A common failing of long-distance runners, especially on solo training runs, is the desire to get back home. You're out on a bleak winter day, and you imagine being back in your living room, snug with a big sandwich, chips, and TV. Do you have a fireplace? Even worse. Or, it's a hot summer day and the water in your bottle has gone tepid, and you anticipate getting back home and pouring cold juice over a tall glass of ice cubes, then exercising twenty seconds of patience to let the drink chill before beginning to sip.
OK, the twenty seconds of patience could be a good sign--you're learning. But the real problem here is your subconscious default feeling about "home."
This is not to suggest there's anything wrong with your desire to get back to house and hearth. But if that desire causes you to cut the run short, or skip it on a day when the weather looks bad, then there may be something important missing in your feel for the place where you're running.
Our species evolved in the wild, and for every century we've been civilized, there were ten centuries or more when we lived in the wild, and that was home--and that deeper sense of home is still in our DNA. One way to look at it is to consider that just as dogs are domesticated from wolves, modern humans are domesticated from nomadic hunter-gatherers. Give a healthy dog a chance, and it will revel in being able to go for a run in fields or woods--and significantly, it will most likely exhibit more pleasure with that outing than with any time it spends in the living room or dog house. A dog that is too dog-show domesticated is a sad thing. Ditto a human who can't reconnect with our primordial love of the wild--the source of all our adventure, discovery, and sustenance for hundreds of thousands of years before we had sitcoms, spectator sports, or potato chips.
The key is to see the wild not as lonely or sinister, as commonly depicted in TV shows or movies, but as a realm where you can be comfortable and self-reliant and free, and where you belong. Once the wild feels like home, you're home free to be an ultrarunner.
--excerpted from an Appendix to the forthcoming book The Longest Race: a Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance, to be published in October, copyright 2012, Ed Ayres