Get real, because it's all relative.
First of all, who defines "long," anyway?
Okay, by all metrics, every runner probably considers a 26.2-mile marathon long. But to a 100K ultrarunner, a "long" marathon might merely be an easy weekend run. By the same measure, a 5K race is incredibly long—and just as impressive an achievement—to a woman who just started running one block at a time in her neighborhood.
Before we dig into all the reasons why you can, indeed, run long distances, we've got to agree once and for all that "long" is all in your mind. It's a figment of your imagination, much like the doughnut mirage you saw during your last set of brutal hill repeats.
So here's how to really master the mental game and run longer than you ever thought possible.
Embrace your expectations.
Goals feel most unreachable when they're intangible. If the phrase "running long" feels fuzzy, that's because it's not defined in a way that's manageable for you. Break it down: What feels long to you? Pick a number, whether that's 3 miles or 30. The key is to have a target. That way, when you decide to take steps toward your goal, you can...
Devise a plan.
This means setting a calendar-specific goal (a fun 10K in August or that half marathon in Chicago) and breaking down the step-by-step process to get there. Working from a training plan or with a coach will be immeasurably helpful. No matter what Instagram tells you, no one wakes up one day and has a great 16-mile run with zero prior training. If they do, they're fibbing—and putting a lot more time and energy into running than their casual Insta-stories would have you believe. In fact, they've probably learned that the secret to running long is to...
Everyone has an off season. And during those off seasons, aside from the frequent pints of ice cream and binge-watching Big Little Lies, you know what happens? You forget what it's like to run long distances. I've trained for marathons only to wake up on a Sunday three months later and think, "How did I ever run eight miles regularly, much less 18?!" But that's the beauty of running, you can...
Go at your own pace.
And I'm not talking about your per-mile pace, although that, too—I'm talking about deciding when and where to push yourself. Not every week is going to feel great, and that's totally OK. As you find (and break) new boundaries, your body will have to catch up to your new goals. (Pro tip: Make a daily, mandatory date with your foam roller.) And you can't forget...
Solve the mental piece.
Running can be a thrilling game or an inscrutable puzzle. Mastering the mental piece might be the biggest challenge of them all. If you tell yourself, "I could never run a half," well, you will never run a half. You need to give yourself permission to believe it's even possible. Say some mantras, write it down in your notebook 4,000 times, shout it from your apartment rooftop, whatever it takes you to believe it's even possible. And once that breaks through, you're ready for the best part about running long...
Don't do it alone.
The only thing that'll get you through Just one more mile is one or a group of friends running alongside you. Time (and those hills) will fly by much faster if you're comparing Tinder nightmares or urging each other on. And when you round the bend at the end of your long run and finally stop, panting and sweating and really proud, you'll have a witness, someone who saw you do what you once thought impossible. You ran "long."