Sometimes a year or two will go by when I don't run any longer than an hour, max. My usual routine is to do fifty to sixty minutes, six days a week, resting on Sundays. (Even God took a break that day, so I sure as hell can.) For the past couple of weeks I've upped my ante and started running two hours on Sundays, because I'm starting to understand that the longer you go, the more you understand. And the more you endure, the clearer you feel. And the more you wait, the sweeter the fruit.
From the age of fourteen to twenty-one, my running routine was simple: three 'maintenance' runs a week; one or two speedworkouts; one long run. And one day off. For the past ten years, there have been a good many months where I didn't do much running at all, but I've gotten back into it in the past few years, minus the speedwork; without the motivation of a race to, um, motivate me, I find putting in the time for endless repeats less than enticing. Because I had a stress fracture in my right foot during university, and a wrecked knee while trying to train for a marathon years ago, I'm more cautious when I run. I'm older. In short, I'm slower.
Running one hour is an effort; running two hours starts to point towards something else. What that is, I'm not sure. Pehaps if I ever run a marathon, I'll find out. (I'm tempted to do so almost every single year, but I also spent most of my adolescence running cross-country and track races all fall, spring and summer long; I don't feel the urge to 'race' or 'beat' anyone anymore, so why race?)
Running long runs gives me time to think; it forces me to focus on the moment, because what lies ahead is tiring and sweaty; it makes me think about how my body feels, and why. It grounds me.
Long runs are also perfect for the aging human specimen. When you're young, you're in a rush, so speed suits the teenage runner; you want what you want, now. Getting older, you realize that the best things come to those who last. Japan's most famous baseball player, Sadaharu Oh, has a wonderful autobiography whose English version concludes with his credo as a hitter, and a human: Sometimes you have to wait. The batter can do nothing but wait for the ball to come to him; he can't hurry it forward. He has to wait.
I've come to believe that waiting is everything. You work now towards what will come later on. You won't see the fruits of your success, if any ever arrive, until many moons rise and fall. You leave your house to hit the roads in the early morning chill so that you can return once the sun has assumed its proper place. When you have a set goal of two hours to bide your time, there's nowhere to rush towards, no destination to arrive at. You simply have to wait. The achievement, if any arises, arises from your patience.
And, by waiting, you can exist in a different sphere. Running long distances at whatever speed I feel like has taught me that some things can't be changed. From this exertion emerges the metaphor for life we all seek: you will feel pain, and discomfort, and joy, and eventually it will all come to an end, and in the process you will find what needed to be found (or not -- perhaps suffering is all that awaits) , but two hours is two hours (or life is life) so there's no point hurrying. It will come at the proper point, that time will. 'It' being whatever it is you're looking for.
By waiting, you can start to see the patterns more vividly. The moon, without fail, grudgingly gives way to the sun, and, recently, as my feet come to a stop and my chest rises and falls in a familiar, sweaty arc, I often realize that spring has suddenly emerged from the ruins of the night while I paced my way through familiar motions. I didn't even know I had been waiting for a new season to emerge, but it has, and my daily, montonously physical tangents somehow make the whole ancient process new, even vital.