If you were to tell me at this time last year that I would wake up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday just so I could drive 20 minutes to a trail in the woods and run 18 miles, I would have laughed so hard I might have suffered a hernia.
But that’s EXACTLY what I did this past Saturday. No, not the hernia part.
After skipping my 12-miler last Saturday out of fear that I might have a stress fracture (thankfully that wasn’t the case), I got myself psyched up to run the longest distance I have run in my entire life. It seems like it was just two weeks ago that I was running my previous life-long distance of 15 miles.
When it comes to these long runs, it’s as if the running Gods are smiling down on me. I awake to cool temps in the high 60s and overcast skies. Sure, it would be better if it was in the 50s, but high 60s in Atlanta in August is almost unheard of. I was expecting much worse. There was even a light drizzle hitting my windshield as I was driving to the start point of the Silver Comet Trail in Smyrna.
The night before the run, I didn’t load up on as many carbs as I did on my 15-miler, mostly because I simply didn’t plan as well. But in the morning, I have a mini bagel loaded with peanut butter, a banana and a small bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.
Instead of my usual water bottles of Powerade Zero, I decide to fill my two 8 oz. bottles with grape-flavored G2 because it has more sodium in it. I figured it would help me to replace the sodium I would lose through sweat during the run. I also packed two GU gel packs with me.
After making sure I stretch and stretch some more, I hit the trail for my 9-mile out and back. I feel pretty good at the start and decide to try to run at a 7:45/mile pace. I still don’t have a watch or a GPS, so I just kind of run on “feel.”
I’m actually starting to think this is the best way for me to train. I know people who run with watches or GPS and they tell me that they can become too obsessed with their splits. If they fall behind their pace, they will try to speed up a little to get back “on schedule.” But if your body is telling you that you shouldn’t pick up the pace and you force yourself to do so, I imagine that this would snowball and make it harder with each passing mile.
I could be wrong, but I’m sticking with what works for me.
I try to get into a good rhythm and not focus on how many miles I have covered. The first five miles go pretty quickly. At about the 8-mile mark I run over a spectacular bridge built about 100 feet above the ground. It might be higher, I’m not really sure. I wanted to stop and take some pictures (there’s a golf course on the left), but I keep my pace and know that I will get a second look at the view on the way back.
Before crossing the bridge, I sucked down the first of my two “Espresso Love” flavored GU gels, making sure I swish it around in my mouth with a large gulp of G2 to dilute it.
At the 9-mile mark, I’m still feeling plenty strong and know that this is a pace I can maintain all the way through. By the time I hit the 12-mile mark though, my right hip starts to feel a little stressed. I press on.
When I cross the 15-mile mark, I remember something a colleague once told me. She said “when you reach the point where you have run the most you have ever run, savor that moment.” I make sure I do. As I pass a sign that marks 3 miles from the start, I smile and thrust my arms into the air in a mocking finish line pose. I’m sure the people coming at me and those behind me were wondering what was going on, but I didn’t care. It felt good and made me smile. I figure anytime you can smile during an 18-mile run you should do so!
Over the final 3 miles, my right hip is starting to hurt a bit more, but for the most part my legs feel pretty good. Even my left calf is feeling ok. Looking back, I conclude that my decision to skip last Saturday’s long run was a very smart move.
As I reach the 18-mile mark, I keep up my pace into the parking lot, grab the car key from my running belt, open the car door, grab my iPhone and hit STOP on the stopwatch. I’m stunned to see 2:15:36! I had hoped to break 2:30, but to come in at 2:15 was truly surprising.
I suck back another bottle of G2 that I had kept in the car, stretch, towel off, stretch some more, change my shirt and head home.
When I arrive, it’s time to put some ice on my calf muscles…
And some more ice on my knees…
If I didn’t ice them, I can only imagine how I would have felt on Sunday. As it was, I woke up determined to get in an easy 3-miler. Turns out, this wasn’t so easy. I can barely get down the stairs in my house. Once I finally hobble outside, I stretch and stretch some more.
For this run, I decide to to use the new Superfeet insoles my podiatry doc gave me. (I was told not to use them on my first long run.)
Over the first 1/2 mile, I kind of shuffle along. There’s not much “running” going on. After about 3/4 of a mile, I start to loosen up and manage to get through it. It was probably the hardest 3 miles I have ever run.
By Sunday night, my legs are still very sore. Yowzah… thankfully, Monday is an off day. Tuesday calls for 6 miles, then 5 on Wednesday and 4 on Thursday. Depending how I feel, I might take one of those days off.
I realize that I need to listen to my body and not push myself too hard. I have exactly 2 months until the marathon and I certainly don’t want to hurt myself.