Sunday, June 1, 2008

An Exercise In Futulity
In Review of My 20 Mile Long Run

Everyone knows that the hallmark of marathon training is the long run, and because most marathon training plans schedule 20 milers as the longest of the long run, they serve an important role not only in preparing the runner physically and mentally for the grueling distance, but they serve as benchmarks for assessing the stamina, speed, and fitness level of the marathoner during training.

I ran a scheduled 20-miler today, my first in preparation for the San Fran Marathon in early August. And if it really was meant to be a preview of how I am going to do in the race, I should just cancel my hotel reservation, re-book a continuing flight to Hawaii, and auction off my race number on Craig’s List, because let me tell you, it was bad. No, it was worse than bad. It was horrible. So horrible in fact that I wanted to disqualify myself from the course so many times for taking so many intentional and unintentional walk breaks (including a six minute interlude at Mile 12…what the heck was that?…The intermission at Phantom Of The Opera is hardly even that long!) I probably would have too if I wasn’t so far away from home. My pace was a joke (I was beaten by a five-year-old running with his dad at mile 17!), my form was terrible, and I was swerving so much from side to side on the narrow running path that I tripped a traffic cop as I was crossing the street. (Yeah, she probably could’ve given me a ticket for that!) About the only thing I give myself credit for (enough to warrant a SMALL size Jamba Juice drink afterwards) is showing persistence in finishing the distance, even in as sorry a state as I was.

Ordinarily, I would think of a thousand and one excuses that were beyond my control to justify my lackluster performance today. But last I checked, excuses don’t train or inspire people to run marathons. So in an effort to embarrass myself and educate my readers on what NOT to do in your long runs, I’m going to go through all the mistakes I made on my run today. As you will soon see, in retrospect, my long run was doomed for failure even before it started.

Mistakes I Made On My Long Run (Gosh, this is starting to sound like a bad grade school homework assignment…)

  1. I drank too much alcohol the night before. Yes guys, I admit. I broke the cardinal rule and I should have known better. Seriously though, this one couldn’t be helped. I was out with a lady friend last night and had a margarita over dinner. Then we decided to go to a comedy club which had a two drink minimum. So what was I supposed to do? Hmmm…maybe I could’ve washed it away with 6 glasses of water afterwards like I intended, but forgot…which brings me to the next point…
  2. I didn’t carbo-load or hydrate well the night before. I normally make extra effort to eat and drink well for the couple of days leading up to my long run. This weekend though was somewhat hectic for me and I got distracted from my routine.
  3. I went to sleep at about the time I wanted to wake up. Well, not exactly that late but close enough. I can’t believe I told more than a few people the day before that if they wanted to run with me they’d have to get up extra early so we could beat the heat, and then I find myself not sleeping ‘til 2AM last night. It’d be understandable if I had company or I was doing something productive, but I wasn’t! I was web surfing, checking out new music, and doing other mindless activities that I should not be doing at that hour.
  4. I started my long run on an 80-degree sunny day at 2pm. As a direct result of my previous transgression, I didn’t get up until around 10am. By that time, the sun was already blazing and I got sweaty just walking down the block to grab breakfast. When it got back, I told myself that I’d wait for around 4 or 5 to start the run so as to escape the heat. After lunch however, I got bored, then had the bright idea that I’d start the run early so I could be home in time for dinner. Yeah, I’m that impulsive and crazy.
  5. I selected a new and unfamiliar course for my 20-miler. After I decided to run, I think I became delirious because instead of choosing to run loops around the park like I’ve done on all my 20-milers the previous years, I decided I’d map out and run a completely new course, one that started at the Lower East Side of Manhattan, around the tip of the island, up the west side then back into Central Park for the finish. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, I decided that I’d run on the Williamsburg bridge over to Brooklyn and back, for “hill training” purposes.
  6. I ran a new and unfamiliar course caring too much about time. Then, while running on said bridge, I fought hard to maintain an arbitrarily determined minimum pace. As a result, I allowed my heart rate to drift into the 170s, which is squarely in the middle of my TEMPO range. Needless to say, I was somewhat wiped out by the time I was done with the bridge at mile 6.
  7. I ran a course with too many mandatory stops. Unfortunately, the tip of Manhattan is a little crowded on Sundays at 3pm. (You think I would have known that having lived here for more than 20 years!) There were lots of cars on the roads too. As a result, there were a lot of stop-and-gos. In the first few miles, it wasn’t so much of a problem. But by the later miles, when you’re fighting hard to keep the legs moving, a traffic light stop every mile or so is extremely hazardous. That’s how I got suckered in to taking a 6 minute walk break at mile 12.
  8. I did not paying attention to my heart rate during the run. Why am I wearing a heart rate monitor if I’m not going to look at it while I’m running? I was average 160s for the ENTIRE duration of the run. At times even after the bridge run, it drifted into the 170s. Wow! No wonder I was exhausted. My normal long run range is 145-159. I can’t explain why that discrepancy didn’t register with me even as I was having so much trouble keeping what I thought was a slow pace.
  9. I went into the run without having a clear hydration plan…WHAT HYDRATION PLAN…exactly! Because again, it was a new course, I didn’t have a clue where the water fountains or drink stands were along the course. In my mind, I thought I could just wing it and find water whenever I needed it. In actuality, it wasn’t the fact that there wasn’t enough water fountains on the course that killed me, it was the fact that I had to fill up every time I saw one not knowing the distance to the next one.
  10. I guess, if I had to sum up all my mistakes in three simple words, it’d be DIS-RESPECTING THE DISTANCE!!! I was not prepared physically or mentally for the task at hand and it completely blindsided me.

So, my dear readers, please do not let my embarrassing effort on the roads today go down in vain. Learn from my mistakes so that you don’t end up running and feeling like crap like I do right now. As you should all know by know, I’m all about the education process! (Actually, I think I’m feeling better now that I’ve gotten the chance to get everything off my chest…) Either way, treat the long runs, especially the really really long runs with respect and deference because they really are a microcosm of the race itself. Now, if someone can remind me of all this before my next 20-miler in a month, that’d be so super!


Run For Life said...

That sounds brutal. If it's any consolation I don't think this long run is indicative of what you'll do in San Fran.

Xenia said...

Sorry the long run bit. I agree with RunForLife, though. This is not an indicator for the San Fran marathon.

Thanks for sharing though. I always learn something new about running from your blog.

bill carter said...

Hi Lam

You can't let one poorly executed run be the death (haha) of your marathon race plans. You pretty much made every mistake in the book for a long run and I can tell you quite honestly I have "been there done that". But here is the thing... you completed the run. And that is what runners do. We don't give up when we feel like crap and know we are running like crap. Why?? Because we are runners and we just don't like to fail at anything. So, chalk it up to experience and just living a life and not being a professional runner who's running is so much more than a hobby.

Kirsten said...

While I'm sorry that you had to endure that, part of me is very glad that you posted this. Very timely, as I am embarking on my very first week of training for my very first marathon starting today.

I'd say San Fran is going to be great for you. This bad run certainly had to add an element of mental toughness. I don't think it's the good runs that make us stronger runners, it's the not-so-good ones.

Laura said...

Alcohol is carbs, and that's actually how I fuel most of my long runs. Therefore, that doesn't count as an excuse :)

Isn't SF in August? I've never followed a real training plan so I have no idea but isn't it early for your long run?

Anonymous said...

If you run a route where you have access to clean water you should check out a new hydration tool called AquaJoe. There is a video of it on

Debbie said...

You know you will have a great race in SF - this is not an indicator at all!

I like your lessons though -
That two drink minimum will get you every time :)!

Nitmos said...

Here, here...I've done this before. In my case, after an extremely successful marathon - for me - I started taking the 18+ run for granted and they started wiping my behind. I had to step back and refocus on the fact that this distnace is demanding no matter how fast or how many marathons I had run. Good reminder!

P.O.M. said...

That sounds A LOT like my first 20 -miler. I would like to say that we learn from our mistakes - but you know that's not true.

Thanks for sharing.

Meg said...

These are great reflections/lessons to pass on. Thanks for sharing them!
You'll get your revenge in a next month!

Viper said...

All hail the hungover LSD ... for it shall be all the punishment you need.

Good thing this was practice, right?

nwgdc said...

It's sad to say, but I think I've done every single one of those things! (Especially #1...)

On the bright side, at this point in your training, it's all about building a solid endurance base, so, hey, more time on your feet can only help that, right?

No worries, Lam, you'll be rocking the 20(+) milers soon enough.

Amy@RunnersLounge said...

Thanks for sharing! I didn't do all those things, but had a similar awful experience on a 12 miler this weekend. Vowed never to break the cardinal rules of running again.

Good news is that if you had forgotten any of the rules, you now know them and won't be tempted to do it on race day....right?

Feel better and take care,


audgepodge said...

Like others have said, I'm just impressed that you finished the whole 20 miles! I've definitely had my share of runs that were doomed before I hit the pavement, and usually that resulted in me cutting the distance. Good for you in getting the miles in.

BTW - I ran the 2nd half of the SF marathon last year. You're gonna love it!

MissAllycat said...

At least you ran it and finished...maybe it wasn't an exercise in speed, but an exercise in persistence.

Frayed Laces said...

Oh Lam, you big crybaby. How about running 20 miles with a broken pelvis?

(Again, thought I would send you a different message than all the sympathetic ones you've already received)

You are the most educated runner I know, especially when it comes to the human body, so if it's any consolation...a horrible long run is probably like an average person's okay long run. Thanks for your tips though. I appreciate all the time you put into your posts. Now, how bout those hip/butt stretches you promised?

sRod said...

Wow. We didn't run together this weekend, but damn did we make a lot of the same mistakes. I went over three bridges (in that God-awful heat) including the Williamsburg Bridge. I had a hydration plan, but it was foiled with a few unexpected park closures along the route.

nyflygirl said...

Just please do not repeat those mistakes on Sunday.

thanks in advance


nyflygirl said...

all joking aside-seriously, if you had to have a bad run, a learning experience run-at least you got it over with now and not on race day...right? :)

Betsy said...

I, too, am a survivor of the crappy 20 miler. Hang in there, my friend - the next one will be better.

The Laminator said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. But just to be clear...Yes, I'm fully recovered from the 20-miler, and no, I did not mean for my post to be a pity party...just an opportunity to educate others on what not to do on long runs.

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