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.
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.
- 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.