Monday, October 1, 2007

Anatomy of A 20 Mile Training Run

Distance 20.2 miles
Time: 2:32:40
Pace: 7:31

It’s difficult to understand the brutality of a 20-mile training run unless you’ve done it before. During the actual race, you can be inspired by the brethren running alongside you, or draw support from the thousands upon thousands of screaming fans cheering and yelling your name. But when you’re out on that long training run, you’re alone (most of the time), running your own pace, keeping your own time, trapped in your own thoughts with miles to go before any reprieve can be contemplated.
I have been unsuccessful in my previous two attempts at running the 20. Whether it was because of the flu, my bum ankle, or any of an assortment of mysterious ailments, my body always seemed to work against me whenever I’m out on long training runs consisting of more than 16 miles, forcing me to stop prematurely. And with each failed attempt, the voice of doubt would increase with volume and intensity, drowning out whatever confidence I had beforehand.
And so it was, with this as the backdrop that I embarked on my third attempt at 20 miles yesterday. Although it was a perfect fall day for running, I was feeling very tired and sluggish at the start. I had caught another head cold (yet again!) the day before, and had worked longer and harder than I wanted to at the hospital in the morning. My beloved baseball team, the NY Mets, had just completed the most dramatic and monumental collapse in recent memory, and I was dreading the Sunday Night Football matchup between my NY Giants and the Philly Eagles, who had put up 50+ points the week before. So even before lacing up my shoes, I had plenty of excuses built up to rationalize a bad run.
To be fair, I had at least one reason to have a good run. My running buddy RB, who I hadn’t seen or run with in weeks, was accompanying me on the run. His presence made the first ten miles fairly enjoyable. We were catching up on recent developments and exchanging thoughts about the marathon while maintaining a steady pace. Unfortunately, I lost him at around the 12th or 13th mile, when he wasn’t able to keep up the pace. I was expecting him to fall back much earlier because he was training for his first marathon and generally runs slower than me. I was surprised and glad that he was able to stick with me for as long as he did. Still, once I saw him slide back, I knew the rest of the run would be solely up to me.
After he had gone, the remaining miles slowly became a very tough grind. My Achilles was starting to tighten up, and more than once, I felt my muscles starting to cramp. Normally, I’d given up by now. At mile 15 or 16. I was dehydrated and fatigued, and it was starting to get dark. But as the road got tougher and my sore feet and ankles started to complain more and more, I started to remember how I felt last week when I ran my best half-marathon ever. I kept repeating to myself that I was no longer just a weak and flimsy runner, but a mentally strong sub 1:30 half-marathoner. I used the mental focus to propel me to the finish despite the agonizing physical pain. When it was over, I had a mixture of sweat and tears in my eyes and had to wipe them away quick before RB could find me in such a state.
I didn’t run my 20 miler in a particularly fast time, and there probably won’t be a record of it save on my personal training log, but for me, it was an important run because it taught me the strength of mental toughness and the power of positive visualization. I will need to utilize both of these weapons to combat the last 6.2 of my 26.2 in 6 weeks.


aham23 said...

you battled through it and that is impressive. it should be logged just as your other runs. nice work. later.

Dave Fleet said...

Hi there,

Just found your blog - good job on the long run!

I know the feeling - those 20-milers feel like they're never going to end. The great thing is, you battled through it and it will only get easier from here on.



JohnnyGo said...

Great run. Your pace sounds plenty fast to me. I agree with aham23 - log it!

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cymrusteve said...

excellent work on your 20 miler! any solitary run is never a formality, but your perseverance will make the next one slightly easier.

good luck at NYC. i'll be running Marine Corps the weekend before. hope the weather cooperates - it was hot and humid for my final 20 miler this morning.


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