8.14.2013

Marathon Training: The Importance of the Long Run

Build your long run. That is the central factor in any marathon training plan. If you look at a plan you will see the progressive increase of the long run to 20-22 miles. What you progress to depends on you and your training. How many 20+ mile runs you run also depends on your training. Simply stated, where you get to before the race is dependent on where you were as you started your training. But in all reality, there is no simple equation.

The long run is essential for two purposes: it trains your physical body and it trains your mind. Sometimes I feel the second is more important but perhaps it is because I can see the negative impact a "weak" mind can have on a trained body.

The Physical Training:
Running a marathon is an aerobic activity and the long run helps improve your running economy, or your oxygen consumption relative to weight and speed. Your body is going through physical changes that includes modifying the number, size, and distribution of mitochondria (the aerobic machines in your muscles), increasing oxidative enzyme activity, and increasing blood flow to your muscles. What may surprise you is that these essential adaptations happen at a slower conversational running pace which is why it is stressed that your long runs be slow. Don't get me wrong, these adaptations can also be happening in other training runs too but each run has a purpose. The long run is also essential in learning how to fuel your body and give it the extra energy it needs to go long and to perform well.

The Mental Training:
Running is an amazing thing. Some runs feel more than fantastic (gotta love runner's high) and some runs feel like dredgery. And a single run can produce both effects which is why how you handle stressors mentally can have a hugh impact on your end result. The long run can be long and depending on pace it can extend beyond 3 hours. A lot can go through your mind during that. A lot can happen. This is your chance to practice your mantras and find away to overcome a weak mind and to identify when it is a weak mind or something bigger going on. That can be tricky since sometimes that "my legs are so tired/achy I want to quit" feeling means nothing and sometimes it may be a warning of an injury brewing.

The 20-mile "fail":
Reading the idea behind the long run is all fine and dandy but come on, don't we all want real life experieces? Honestly, for me I know why I need to run long but sometimes it just doesn't work out the way I hope and I find it nice to read how others battle this. It helps me in a couple of ways. It confirms I am not alone in this challenge and second, sometimes I pick up on some valuable learning advice. We can always learn from each other.

Last Sunday I set out to run 20 miles. I felt pretty confident I would achieve me goal. I was bummed I would be running solo as it would be really nice to run with dear hubby but circumstances in life just weren't making that option feasible. I filled up my CamelBak with VegaSport Hydrator and tucked four frozen applesauce to go in my front pocket to test this fuel on a longer run. It was working in Texas but my longest run there was just over 12 miles. This was different and I knew it.

Dear hubby and darling daughter dropped me off at my start point and we had a set meeting up point. I got my Nike+ synced and started to run only to find out within seconds my earphones were acting all wacky. The right one was breaking in and out. I tried to adjust it but was having no luck. I ran on thinking this is going to be an interesting run. At 1.64 miles it looked like my phone wasn't going into "sleep" mode and I wondered if it could take me running 20 miles fully lit up and last the whole time. I stopped that portion of my run, reloaded the Nike+ app and started off again. I even hoped that would correct the music issue but it didn't but it wasn't too bad. For the most part I just heard stuff with my left earbud. The right was quiet. It was an annoyance but a doable annoyance. I ran on and was thankful for a cooperative vest....except for the fact that those frozen applesauces were cold against my right ribs and in all reality, I should have put them in the back pocket. I could have moved them. Fortunately, the end result was only a little chafing where they were rubbing.

At the 7.91 mile mark when I was checking in with my phone on where I was it decided to end my run instead of giving me the distance covered so far. Annoying but fixable. I did a quick add up on miles and determined how far I needed to tell it I had left. And yes, I do check in on miles here and there to stick with my fueling plan. That day I was taking an applesauce every 4 miles. Each packet is 60 calories. And yes, I knew so far my pace was faster than I needed/wanted it to be and kept trying to run easy. Run slower. Keep it in check. (My splits so far were 8'38", 8'38", 8'35", 8'37", 8'45", 9'01", 9'30", 9'18" - far off from my target long run pace of 10'00").

At this point I was feeling awesome though. I knew I was a bit fast but I wasn't feeling winded or overextended. I still tried to run smart but opted to go with the flow. And I did. I also knew I was in the portion of my route that I traditionally slow down anyhow. Running through the "city" does seem to ease up my pace and I think it is just because I need to be more attentive to cars and people are everywhere! Plus soon some hills will begin to creep up in my run. Yes, my long run course starts flat and ends hilly. I knew it. I was ready. I was embracing the opportunity to train my body to be strong when things get touch. At about mile 14 I passed my end point. I knew I had to run by it and return back. This is always a mentally challenging part for me - to run by where my family is waiting for me knowing I have 6 miles to go. I would by lying if I said I was never tempted to call it quits and just go to them. Today I couldn't. I wanted 20 miles so I ran on but the hills were beginning to take their toll on me.

The heat was beginning to take its toll on me. I was drinking more often now and the applesauce didn't seem to be giving me an added kick. (My splits now were 9'18", 9'35", 9'37", 9'46", 9'35", 9'13"). I took a detour to avoid one big uphill climb only to end up on some serious rollercoaster hills that were even steeper. It was tough. I thought this road brought me back to where I was but I was getting doubtful. I looked at a map later and yes, it would have. I ended up turing back and hitting those rollercoaster hills another time. I was close to where I would have made it back to the main road with a long downhill stretch. I knew I didn't go far enough to be at 20 miles at my meeting up point. I was feeling bad. My legs were tired. My right knee was complaining a bit on the downhills. I continued drinking more and wondered how much I had left in my back. I knew there was more but it was getting lighter. There were no water fountains in this stretch.

I told myself I could run pass the meeting up point again and double back but the thing is, when I saw the sign to where I would need to turn to see my family, I turned. Did that make me weak? Was it the right thing to do? I felt it was. I was hot. I knew my pace had been too fast. I knew the applesauce alone wasn't fueling me properly. I was out of steam. I quit my 20-mile run at 18 miles. (My final splits were 10'02", 10'08", 10'06" 10'33", 10'24", 10'24").

Still today I see the success in running those 18 miles but wonder if I should have dug deeper and done the final two. Should I have just walked those final two? Am I ready for running a marathon come September 22nd? It is hard to feel confident you can run 26.2 miles when you just called it quits at 18 miles. My training cycle is wrapping up and I know I have trained hard. Was it enough? Will I achieve my goals? Am I ready?

I do have time to tackle those 20 miles again in this training cycle before entering my taper phase. I will be carrying some VegaSport Endurance gel in addition to the applesauce. I do like the applesauce and the gel is a tough taste to swallow but I can. And that 100 calorie gel probably has a little something that may have made a big diffence in my performance this past Sunday. And that is another valuable part of long runs during training - you can practice fueling and discover the flops before race day. And my gut says, with better fuel I would not have run out of steam. Did I do the right thing by quitting? Logically my mind says yes. My legs did take a beating and have been a bit cranky this past two days as they recover. I know my muscles are healing those microtears I made in them. I am getting stronger. I will dig deep. I will achieve my goals. But even in this post you can see the power one's mind can have - it waivers between confidence and doubt non-stop.

Daily Gratitude: I am thankful I ran out of steam Sunday as it taught me I do need more than applesauce!
Daily Affirmation: I am well trained for the Maui Marathon.


4 comments:

  1. Longruns don't always go as planned. I had a similar problem last week where I ran 2 miles less than I wanted to. With the heat, my body just couldn't do it anymore. I think a lot can be learned from a 'failed' run and it can be motivating for future longruns.

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    1. Good point about the weather conditions. I did fail to mention it was a hot and muggy day. :)

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  2. This is exactly WHY we do long runs - as you point out at the beginning of your post. :) You're also struggling with a totally revised eating habit, too - although eliminating dairy may have been overall good for you, you pointed out a few posts ago that it was making your relationship with (and acquisition of) food problematic.

    And honestly...even if you ran 20 miles, you'd still be wondering about hitting 26 on marathon day. Doubts are normal. Don't worry yourself over 2 miles. Trust your training, rest your body for you next hard effort, and keep moving forward. You still have some time before your race. Have faith!

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  3. Thanks for sharing this. I myself am training for a marathon and your post is just what I need to inspire me. I agree that training for marathon not only involves preparing yourself physically but also mentally. There are times when you go into a rut and lose your motivation, especially when you're running such long distances.

    Derrick Washington @ PersonalTrainingHudson.com

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