Running with audiobooks: My last hope for long run nirvana

I set a PDR on Tuesday with my first-ever 15-miler. Every long run from here on out is uncharted territory. I was psyched to finally see that "15" on my watch but I have to say, there are two things no one mentions when talking about marathon training:

  1. Long runs are hard.
  2. Long runs are boring.

Let's talk about them:

Long runs are hard. 

I am intimidated by my long runs. I'm afraid of them, a little? I procrastinate them, I have to make sure I am wearing my favorite clothes/gear, I plan a route in advance, I worry about them. When I'm running long, I am usually not able to just chill and have fun. I spend the first half indulging in general worry/amazement about how long whatever distance I'm running is (so long! WHO does this? It's too far!), and the second half in some degree of physical distress, because I'm just not used to running so far or for so long. 

My training for the New York Marathon is different than my training for previous half marathons. When training for the Wisconsin Half (my fourth half marathon), I made a point to run 10 miles or more twice a week, and it helped a lot. I could do 10 miles after work, NBD. I was able to do that because I had gone through a few half marathon cycles before, and my body was used to running 10 miles. I could do them without suffering at all. 15 miles is a completely different ball game, suffering-wise, and I can only imagine how I'll feel when I head out for my first-ever 20 miler. I'll need to break out every distraction technique I can think of. I know I'll get used to running long, but right now long runs feel so difficult.

Long runs are boring. 

One thing I'm pretty sure I won't get used to is how boring a long run can be. Those 10-milers in Chicago over the winter? About half were on the treadmill, which was agonizingly tedious. I would spend the whole time working out a statistical problem in my head to try to distract myself, and when that would get too boring, I'd turn to my Emergency iPod.

Later in the winter, something completely unexpected happened. Running indoors became more unpleasant than running outdoors -- even in -10 degrees. I canceled my gym membership in February and took my runs outside. If you've run outdoors in Chicago in February, you'll know that it is very hard to run "slow" and "easy." I felt a constant nagging to speed it up and get it over with, because it's so cold, dark, and windy. In a last-ditch attempt to get myself to slow down and relax, while enduring the tedium of long runs, I started listening to audiobooks.



I started with a book of short stories I've been wanting to read, thinking I would have an easier time paying attention to shorter plots and smaller numbers of characters of short stories than a novel. The Time Machine is considered the first science fiction novel ever, and I didn't realize until I started that the book is almost completely one long monologue -- the main character is describing his experience time traveling to friends. I would much rather read books than listen to them, but both of these ended up being great for running because they were conversational, had fast-moving plots, and were generally not too demanding of the reader (er-- listener). I wasn't plowing through The Odyssey and Moby Dick like Ryan Hall, but it helped a lot. It was fun!

For this training cycle, I'm trying audiobooks again. This time I'm starting with my all-time favorite book from childhood. 


It's such a pleasure to listen to Madeline L'Engle read it herself. Written in 1962, I remembered this book as having an undercurrent of feminism, with a complex female protagonist whose mother is a scientist managing the family in her husband's absence. That's still there, but reading as an adult, what really stands out is the heavy-handed Cold War/pro-America/capitalism message. Yikes!

If anyone else is looking for audiobooks, may I suggest:

University or local library: Most universities and library systems have a good selection of public domain classics and bestselling books on audiobook. I know the New York Public Library does, and so does the Chicago Public Library. Bonus: because they're transmitted digitally, they can never really be "overdue" so you don't have to worry about late fees.  

Local used bookstores typically have lots of used bestseller audiobooks. They come in CD sets, so you have to do some setup to get them on whatever device you run with, but this is definitely affordable and you're supporting your local bookstore.

Public domain audiobooks can be found for free on sites like Open Culture -- great if there's that one classic you've been meaning to read for like a decade -- you're a captive audience when you're running 15 or 20 miles alone, so you know you'll definitely make some headway.

Paid subscription services like Audbile are also out there: I hear commercials for Audible all the time on NPR, and it seems like it could be cool, too.