Monday, September 12, 2011

Ah, yes,...the longest long run

So, this past weekend I managed to pull off my 20-mile training run in preparation for the October 2 Lakefront Marathon. This marathon was supposed to be my original "big goal" for 2011, but somewhere along the road to Pikes Peak it got sort of lost.

I haven't run a full marathon since 2006, when I successfully completed the Community First Fox Cities Marathon in 5:09:30. At the time, I thought I had simply marked something off of my bucket list, never to be done again. Four years went by and whenever anyone asked if I would run another marathon, I said nope, one and done.

But then something happened,... I changed my mind. I don't know exactly why. It simply happened. I woke up one morning and there it was - that niggling little thought that maybe I wouldn't mind doing a second marathon. Maybe one of my running friends is right, being part of a running club is dangerous. Crazy ideas rub off on you. Or, maybe it's my husband's subtle influence. He always looks like he's having so much fun. In any case, before I could over think it, I signed up for a race.

In choosing this year's event, I purposely selected something new with the idea that if this was going to - once again - be my last marathon, it might as well be something different from my first "last" marathon. Lakefront Marathon was chosen because it is close to home, so only one night in a hotel is needed, and because it is relatively flat and has a nice, mild downhill slope in the last 10K.

Signing up for Pikes Peak had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, but like the mountain itself it quickly loomed larger than life. With my original Lakefront training plan in place, the Ascent was scheduled to fall on the day of my first of two 20-mile training runs. This seemed like fate, serendipity, a nice fit. After all, how could a 13-mile jaunt up America's Mountain not translate into a flatland 20-mile equivalent? However, something happened on my way up Pikes Peak: it became my main goal. It took all I had to hold myself together and finish that event. And, since coming home from it, the biggest consequence from having done it is that the "Lakefront Marathon" has become more "Lakefront Who?" in my mind. It's not that I am not excited. I am. It's just that with such a crazy accomplishment behind me - and given all the effort it took to do it - I just don't know if I have it in me to pull off another one. I feel I lost the momentum I need to get me to Lakefront.

Here, by the way, is where being an "average runner" and not some super studdette comes into play: I have never really done any sort of crazy back-to-back racing plan. The closest I have come to back-to-back goals was only earlier this year when I had two half marathons scheduled a week apart. I ran both of them while sick, so I never did get a real sense of how I could have done. In any case, though, it was not pretty. In the book Advanced Marathoning, the authors talk about how back-to-back race goals are possible and how to approach them - and, for people like my husband, who can do Pikes Peak and then a marathon or a marathon and then a 50-miler, that works well - but, duh, it's called Advanced Marathoning, and I am not an advanced marathoner.

So, momentum lost, I started running like I meant it again. Here's what the last few weeks have looked like:

Weeks to Lakefront - What was done
6 weeks to go - Pikes Peak, no mid-week runs
5 weeks to go - 7.5 miles and two so-so mid-week runs
4 weeks to go - 13 miles and two really good mid-week runs
3 weeks to go - 20 miler ...

So, the day of the 20-miler dawned. I was really not very enthusiastic about it. And, really, what's to get excited about? My first 20-miler in five years, and I knew there was a very real possibility that I couldn't do it. Who wants to find that out on the way to a marathon? I'd rather be surprised on race day.

Since I was running the 20-miler alone and without support, that meant trying to figure out a route that would get me to water consistently. I ended up hitting a Starbucks, the YMCA, and a McDonalds (where they wanted to charge me, by the way. Honestly!) As it turns out, I could have used one more water stop, but who knew that at the time?

I stuck with the same 4:1 run-walk ratio I have been doing for most of my long runs. My knee is still bothering me, and running without walk breaks is not going to happen for me. As usual, I started out too fast. But that's okay. The funny thing about starting out too fast is that as the miles go by, you find yourself getting slower and slower and slower until you are even slower than you originally wanted to go. Dang.

Nutrition-wise, I kept to the 100-calories-every-30-minutes routine. That meant one Espresso GU (2x caffeine), one lemon-lime GU, some kind of berry GU (2x caffeine), and nine Margarita (extra sodium) Cliff Blocks. I don't know if taking all that in helped stave off muscle fatigue, but at least I didn't feel hungry until after I stopped running. I also carried powdered Gatorade with me to mix at the water stops.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm, the run started out well enough. The first five miles sailed by, and in general I was pretty happy with my time to mile 10. Even at the half, I wasn't too disappointed. However around mile 13 I started to doubt that the route I had chosen was actually 20 miles. In fact, I was pretty sure I was looking at at least 22. Unfortunately for me, our little metropolitan area is divided pretty definitively by a river, and by the time I realized I was looking at extra mileage I was between two bridges with nothing to do but keep going. Mentally, that wasn't that big of a deal, really. I even convinced myself that the extra miles spent walking (because I would not run more than 20) would be good training.

After mile 13, however, I really started to feel the discomfort physically. At mile 16 I really wished I was home. At mile 17 I made the decision NOT to make a second pass of the YMCA to get more water, which would have added yet more mileage. Instead, I opted to conserve water and head home. At mile 19, I regretted that decision. I made it to mile 20, and my time wasn't too far off the pace I had had for the 18-miler. Unfortunately for me, I still had a mile and a half to go. I walked that last bit, and, boy, was I sore.

I wish I could say I was happy with the run, but I wasn't. All I really wish for in this marathon is to finish in under five hours. My time for my 18 and 20 milers seem to suggest I can do that. However, I have my doubts. While I have been happy with my long run performance, I have also been finishing them spent, like I couldn't take another step.

I have to assume that - like my first marathon - my pace per mile is going to take a real nosedive after the 20 mile marker. That's why they call it hitting the wall, right? But how big of a dive? I think I'll be lucky to finish by my Fox Cities time of 5:09, and that is disappointing. This was supposed to be better than that first marathon. Sure, I am five years older, but I am wiser. I am not going into this one with absolutely no base. I am not doing this one on only two 2-4 mile runs a week and a long run every other week. I am not doing this one with no other cross-training. I really have tried. Sure, I have been sidelined by not one, but two, injuries - one of which is ongoing. But, in general, I still feel I am a lot better runner than five years ago. However, something tells me it isn't enough to overcome everything I have put in front of me this year. Ah well. One thing I was happy about - and thank you, Pikes Peak - I ran all but one hill I was presented with. One thing I can say is that I am no longer intimidated by hills.

Two days post-run and my back aches and my bad knee is unhappy with me. Generally, though, I don't feel all that bad. The legs aren't leaden, for which I am grateful. As to my back and knee, I blame myself. I am really noticing the lack of core, strength, and stretching. What was I thinking to slack off on those elements these past three weeks?

Ah well. It is what it is. Three weeks to go. We'll see what happens.

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