Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Unsolicited Advice for the First Time Marathoner (4)

So, it's the week of The First 20 Miler of your Training Plan.  No worries right?  You ran 18 last week, and you're cool as a cucumber.

Wait, you're NOT cool as a cucumber?  Well why the heck not?  It's only 20 miles...

Obviously, no one in their right mind uses the word "only" in front of "20 miles".  I'm all about the idea that you need to Respect The Distance, and your first 20 is actually the hardest thing you will ever do marathon training.  Much harder than a marathon, I promise.

So here's what I want to mention today.... no matter how the 20 miler goes (or if it was last weekend, no matter how it went), it doesn't make a lick of difference on race day, as long as you completed the 20 miles (or darned near....).

Maybe it was, or will be, the greatest running moment in your life and you finished with a smile on your face, your hands in the air and a spring in your step.  Congratulations, you are in the 1% of the population who has had that experience.  Go pat yourself on the back, take an ice bath and skip the rest of this blog post.

Or, maybe it will be like my first 20 miler.  Here, let me take you back.  It's October, in Central VA.  This could mean 30 degrees with icy patches, or it could mean mid 80's with high humidity.  lucky me, after a two week cool down, my first 20 was on that 80 degree day.  I was carrying water, I had a route planned, and I was with my exit buddy.  We were together and this was like, totally, going to be IT.  We were prepared, and had had a fantastic 18 miler the week prior.... flash forward 3 hours to us shuffling along side a road, nearly out of liquids, sun blazing down on our salt crusted bodies.  I seriously considered laying down in the dirt and taking a dirt nap before finishing the run.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done.  Every fifty meters or so, my feet would slow their shuffle until I was walking.... walk for a minute.... drink... a few drops because I was going to run out on the next sip... pick it up, "run" for a bit.... feel my feet slowing... damn, I'm walking again.  And the cycle repeated until I stumbled blindly to the end of the 20 miles, wishing that I was dead and convinced that if my life depended on running another 10K that I. would. never. make it.

I was ready to walk away from 2.5 months of marathon training because I would NEVER make it.

Only guess what happened next?

I had a stellar run on my drop back week.  I mean, like the easiest twelve miles EVER.  And I started to wonder where I had "gone wrong" in my 20.  I examined my food diary, and nixed the previous day's menu from my diet.  I considered my sleep habits, and went to bed early for a week.  I fueled my body with H2O.  And I called on every runner I knew to see if they would take a "leg" of my 20 mile run so that me & T would have company.  I also came to understand that I finished my first 20 because I made myself do it.

When the next 20 came around, I was a nervous wreck, and, of all things, I was running a low grade fever.  Still, I sucked it up and started the run.  It was hairy, oh sure.  It had a few touchy moments (like remember when T lost her panties on Gayton Road?), but...  at mile 20 we were a half mile from the start point, and I had no intention or reason to stop and walk.  I was mentally able to push to the finish.

My first 2 twenty milers were the two hardest runs in my life.

My first marathon was not defined by either of those 20 mile runs.  On race day I brought a valuable lesson to the start line.  I had learned on those 20's to understand the difference between wanting to lay down in the dirt on the side of the road, and having to lay down in the dirt on the side of the road.

And they are Two. Different. Things.

(by the way, that "low grade fever"?  Turned out to be Swine Flu.)  

got an idea?  got something you're dying to know?  got a TMI issue you don't know how to answer? please leave it in a comment.


Courtney @ I CAN DO THIS said...

Really good post!
I had a panic attack at mile 14 of my 20 miler because I couldn't breathe. The coaches wanted me to get in the car, but I didn't want to quit. They said that I was ready - I could still run a great marathon, even if I didn't finish that 20 miler. It was the first time I realized that I could do it.

Once you get to your 20 miler, you're there. If you've put in your training miles, you are GOING to run a marathon!

PS: When I ran my marathon, I printed out your marathon race recap and read it in the car on the way to Orlando. lol

Jen said...

Great post. My first 20 sucked too. I had a 10 mile loop that I did twice. Even had Bob meet me out for the last 10... it sucked. I walked a lot... but it WAS worse than the marathon. Yay... and it is funny that I joke, I only have 14 this weekend... must be training for a marathon, right?

Pam said...

I'm afraid we're going to need more details on this "T losing her panties" thing.

bobbi said...

I love this series of posts - awesome.

I was more nervous for my 20-miler than for the actual marathon. Mostly because I was coming off of an injury and had only run as far as a half marathon to date. It started out great, but I was running with someone who was going too fast for me. At mile 12 I was super tired, and the skies opene dup and we had to deal with thunder and lightneing and pouring rain. My ipod died at mile 14.5 or so, and the last 5 miles were a death march. But. But I FINISHED. And I knew that I could finish the marathon too.

(I also want to know about T's panties!)

fancy nancy said...

I completely agree with you!! My first 20 miler was a complete flop!!! Ended up with a huge stomach issue that ended up to be a panic attack! The second went much better. I love your differentiation between having to lay on the side of the road and being good! I thought about ditching the whole thing too but I had gone too far!

Julie said...

I was so nervous about my first 20 miler because my first 18 miler SUCKED SO INCREDIBLY BAD.

The 20, two weeks later, was one of the best runs of my life.

You never know what is going to affect you one run to the next sometimes. That's why when I have a bad run these days, I try to just shelve it and realize that it was "just one run".

Katie said...

Love it!! Did you read my post from yesterday? Because I feel like you are talking to me!!! I had my second 20 miler on Sunday and it was the worst!! I wanted to cry the last several miles and was convinced that if I felt like that during the marathon, that i would have to crawl the last 6 miles!

Meredith said...

Well, crap. So, what you're saying is that I shouldn't be looking forward to my 20 miler with glee? That to look at is as a birthday present to myself is ludicrous? Seriously, it's the day after my birthday and I thought it sounded like a great way to celebrate. Ever the optimistic one...

Meredith said...

Yeah. The optimistic one had a wonderfully sucktastic 20! Thank you for posting this, it sounded just like my run. Looking forward to just 16 this weekend :) A cut back week and then tackling 22. Seriously, thank you!!