Marathon prep: The last long run

Ok, I admit it. I was nervous. One of the benchmarks of marathon training is the 20-mile run and Sunday was the last long run on my training schedule. When did that happen? When did the Wineglass Marathon become just two weeks away? A chorus of, “but I’m not ready” started to hum in my brain as I filled up my water bottles and opened multiple packages of Honey Stinger waffles. This was the capstone in my last big week of training. I wanted it to be good.

The weather was perfect with clear skies and temperatures in the 50s. My route had some hills to it, but nothing crazy, in line with the Wineglass route which overall is a negative elevation with a few short rolling hills in for good measure. I took off and tried to keep myself in check. The only “goal” for this run was to run 20 miles — there was no pace expectation. Additionally, I practiced my race-day nutrition and hydration, following the Wineglass map which indicates that there are water stops every two miles. Since I plan to take a sip at each and every one, I replicated the same on my run.

As per usual, the first 10 miles were pretty nice. I felt good. A little tired, but good. I noticed my mind started to worry about the second 10 miles. Last time, those were hard. Really hard. But I forced myself to focus. And frankly the mental game was harder than the actually running on this day. I took in a deep breath and looked at the beautiful day, the clear sky, the bright sun, the start of fall colors on the country route. I had the song “I Gotta Feeling” on an loop in my brain, thanks in large part to the Lancaster High School Band who played it about 20 times during the Buffalo State football game I covered the previous day. And when all else failed, I counted. Yep. Counted. I looked ahead, focused on my breathing and counted to 10 with each number correlating to an exhale. To my surprise, this is the technique that worked the best on my 20-miler, the one which stopped the negative thoughts and worry about the future and let me just be in the moment.

After a short break at 10 miles to use the bathroom and refill my water bottles, I was off for the second half my run. I was halfway done, halfway done!, I told myself. Why would I want to stop now? I started to get bored around mile 14 likely a result of (a) running by myself and (b) that there was a home Buffalo Bills game and no one else was out running or biking. By mile 16 the running was getting tough, so I reverted to my own makeshift version of the Jeff Galloway marathon training program by taking a walk-break every  half mile. When I hit half a mile, I walked 0.05 (as per my Garmin measurements). It was brief, but broke up the run for me, physically and mentally, and in the final numbers crunch did not cost me any extra time. In fact, it helped me stay on pace and get a little faster when I was getting tired. This, I thought, was good.

In the final analysis, I felt like I had run 20 miles, but overall, my body was OK with minor problems of chaffing and a weird dead skin/blister combo on my left pinky toe. Mark and I went out for a late breakfast where I refueled with apple pancakes and chocolate milk. But the best thing about this long run was the final boost to my confidence. I have now completed three 20-milers in this round of training (OK, one was technically 19.5), far more mileage than I had before running the Buffalo Marathon two years ago. But it’s not just the endurance and the pace which has me feeling confident, it’s the knowledge that I really can do whatever it is I decide I want.

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