20 Mile Redemption Run.

I can’t even begin to tell you how tired I am of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before my long runs.  Seriously, my stomach turns at the thought of them.  But since I know they are my best pre-race meal, I sucked it up and ate one anyways.

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Sunday morning was my very LAST long run of my Marine Corps Marathon training plan – 20 long miles.  I woke up bright and early, excited for the run, and thinking of all my friends running 26.2 up in Chicago. 

In case you are new to my story, I actually ran the Chicago Marathon myself back in 2008.  It was my 2nd marathon, and quite possibly the worst run of my life, as temps soared near 90 degrees and I was violently ill for days after running in such harsh conditions.  While I know it is a great marathon, I still cringe a little at the mere mention of that race.  Even so, I was really excited (and a little nervous) for all my blogging friends who were up there running.  I pulled out my 2008 shirt, and hoped that my 20 miler would be a much bigger success than my Chicago race. 

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Coming off of last week’s great 18 mile run, I wanted to make sure I was adequately fueled going into this week’s long mileage.  We were out of all our running fuel and hydration at home, so I had to make an emergency gas station stop.

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Since I was out of Gus and gels, I had to improvise with candy.  I ended up grabbing some Starburst, which turned out to be awesome! I loved that they were individually wrapped so that I could just put a few loose ones in my change pocket.  Definitely considering carrying a few with me on marathon day.

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Instead of just running straight out my front door, I had Casey drive me up to Gravelly Point so that I could meet my fannetastic running partner!

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Anne was in town this weekend for her high school reunion, and she was nice enough to offer to join me for the first 6 miles of my run.  I had a mini-breakdown in the car ride up to the trail when I realized that I had left my Garmin watch at home.  Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but I was really hoping for one last confidence-boosting run going into my marathon, and now I wouldn’t have any idea of my pace or time.  But with my partner waiting for me, I knew I needed to suck it up and run unplugged – life goes on, and people run without Garmins all the time.

I met up with Anne and we headed north on the trail along the beautiful water across from the city…

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Being able to break my run into small milestones made it so much easier.  I never thought of it as 20 miles – instead I just focused on each leg individually.  This first leg with Anne flew by, and we covered 6 miles in an average of 9:06 pace.  (Thankfully Anne had her Garmin so I knew how far and fast I had gone so far.)

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It was absolutely gorgeous weather – sunny with a cool breeze, and just like last week, I could tell it was going to be a great run.  (Thanks to Anne for the pictures!)

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Our 6 miles went by way too fast, and before I knew it we were saying goodbye and I was heading south to cover the 5.5 miles back to my house.  No Garmin, no pace predictions – just me and my two legs, and a few Starburst in my pocket.  The first mile or two felt sluggish and off.  I hated not knowing my pace, and it was hard to get going running alone after having a partner for the first 6 miles.  But I got into a groove, and before I knew it I was back at my house with 12 miles under my belt.

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I grabbed my phone and checked for text updates on my Chicago girls, who all looked to be doing well.  I grabbed my Garmin and another Gatorade, and headed back out the door for 8 more miles.

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For this run I was lucky enough to have not one, but TWO amazing running partners.  Lisa and I had dinner on Friday night, and when I mentioned I was running 20 miles on Sunday morning, she graciously offered to join me and help me get through the last few miles.  Knowing she was waiting for me was awesome, because it motivated me to get out the door quickly and not take too long of a break.

I headed south on the trail, still feeling great, and found her 2 miles later.  The two of us ran together for 2 more miles, before we stopped because Lisa had only planned to run four.  I knew that if I turned back with her, my mileage home would be short and I would have to make it up in my neighborhood.  I was trying to avoid that because I knew if I ran back towards my house it would be soooo tempting to cut it short and head home.  Wonderful Lisa offered to take a break and stop and stretch, so that I could run one more mile out and back, and then rejoin her for the last few. 

I took off for mile 16 by myself, and discovered that my next mile was almost straight up hill.  There was a little more walking than I am proud of, but sometimes it just has to happen.  At mile 17, I rejoined Lisa and we ran to mile 18.5 together.  At that point we said our goodbyes, and I headed home a little over one short mile on my own.  That last mile was paaaaainful – my legs felt SO heavy and I had horrible chafing and bleeding on my thighs.  But the physical pain couldn’t possibly outweigh how great I felt inside.  TWENTY miles later, I arrived on my doorstep beaming with pride, and bursting with excitement.

The very first thing I did when I walked in the door was grab my phone to check for my Chicago Marathon updates – everyone seemed to still be doing really well!  It’s funny how much nervous energy I had for them, even though I wasn’t the one running a marathon!

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After twenty long, but – dare I say it? – FUN miles, I was ready to celebrate my victory. 

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Running with partners and focusing on small mileage goals made this run SO much easier.  Here’s how it all broke down…

  • Miles 1-6:  north end of the trail with Anne
  • Miles 6 – 12:  by myself heading back to my house
  • Miles 12 – 14:  south on the trail to meet Lisa
  • Mile 14 – 15:  ran and chatted with Lisa
  • Miles 15 – 17:  by myself up a huge hill
  • Miles 17 – 18.5:  back with Lisa who did a great job distracting me
  • Miles 18.5 – 20:  final glorious miles heading home!

Having done my fair share of long training runs though the years, I knew that the best way to recover after a lot of miles is, believe it or not, to keep your legs moving.  I leashed up the dogs and we walked them for about a mile, stopping at a gas station on our way home to grab two big bags of ICE.

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It took training for marathon number SIX to do it, but I finally braved my first ice bath.  I took Jen’s advice, and started IN the water – allowing my body to at least get used to cold faucet water while the tub filled up. 

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Once it was full, Casey dumped both the bags of ice in and WOW – it was cold.  But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.  I think it really helped to start in the water, instead if plunging straight into the ice.  I moved my legs around to keep the water flowing and keep my blood moving through my veins.  I stayed in for about 10 minutes and then jumped out into the hot shower.

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After last week’s great 18 mile run on my own, and this week’s solid 20 miles with friends, I am feeling totally confident and ready to run a marathon in three weeks.  It’s funny, having run two back-to-back marathons with poor training, I am finally remembering what it feels like to train properly and feel prepared. 

I am so totally in love with distance running again.  I’ve heard people brag about running marathons without training for them, and honestly, I think the folks who do that are 1. insane, and 2. really missing out on what marathoning is all about.  So much of running marathons is the training:  planning the runs, learning to fuel, finding your limits, and reaching new mileage goals week by week.  To me, the marathon itself is really more like an after-party – a celebration of months and months of hard work and dedication.

Can’t wait to celebrate on Halloween Day!  For now, I’m celebrating a successful 20 mile run, and planning to go face down in some leftover harvest root vegetable pie for dinner.

P.S.  Voting for Project Food Blog Challenge #4 is now OPEN!  :)