It’s been over a year since I last ran truly "long". And I’m ok with that. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of running long. I don’t get marathons. Why people like to do them. I’ll train you for one – no problem. But the urge to do one myself? No thanks. That’s just a long way to run.
Unless you ride 112 miles before. I have no problem running long off of a bike ride. In fact some of my best run splits are preceded by a bike. I’m sure it means something – what I don’t know. High threshold for doing 3 stupid things faster than most can do 1 thing solo? Maybe.
My first experience with running long was back in 2001. My then-boyfriend-now-husband convinced me to do the Chicago marathon with him. Our training? Oh this is classic ‘what happens when you train yourself’ training:
Run 2 hours and 45 minuets every Monday and Wednesday for 3 weeks straight.
How I survived that without injury I have no idea. Nutrition plan? Are you kidding? I was a vegetarian (don’t get me started) who had no idea how to feed myself unless it involved a bowl of cereal or a binge. Hydration plan? Does snorting back your own spit or snot count?
Hoping to finish in under 4 hours we ran 3:59:41. We were on pace for much faster until Chris’ quads shut down at mile 18 (or maybe it was from LACK OF NUTRITION PLAN!). From there it was walk/run/walk/run until I was finally like – please – PLEASE can we get this over with. I remember walking somewhere around mile 20 thinking this misery MUST end. I hate running slow. I hate walking slower even more. But back to running slow – it is inefficient and it hurts. I told Chris to pick up the pace.
Finally we were done! I remember feeling nothing but thank goodness that is over with now I can get back to running fast. Took a few days off and then ended up with shin splints a few weeks later. Lesson learned: recovery is key. As is nutrition, hydration and a smart training plan. By the way the photo is from a few years later at the Carlsbad half marathon.
These days I still don’t get excited about running long. It’s more of a necessary evil for long course racing. The longest I run is usually 2 hours. I never run 2 hours slow because it typically includes some intensity. Not everyone is built for that but giving someone that has been running since age 15 a long slow run is like poking them in the eye with a fork. Over and over again. Like telling a swimmer to swim 3000 yards straight at recovery pace with a pull buoy. No flip turns. How does that sound? Slow and painful.
I had some goals for today’s run. I feel like you should go into every key workout with a goal. Today’s goal was to cover a certain number of miles at a certain pace. How would I know? I would put on the evil pace setting mechanism of satan, aka the GPS.
I completely abandoned running with device-of-the-devil about 2 months ago. Since then I have had nothing but glorious runs. Imagine that. I reconnected with the idea of how it feels, looks, sounds when you run easy/moderate/hard. Trust me – when you take the time to listen and pay attention to your body’s cues, it works. It really does.
Plus I’ve been running since 15 like I said. I was raised on a track. Rounding the 400 at a certain pace, it’s in my bones. Ask any runner to hit a pace and they will. I bet if you asked Rachel Ross or Jenni Keil to hold 7:00 pace they could. No GPS necessary. Runners have an innate sense of time and pace. We know how it feels to split 3:00 on an 800 on the track. We know what a 5:56 mile sounds like in lungs. We can tell you the turnover it takes to put out a sub-80 400 on the track.
When I got a GPS this year I thought – this is great! Now I will finally know how far I can run. I quickly became obsessed with checking my pace. Over and over again. I would judge myself and the run on what the GPS said. No matter how good or bad I felt it all got filtered through but how far? I lost sight of how to feel good on a run and how to simply let go.
When you finally let that go, you will start having good runs.
So today when I realized I would need the GPS to realize if I had run 20 miles…well, I thought it would be a good and a bad thing. Good because it was the run of truth. No more “I think I cranked out a 6:20 mile” or “I covered 6.25 miles today!” Really? Bad because what if it told me I was slow. Well, what if? I don’t know. The emotional mystery of how bad a breakdown I might have upon realizing I was holding perhaps 30 seconds slower per mile than what I thought I could hold…well that almost made me want to leave the damn thing at home. But no. Come on, I trust myself. I know what pace I can hold on my long runs. I can feel it. Might as well confirm it too. So I made a deal with myself. I would use the GPS to stay in check but I could not obsess. It is there simply for a check and to keep the pressure on myself.
It was a pretty good day for a run. 50 degrees and overcast. I overdressed a little because I have a feeling Arizona won’t be 50 and overcast. I set out with my Fuel Belt, about one million gels and the GPS on the path. I do all of my running on a path for many reasons – it’s generally 100 times more enjoyable then running in a concrete gutter and it immerses me in nature. I rounded the lake after the first few minutes to find the maples exploding from bright yellow to red and knew this path was the right place for me today.
The first 30 minutes were a warm up. Focus on form, turn those feet over, feel good, keep the heart rate low. From there, open up to hold pace for the next…2 hours. 2 hours is a long way to hold pace. But before the run I read something I had posted in my closet. It’s my Wordle! It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever posted in my closet. Every time I get dressed I see it. Every time I have a workout – good or bad – there is a word there to make sense of it The other day when I was too tired to do anything, I read the word ACCEPTING.
And I was like, yes, I am accepting today!
Today, as I got dressed the words POSSESSION, PERSISTENCE and TOUGH caught my eyes. Today that is what it would take. Completely possessing this run and my ability. Persisting with the pace. And acknowledging that this would be tough – but I could be tougher!
The next 30 minutes into the run I nailed my pace. I nailed it perhaps a bit too fast but the heart rate was fine and I decided to just go with it. In training you take risks. In racing Ironman you follow your plan based on the risks you have taken and how they went. Today I would be better able to determine a plan. But first, a few risks to take.
The first hour sails by and I’m feeling good. Of course. That is the honeymoon phase of the run. From there it just became a matter of clicking off 2 miles every 15 minutes. The GPS did what I said it would – kept me honest. I thought a lot out there about two people; Chrissie Wellington and Jessica Jacobs. Every time I see Chrissie Wellington run she looks like she is ready to tear someone’s flesh off with her teeth. It’s like she just eats up the miles. And when I saw Jessica Jacobs running on her way to a 3rd place finish at Ironman Wisconsin one word came to mind – jamming. That girl was jamming on the run. Her arms were like little engines pushing her forward and she just looked damn fast.
With that Bob Marley pops into my head and there goes another 4 miles. Up to the 2 hour mark I’m feeling ok. I’ve done this before, many times this year. Plus I knew there was only 30 minutes more to go. It would be tough, yes, but I could do this. I will not give it up! Why? Because that darn GPS is keeping the pressure on me. Any time I want to back down it is there telling me...you are falling off pace. Actually the pace is all over the place. How can you be running a slower mile downhill? Yeah, I'd say there is some delay with it.
Just as I decide I can do this, the sky opens. It is pouring rain. I go from being cold to being very cold. My hands are so swollen and cold I cannot close the right one. My thighs are bright red from the temperature. Right quad is starting to bark. I am soaking wet. I find myself running up a small hill and think I want to cry.
And then I stop myself. How stupid is that? You cry when a pet dies, when you get hurt, when you lose something. Who cries when running? Who? Why? So I brush the thought away and realize my experience out here, in these final miles will be mostly mental, just like Ironman, all in my head.
At 2:15 into the run I am on pace. Oh my legs do not want to do this but my head is going all the way. My heart rate is starting to go haywire, I am cold and wet. I know it will take only 2 more miles to get to 20 miles but these will be the hardest even though the pace is the same. The last mile is downhill mostly. And in the middle of it, around 19.2 miles into the run something very strange happens. My legs jerk a little and the world spins. For the first time ever I think to myself – what if I can’t make it back? Would someone find me laying here wet and spent? No, because I am finishing my 20 miles. Slowly but surely. My heart rate drops as quickly as the pace slows. My legs have checked out for the day. But I still move forward. I will get this done!
Perhaps my biggest fault is stubbornness. If I set out to do it, I will. With or without myself. If if I say I will run 20 miles I will run 20 miles. Even if it means running circles in the parking lot. When I didn’t notice the giant puddle I realized that if my shoes weren’t soaking wet puddles themselves before – well, they were now. Finally I hit 20 miles at one minute more into the run than I planned. On one hand I cannot believe how good I felt until 2:23 into the run. On the other hand, I cannot believe I let that one minute go.
I got in the car. My legs hurt. I was soaking wet. Cold. Covered in path and woodchips. Thirsty. Spent. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was thinking – with proper rest could I hold that pace for another 6.2 miles. And it hit me – yes. Yes I could. I know I could. I could dig deeper and pull it out. My legs now know.
I thought a lot about my marathoners out there today. One just did her marathon and went 3:30. Even up to the days before she told me she had no idea how she would run 8 minute miles for 26.2 miles. I told her it was all in her head. Stop thinking and start committing. Quit wondering and make up your mind. If you did it in training – if you got close – you can do it in racing with a proper taper and rest.
You’ve got to possess your goals. Set them, possess them in each key workout. Simple as that. Take them and make them yours. Do the work. Persist at it. And accept that it will be tough. Toughness is what training is for. In training you take the risks, you figure it out. You don’t have breakthroughs every time – in fact, you often find yourself 7 minutes shy of being done wondering how you will walk/shuffle/maybe crawl back to the car; a certified breakdown. But that is what training is for. To go through it. To last it out. In the long run it is sessions like this that let you know you have owned your goal enough to chase it on race day.