Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Long Run: Brian Runs 19 Miles and Encounters the Wall

I felt it as soon as I took my first step -- an electricity that seemed to rise up from the trail itself, burning away my doubts. This run could be amazing.

After painful calf cramping on my last two long runs, and a week where I generally ignored my midweek running -- I limited myself to four miles on Tuesday not out of laziness but due to exhaustion from one of the busiest and most stressful work weeks I've had in the last five years -- I had been extremely doubtful that I could run the 19 miles that Hal Higdon had ordered me to run this weekend.

I'd driven south the Hanover Junction access point on the York County Heritage Rail Trail, knowing that I needed to choose a less hilly setting to have any chance at reaching my goal, but I was not optimistic until that moment when I stepped out on the trail. I felt light. I felt fast. I was Kenyan. An extremely slow, pale Kenyan, but a Kenyan nonetheless.

My plan was to turn around at mile 5, refill my bottles at Hanover Junction, and then head south 4.5 miles and back. However, I felt so good at mile 5 that I kept right on going. I contemplated going all the way to the trail head at York, but a quick assessment of my water and Gatorade supply made me think that was a bad idea. So, I turned around after about 8.2 miles.

I started to struggle a bit at about mile 15, but after a refilling stop at Hanover Junction, with 16.4 miles under my belt, I felt I could run a bit farther south and turn around to bring me back to my starting point with 20-mile mark. But then, I met an old friend from Shamrock: The Wall. I crashed pretty hard at just under 18 miles. I turned around and struggled northward and stopped at 19. I was sore but not injured, but my legs just couldn't go one more step and I felt like I would be risking injury to press on in pursuit of a (in this case) meaningless mile.

So, I probably fell a little short of the "amazing" I felt I could achieve at the beginning of this run. I'd have loved 20 and it would have been a huge confidence boost (probably to the point that I'd be unbearably cocky and everyone would hate me), but this was my second-farthest run ever, and I'm really happy with it. I think the cool conditions at the start made it a pretty good simulation of the marathon, and I think I repeated a key tactical mistake that I also made at the Shamrock Marathon.

A few brief lessons learned/confirmed:
  • Try harder to put the "S" in LSD -- I ended up at 19 miles in 3:19:36, putting me at a 10:28 pace, which is not far off my usual long run pace. As slowly as I was shuffling those last 2-3 miles, this means I was probably going way too fast somewhere along the route. I don't think my lame-o Garmin keeps accurate speed on the trail, but I have to do a better job of making sure I feel like I'm going slow. This was my undoing at Shamrock, too.
  • More midweek miles are needed -- I didn't really hit the wall until mile 22 at Shamrock. I think more midweek runs, including back-to-back days, which are not my SOP when not on a training plan, gave me more endurance even though my longest pre-race training run was 18 miles.
  • That Reebok visor I bought in the summer? Awesome. This seems like it was the first really sunny long run day in at least a month. It warmed up toward the end of the run (It was in the low 50s when I started, but was probably around 65 by the end), but this was the sunny, cool dry run where I think the visor is perfect. I definitely need to bring it to Philly.
  • EAT BEFORE YOU RUN 19 MILES, IDIOT. I hate feeling "full" when I run, but the 3:00am peanut-butter sandwich would have probably helped me get that last mile in.
  • There's no such thing as too much BodyGlide.
  • When starting from Hanover Junction, there's more shade running north toward York. If I do other long runs on the trail, and I plan to, I might get a belt with more water bottles, so that I can run all the way to the end of the trail and back without running out of fluids.
Overall, it was one of my best runs ever, and I'm glad I got to enjoy this gorgeous day. Of course, I'm also going to enjoy my step-back week next weekend.


  1. No mention of seeing your wife on the trail? For shame!

  2. I thought I might have been hallucinating. :-)

  3. My personal mantra, and it has helped me improve quite a bit, is to either go EASY or HARD, no in between. On long runs, if I don't feel like it's an absolute breeze, I slow down. On hard days, I make it rough on myself. The in-between workouts I used to do just wasted my time it seemed like.

    And I think you're right, the fuel issue probably did you in. Another advantage of going slow is that you don't have to sweat your food intake unless you have a really touchy stomach. When I go slow it's not unusual to eat a PBJ one second before I go out the door. That's a personal preference OBV.

  4. totally blaming this wall on not eating before the run!

  5. I have to agree with Amanda - that, and going a bit too fast. I'd also consume about 100-200 calories/hour on the long run, and not just with Gatorade.. will definitely help to not hit the wall. I like to put on my plan a LSD one week then the following week a shorter run but with some marathon pace work in there, or even 1/2 marathon pace work, and keep that run about mid-distance. Then the body recovers better between those long runs which zap your energy.

    Nice job on one of your better runs ever though...hope it's a big boost for you! :)