This Saturday I ran 22.4 miles. That .4 of a mile is not to be neglected, let me tell you! It was a really tough run and I thought about stopping a lot during the last 6 miles. I ran this run with Deb and Shannon and Deb yelling to "push through" is really what got me through this. I finished the run thinking that I have no idea how people run another 3.8 miles, but I'm guessing the adrenaline does really help on race day. There isn't much of a reward waiting at at the end of a 22 mile training run besides maybe some peace of mind that you just slogged through something incredibly tough and experienced something that only a small portion of the population experiences.
I started the day not knowing what distance I was going for. Last weekend I had quite a bit of knee pain and ran 11 1/2 instead of 20. It was a smart decision then and it was the only reason why I was able to run like I did last week. The problem though last week was that disjointed feeling I kept having. A quick visit to the chiropractor on Friday told me that my left hip was turned out a bit, which was probably causing some of my knee pain, the stiffness and the awful back pain I woke up with that morning. He did his thing and told me I should be better by tomorrow (Saturday), and I was! But I didn't know that until I started running.
My plan was take the first 6 miles, see how I feel and either keep on running or head back and run the second half faster than the first (negative splits). I felt pretty great at mile 6 so I kept on going until 11.2 when we got to the end of the trail and saw my coach. He kind of rolled his eyes at me because he knew the chances of seeing me were pretty high once he saw I brought a water bottle to put in his car "just in case". I checked in and had no knee pain at that point either so I made the decision to finish the run.
Thankfully the last 5 miles of the trail are mostly flat and at a gradual decline. It slowed us down a bit on the way up, but helped to keep our legs moving fast enough and cadence up on the way back. We stopped at the picnic bench when we had 6 miles left to go to drink and take in some carbs. Deb told us we were going to break the 6 miles into two 3 mile sections. When you're running on tired legs it really helps to mentally break up the sections into shorter manageable ones. At mile 3 we didn't stop though, we kept a brisk walk for about a minute and then kept going. The main reason for that was so we didn't cramp up - at that point if you stop you're probably toast. Oh, how I wanted to stop, but I'm so glad she didn't let us.
2 miles left... then 1. I was ready to walk, telling myself that my last longest distance of 18.2 miles was 4 weeks ago. Two weeks prior we ran 17.5 but the jump to 22.4 was pretty significant. I knew if I stopped I'd still be proud of myself, but I also knew I was so darn close!
At 3/4 of a mile she called out "push through it!!!" and maybe it was just her trying to boost herself too, but it worked. Shannon had gotten a blister and Deb had a couple hot spots from rocks on the trail. I luckily had nothing going on except a sore pinkie toe (which I'm used to) and just very tired legs, which we all had. When we reached the gate though it was sweet, sweet victory. I did a final sprint/hobble to it, touched it and shut off my watch, which just hit 0% battery life (talk about timing it just right!!).
Our overall pace on the trail was 11:07, which for a trail is pretty good. Trails are softer, except for when you encounter those darn rocks, but I've read that people are 10 - 20% slower on trails. We weren't that much slower, and I think that speaks to our training. It certainly is a nod to Deb, our awesome friend and pacer. I ignored my watch because GPS and pace is always off in the forest. (My watch clocked about a mile short).
I led us from about mile 12 - 17 when the miles started to get tough for me. Sometimes I need to stare ahead down the trail to focus, and I seem to focus better when I feel like I'm on my own and not watching someone directly in front of me. I don't always feel like that, but I do prefer to be in the front or side by side. This run was by feel and sometimes I felt a little panicky that I was going too slow because I certainly felt like I was dragging, but it looks like we were fine!
Running 22 miles is a big milestone for any runner. Especially for the first time. I'm not sure if I'll run this distance again before Big Sur, but I will run 18's and 20's. I think running 22 miles is more about feeling confident in your mental ability to push through the wall and keep running on tired legs. I'd like to read a bit more about how much actual benefit it is for you physically in a training cycle. Big Sur won't be about time, it'll be about finishing. I feel confident I can finish (it's still 7 months away) but I'm pretty glad I didn't sign up for a marathon this season.
I've had a great training season so far and would have never guessed I really could have made it this far. Going into Saturday with an open mind was the way to go as that's kind of how I've approached this season. I had hoped to go for the distance since June but I kept an open mind. I'm pretty stoked that I really have been able to do it! I'm humbled every step of the way, let me tell you. I have major respect for first timers that tackle these marathon training runs on their own - I am pretty sure my mental fortitude is not strong enough to push past all these walls. Having a couple people to share these runs with has made a huge difference in confidence and I will carry that forward with me.
Erin is running the Toronto Marathon in a few weeks and has been running these long runs on her own. She's someone I know can do it because she's always been a lot stronger than me. I remember when she visited me a few years ago and ran like 7 miles on the track in the rain just to keep up with training. I still can't imagine running 7 miles flat out on the track. (That's 28 laps. Ugh). Her goal is to finish the marathon, but I already know she's going to do really well; Erin has never been a quitter and she's tough. I wish that her and I could run our first marathon together, but we just couldn't work that out. So wish her luck!! Go Erin!!!