RELATED: Short Circuit Workout
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then yes — in their own way, runners are certifiably insane. That’s a good thing, though.
Because (as insane as it sounds) we do get different results.
Running the same trail is rarely the same experience. Our runs change from day to day and year to year. Each run brings a new lesson, and we become better for it.
We learn our limits are as real as they are malleable; that every day we lace up, the perception of that “monster hill” gradually shifts from “WTF?” to “oh, this again!”
We learn that pushing through the discomfort of a speed session is not as impossible as it feels — it only feels like death is imminent, but in actuality those beached-whale sounds are only made for dramatic effect.
We learn that holding back is just as hard. It’s difficult to give the body a break with easy runs when your brain is yelling “IF A LITTLE SPEEDWORK IS GOOD, A LOT MUST BE BETTER!”
RELATED: Speed Training For Beginners
We learn that there’s a certain comfort to hitting those old familiar trails, to being able to turn off the stress of the world and fall into autopilot for a few miles:
Two blocks past the post office, turn right at the stoplight, wave at Bill Johnson watering his lawn, turn left at the grocery store, now stand up straight and suck in your tummy — those shirtless firefighters are totally checking you out.
And above all, we learn that improvement is not so much about where you run, only that you run. Most runners will tell you the key to good running is not a secret workout or a special nutrition plan. It’s consistency, a simple computation: effort in, performance out.
Though five thousand laps of a crappy neighborhood in Queens is sure to bring about a meditative state, self-transcendence happens every day, all across the world, as we lace up. When nothing else in the world makes sense, a familiar trail usually does.
Insanity, or enlightenment? Perhaps for runners, they’re the same thing.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke