Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday Long Run: To the Pain

Between an insane work schedule, bad weather, and some kind of minor respiratory bug, I've had a pretty uninspiring two weeks of running. Even during the week before, when I pulled off a 19-mile long run, I'd had a week where I just didn't get my midweek garbage miles in. I say all this not to make excuses, but as constructive criticism of myself because all my failings caught up with me yesterday on the trail.

With a goal of 20 miles, I set out from Hanover Junction, taking the trail north toward York, since I'm familiar with the rest stop locations and the elevation changes along this part of the trail. I look forward to seeing the sights on more southerly parts of the trail, but a 20-mile long run is not, in my opinion, the time to explore. It seemed like my perfect running weather, low 40s and overcast. The forecast called for the sun to come out, so I had my trusty visor, but the sun never showed up.

I made a key equipment-selection mistake that I suspect contributed to my undoing. Violating a common-sense rule that every runner -- including me -- has heard over and over, I set out on my long run with two untested pieces of gear. The first was a new long-sleeve Nike running shirt, which I purchased last week. Despite the cold temperatures, I was sweating profusely within two miles. There's nothing wrong with the shirt. It's very comfortable, in fact. I just forgot who I am. I love to be cool/cold while running. I run in shorts and a tank top when the temperature is the 40s. This shirt seems considerably warmer than the cotton long-sleeve shirts I wear for (or at least the start of) my colder weather runs. This shirt will be great in December, January, February, but it just wasn't cold enough, by my standards, yesterday. I took it off just past two miles. Despite my miscalculation, I would become very glad that I had brought it.

My second mistake was a new hydration belt. I know that on a cool morning I can go 15-16 miles with the two bottles on my old Nathan hydration belt, but I thought that I shouldn't push that to 20. Though I can refill bottles at Hanover Junction, I wanted to run 10 miles to York and back, thinking this would be psychologically easier than a loop course with a break at either Hanover Junction or my car, if I parked somewhere else, and had to stop and start again. So on Friday night, I purchased a new four-bottle Nathan hydration belt. And while a differently-mapped course with a refilling stop might have been a pain, it would have been less annoying than bouncing around of the two bottles on my back and the constant re-adjusting of the fit of the belt. I'm very unhappy with this product. I'm going to elaborate further in a product review later in the week. Luckily, with the long-sleeve shirt tied around my waist, I could get the belt to fit tightly over it, so one equipment problem solved another.

(Equipment Fail. Taking the giant cat along probably wasn't smart, either.)

Still, my main challenge was that my legs just didn't feel strong yesterday. On my 19-miler two weeks ago, I stepped onto the trail and felt like the wind. Yesterday, I stepped onto the trail and felt like I was made of lead. Still, I pressed forward at my usual pace, and by mile 4 or 5, felt looser and more comfortable. I ran 10 miles north, which was my worst tactical mistake of all, which brought me just past York College but not all the way to the trailhead in downtown York.

After turning back south at King's Mill Road, I quickly began to tire. I really feel like I bonked just as badly as I did on last week's 13-miler, but since I'd run 10-miles north in my infinite wisdom, I was now doing so with 7 miles to run to get back to my car. My quads were on fire. Though the York County Heritage Rail Trail is a straight north-south course with no branches, somewhere I took a wrong turn, because at about 15 miles, I realized I was no longer in south central York County. I was in Hell.

After 16.5 miles, I started mixing in walking breaks. I ended up taking three, three-minute walking breaks spaced out a little over a mile apart. Unlike my walking breaks during the marathon, though, these seemed to help. My last walking break ended with a little over a mile to go. Running hurt, but I also knew that the more I ran, the faster this misery would be over.

With a mile to go, I saw a familiar friend ahead. But why was Pooka, our big friendly black cat, on the trail? Was I hallucinating? Had I actually died, and this was my spirit animal? That's disappointing. I would have hoped for an eagle, wolf, or some other cool animal. I think, in a weakened voice, I think I actually called out "Poooooooooka help me!" Luckily, I was the only one on this part of the trail because, of course, it was just one of the billions of other cats in the world.

Half a mile to go. A quarter mile. A tenth. In a final indignity, Garmin made me run about a tenth of a mile past Hanover Junction to get meet my goal. I collapsed on the porch of the old train station (which is now a museum and rest stop on the trail) to do my IT band stretches. With Garmin reading "20.00", I felt exhausted, but exhilarated; relieved that I'd finished, but angry at myself because I know that I could have done better these past few weeks and that the race is 6 miles longer than this brutal run. I had nothing left. Dead, but in my pain and exhaustion, more alive than I've felt in weeks.

Lessons learned/Notes:
  • No new gear on long run or race day (duh!)
  • Don't set up a course where I'm 10-miles away from my car (duh!), especially on the trail where there's not really a good way to have someone pick me up if I need it.
  • Walking the water stations during the marathon would probably be a good idea.
  • I have one more long run next week, technically supposed to be the 20-miler that I took today, before tapering. Then the taper is 12, then 8 miles in the two weekend before race day.
  • The focus from here on out really needs to be on getting good, consistent, short runs in during the middle of the week. My schedule is going to be brutal the next few weeks, but I think I need to get in three 4-6 mile runs between Monday and Thursday each week.
  • I didn't feel like my 2:45am peanut butter sandwich helped me. As much as I dislike .eating before a run, maybe I can't that much earlier than my run. I also ate one pack of Sports Beans. I think, since I prefer them to GU or Clif Bars, that I probably want to eat at least two packs during the marathon if I want them to help.
  • This is my second-longest run ever, but I feel like my 19-miler two weeks ago was definitely a better run. I could have gotten 17 or 18 today without the walk breaks, but there was no way I was getting to 19 or 20.

(The best part was when I got back to my car.)


  1. Brian, have you ever considered mixing in just a small amount of speedwork in the middle of the week? Either that or some smallish hill workouts?

    It might help you towards the end of those long runs. I know it made a huge difference for me when i started doing that.

  2. Jackalope is smart. If we knew your progression of speed work, then it would be easier to tell if the long runs are helping or hurting.

    Long runs are suppose to simulate the fatigue of the marathon-w/out running a marathon, due to the effect of week after week of continuous training-so my point is it's good that the long runs hurt so much.

  3. Thanks! I think you're right.

    I was doing my long runs in my town, and there were some huge hills along my route that I was running on my normal runs during the week, but on my long runs they were just killing me. (If I hit them at like mile 13 on, my calves would just cramp up constantly). I started doing my long runs on the flatter, but not flat, trail.

    I think I need to put those big hills back into my midweek runs -- I usually would hit them on my regular routes at runs of over 8 miles, which is more than I'm supposed to be during the week on my current plan. But yeah, I think I need to re-route my shorter routes to be a hillier. Between shorter midweek runs and long runs on the trail, I haven't hit the hills as hard as I was in the summer.

    I hate speedwork and I even picked a training plan that didn't have it, but yeah, in both future marathon training and in trying to get faster on 5K and mile times, which is going to be my focus next summer, I'm realizing that speedwork is really what I need.

  4. I'm reading this after another bout of low sodium/dehydration and severe nausea that followed my 15 mile run today. All I brought was water. (and yes I did refill) All I ate was my usual oatmeal/whey protein breakfast and a salt packet. I paced almost exactly what you paced (with the only walking being while I was drinking and without stopping my garmin when i was refilling my water) but I didn't feel like complete #$%! until I got home. Oh, and I don't like my hydration belt either. I may rely entirely on the hydration stops at the marathon.

  5. @Danny -- that's the unfortunate point. No speedwork in Higdon's Novice 2 plan. I don't enjoy speedwork, but I agree I need to add at least once a week when I train for the my next (and probably only of 2012) marathon in March.

    @Val, have you tried mixing water and gatorade 50/50, or one bottle of each and alternating drinks? I've got 99 problems but low sodium/dehydration isn't one.

    Philly has a decent number of water stops, I'll still probably carry my usual 2-bottle belt (which I like) so I can drink whenever I want and because it has bungees to hold my jacket.

  6. I have gatorade powder at home- two kinds! And I have a lovely boardwalk stretch where I could leave a big ass bottle of gatorade for refilling, if I wish... Not to mention, I always carry $3 with me and my route has hmmm... 4 different places that sell gatorade year round all of which I passed anywhere from 2-4 times! I know better. I was just dumb today. The kicker about low sodium is that your body fools you- I had to pee pretty badly for the last 4 miles of this run. Enough water doesn't mean enough salt. Duh.

    ...But I dressed appropriately!!! I always follow the 20 degrees rule. Current temp + 20 degrees = what you should dress for. Today that total was 80. A tank or tech tee and shorts were totally acceptable... It always works! Try it! It won't fail you...

  7. I still think you need to consume more calories DURING your run, about 200 calories/hour is going to keep you glycogen levels up during the 26.2 maybe 4-5 packs of Sport Beans, if that's what you prefer. I'd try to eat your "breakfast" about 2 hours before the run, not at 2:45am. I know you have problems eating before you run, but you need that fuel.

    Sorry the run didn't go better....funny, I've been lost in Hell, too...we should meet there for coffee next time :).