You might wonder how I've run two full marathons and only one 20 mile training run. No, the marathons were not close together, they were 7 months apart (LA Marathon, March 2010 and Nike Women's Marathon, October 2010).
Before LA I felt like I NEEDED at least one 20 mile run, the marathon was still a terrifying distance. We were scheduled to do two 20 milers, but alas, my body wasn't cooperating that first go round with the marathon and I was having some serious IT band issues (which have since resolved). I did get in the second of the two twenty milers. I think, for me, that 20 miler was more of a mental hurdle than anything else.
While I was training for Nike Women's last summer I was also serving as a mentor with Team in Training. When you are a mentor (volunteer) you are not always able to get your own mileage in. And, seriously, I was not disciplined enough to do the mileage on my own. So, I ran with the team when I was able to and didn't run too much on my own. I did shorter runs during the week, but my longest long run before the marathon was 16 miles (I seriously have no idea how that happened, there was at least one 18 miler and two 20 milers on the schedule). Epic fail training wise. Well, I PR'd at Nike, by 22 minutes. I mean my LA time was SOOO slow that I really had no choice but to PR (and I sprained my ankle at mile 22, so I would've probably finished faster if not for that).
It was that day that I realized that the 20 is not an absolute necessity. Although, thinking back, maybe I wouldn't have sprained my ankle if I had trained more (maybe I still would have, I am incredibly clumsy and fall and/or walk in to things a lot). I signed up to do LA again, and this time I was going to kill it. I had put together a training schedule that included a lot of running, but nothing over 16 miles. Alas, due to an accident on a stationary spin bike and a resulting sprained knee I was not able to run LA this year (eventually I will run LA again in a normal amount of time).
I wound up dropping LA and signing up to run the Alaska Mayor's Marathon with Team in Training. When I started training for Alaska I figured I would stick with the idea of doing 16-18 miles at the high end. Unfortunately I haven't been doing as many shorter, weekday runs as I would like to accommodate said shorter long run schedule. (The 16 mile long run schedule calls for a lot of running during the week, and my training during the week has not been nearly disciplined enough to allow for that.) This past weekend the training schedule called for a 20 mile run for Alaska full marathoners. I REALLY did NOT want to run 20 miles.
I was nervous all week. I did everything I could to prepare for it, physically and mentally (I was more nervous for this than I have been for a race in a long time). I made sure to hydrate, for fear of overheating. And yet, I was still nervous. I knew that if I got in a full 20 I would feel really confident going in to Alaska, but I was worried that it would do more harm than good. And, if 20 went badly then I would head into taper in a bad state of mind, which I didn't want. I figured if I could at least get in 15 I'd be happy.
I got to the park at 6:15 to have an early start. Melissa, one of our coaches started running with me. I felt good and strong. I got through the first 5 mile loop as the rest of the team was getting ready to start their runs (I was the only person at practice doing 20 that day and so glad that I started early). I continued on through the second loop feeling good at a 5:1 interval. I had my nutrition down, about every 40 minutes I took a GU (Chocolate Outrage) and sipped on water and Gatorade throughout. After mile 10 Melissa, who was still running with me, asked if we could take the interval down to 4:1. I could have stuck with a 5:1, I was feeling strong, but dropped it down to 4:1. After this loop I headed out on the last one alone, Melissa was in pain. I was still feeling strong, I didn't mind running alone. On the last loop it was getting warm out and I wound up walking through three of my run intervals (not all in a row). I took a GU Roctane (Chocolate Raspberry) on one of these extra long walks and it gave me the added burst of energy I was really needing. As I circled around to the finish I felt strong and ran hard in to the end. I did not feel like my legs were filled with lead and I still had energy. Amazing!
I had finished 20 miles! In 4:08 (definitely a 20 mile PR for me!). I felt strong and happy. I didn't feel like I had run 20 miles, and this run has given me confidence for the Alaska Mayor's Marathon in just a couple of weeks. I'm pretty confident that I will PR in Alaska.
What did I learn from this run? First, I've got my nutrition/hydration worked out well. I never felt hungry or thirsty. I felt good without ever bonking. Yay! Second, I really need to stick with my interval, it gets really hard to start back up again when you walk too long. Third, I really can run 20 miles. Fourth, I have realized that while I do sometimes enjoy running with people I also really like being alone on long runs, I think it does my brain and body good to be alone and push through it. Lastly, 20 miles f*ing hurts!! I was so sore later that day and evening (I was definitely limping a little bit). (Even though it hurts, sometimes that 20 miles can be just the thing to get you where you need to be.)
I've known this last thing for a while, but whenever I hit a milestone like this again I am reminded that I really can do anything. I am strong and the whole world is mine if I'm ready to take it on. And, guess what that 20 miler taught me? Right now, I'm ready.
An extra special thank you to every one on Twitter who reminded me that I could do this and whose support helped get me through last week's pre 20 mile nerves. It helped more than you know to have all of your support.
I'm not sure if I'll do another 20 miler before the Marine Corps Marathon in October, I'm going to see how Alaska goes and then decide.
To support me as I get ready to run the Alaska Mayor's Marathon please consider making a donation to LLS here: