Well, I am officially in taper mode now for my upcoming marathon. It's a good feeling to be there, but at the same time I am worried that I didn't manage to do enough training for what will prove to be a very difficult event.
My last long run was a 20-miler, and I completed it on Saturday. It's the first time I have run that mileage since my last marathon on October 2 of last year, and it was tough. My training really fell apart this summer with my hamstring, and my long runs especially were what suffered. Instead of having a sensible, consistent build-up to the 20-miler, I was doing what "I could manage." That meant a lot of trail running - a couple hours here, once and a while three hours. I spent a lot of time hovering around the 13-15-mile mark for my long runs. As these final weeks approached, and I was finally! starting to feel better, I was left with just three more long run weeks. I took a very scientific approach to them and opted to do the following:
Week 1 - 2-hour long run
Week 2 - 3-hour long run
Week 3 - 20 Miles (which I assumed would take me about four hours)
Not exactly your 10-percent rule, is it? To make things even better, I ended up doing my 20-miler only five days after the 3-hour run because that is what fit into the schedule. Not ideal.
So, how did it go? Well, okay. I headed out on the run with my hamstrings and lower back already sore from all the cleaning I had done the day before. Don't ask me why I decided to do a day of heavy cleaning the day before a long run when, in fact, I've been ignoring most cleaning all summer, but that's what I did.
I woke up, and the plan was to run to the local running club's 14-mile training run. The run there would net me a little over two miles, I would do the training run with the run/walk group, and then I would finish up running home adding any miles as needed to get me my 20.
As it turns out, the run there was fine. I enjoyed a slow, warm-up-type jog and got there just in time to find the route reel instructions and hook up with the run/walk group. We started out and for the first five miles or so, everything felt fine. I felt a little funny running with this group, because although I know all the people in it, they clearly are running buddies while I am the outsider who drifts in and out of the group occasionally. Ah well.
The run/walk worked out great for five miles or so, as I said, but after the first few miles I was informed that the group likes to ramp up their running interval speed in the middle miles before bringing it back down again. Yikes! I wasn't quite prepared for that, but I seemed able to manage okay. What was my undoing, however, were the hills. The route that the course designer had put together included a fair amount of rolling hills leading to, along, and leading away from the river - a nice challenge for anyone doing 14 miles. For someone doing 20 miles however, it was a bit much. Maybe if I were a stronger runner, I could handle them better, but as it was by the time we reached the 14-mile turn around point (so about nine miles into my run), I was already falling off the back of the group. I realized I couldn't keep up the pace and tackle the hills and go 20 miles too, so I let them go.
Once I dropped off the group, I almost felt a bit of relief. It's almost like feeling like you have to be on your best behavior because you are in the company of others. Suddenly, finding myself alone, I felt able to breathe a bit better and my running improved. Well, either that, or it's because I wasn't talking anymore. From miles nine to 14 or so, I felt I did fairly well. Make no mistake, I was ALL ALONE and that was a bit of a bummer. There's nothing like doing a group run and finding yourself trailing at the end of it to such a degree that you could be the only person out there. The plus side, of course, is that getting to the water stations I felt I had them all to myself.
After about mile 14, things started getting tougher. I was starting to enter into no-man's land, that land of mileage you don't visit very often. In fact, really one of the few times I had visited it at all was only five days previously, and my legs were feeling it. I managed to get myself back to where the training run started, but facing still another four miles, I didn't feel like sticking around or talking to anyone, so I just filled up my water bottle and went. Those last four miles were torture. I felt like I had hit the wall in a marathon. I was sluggish, my legs didn't want to run when I asked them to, and I ended up changing my intervals from a 4:1 to a 3:2. Even then, my slow-walking legs were not too thrilled to be put into running gear when the time came.
I finished the 20 miles in 4:03, with those last six miles taking me almost an hour and a half. Serious wall-hitting there. After stretching and an ice bath, I still felt mostly miserable all day Saturday. By Sunday, though, I was already starting to feel better, and yesterday I managed a 5.5K row with little problem. I'll be curious how today's run goes.
There were so many thoughts running through my head after the 20-miler that I don't think I can outline them all here. The overriding one, however, was the thought that I fully intend to slow down after this marathon. I know I have another marathon in January, but I am only going to look to finish that one in one piece. I plan on hopefully keeping my base up after this marathon, keeping my early long runs in the two to two-and-a-half hour range, but I am going to slow WAY down and work on my aerobic, endurance base. Speed will have to come later, after I prove to myself that I can go the distance. I am really looking forward to it.