October 4, 2010

Drain the Pressure

"Drain the pressure from the swelling,
This sensation's overwhelming.
Give me a long kiss goodnight
and everything will be alright,
Tell me that I won't feel a thing ...." 
~ Green Day, Give me Novacaine

The thought of running 20 miles is still somewhat foreign to me. What did you do today Vera? I had a 20-mile training run this morning. Say what? I ran 20 miles. Did you say 20? Yep.  Articulating the act of doing it doesn't exactly flow right off the tongue either. A relatively new runner training for her first half marathon asked me yesterday "how does it feel to run 20 miles". A year ago, I would said it was one of the most physically difficult and mentally challenging thing I'd ever tried. Now I know that distance doesn't necessarily correlate with either of those! Given ideal running conditions - lower temps, no wind, low humidity, proper fueling/hydration in the days leading up to and during the run - it feels awesome when you run in a good frame of mind. A little flexibility doesn't hurt either.

2010 Disneyworld Marathon
Finishing yesterday's 20 miler was, without a doubt, a much needed pressure drain for me. Including the full marathon I ran at the beginning of this year, this is only the 5th time I have run 19+ miles in a day. Not a lot, but in terms of experience points, I rank yesterday as the 2nd most successful of these. Nothing will ever compare to finishing my first marathon, which is what I consider to be #1 among my long distance success stories. The 20-mile training run is a major milestone in many marathon training programs, especially programs for beginners when your goal is to finish (without a particular time goal). For beginners, the 20-miler is the final long run before the tapering period starts. Why? Because the remaining 6 miles are pretty much in your head. Meaning, if you can run 20 miles and your goal is to finish, covering those last miles aren't as much physically demanding as they are mentally demanding (provided you have been hydrating and fueling properly before and during the run). If you believe you can do it, you will. Put faith in your training. You're used to being on your feet for several hours now and because of all the distance and endurance training, you've increased your muscle glycogen stores (how sugar [glucose] is stored in your muscle which is your body's major source of fuel during endurance events) and your liver is better at making glucose too - important for keeping your blood glucose within normal parameters.  In general, the human body (with the exception of highly trained endurance athletes) has enough energy stored to fuel you for 20 miles. Studies have shown that this distance may increase with carbohydrate-loading in the week prior to the race.  Without proper fuel intake, your glycogen stores will be depleted by mile 20. This is the culprit of "hitting the wall". The point at which you cannot take another step. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is nothing to play around with.
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Now that I've got several of these longer runs under my belt, I've got a fueling and hydration plan that works well for me. I do start to increase my carb and overall daily caloric intake for about a week before a planned 20+ mile run. I consume about 25 grams of carbs every 60 minutes or so between something edible like Sports Beans or Shot Blocks, and Accelerade. I also carry about 20 oz of water to wash down the edibles, otherwise they sit in my stomach like a big glob of condensed sugar. Not only does this slow digestion of the sugar needed to maintain normal blood glucose levels, it gives me terrible stomach cramps. I have to space out ingestion of edibles with Accelerade swigs because that also has carbs in it. Double G.I. whammy.

Admittedly, I am somewhat nervous the night before these 20+ milers. For me, it's mostly mental. I'm at the point in my training schedule where my weekly mileage is at it's peak. A little over 31 miles last week, culminating with 35 miles this week before the 3-week taper begins. Saturday night thoughts in my head included "My IT band has been saying hello this week. What if I'm doing too much? What if I get 10 miles away from the car and I tank? What if I have a terrible run? What if, what if, what if".  It's the significance that I place on hitting 20 miles that puts my brain in a negative frenzy. In that moment, I was actually less concerned about running 26.2 than I was about running 20!

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When I started out yesterday, my legs were telling me they were tired. I know I'm still recovering from a month of high intensity workouts, including the half marathon PR over Labor Day weekend, and an unexpected doubling of miles covered the week I was walking with Mom (a week originally planned as a recovery week). It took me a good 5 miles before I was feeling in the groove, but I did start to feel like I wanted to slow down a little. What the heck am I worried about time for? This is about endurance and reminding my body what it feels like to be on my feet for hours at a time. So, for the first time, I stopped worrying about my pace and changed my strategy. I wanted to run a 20-miler feeling strong and relaxed without any pressure whatsoever. "Just let it go" I told myself. "You've got a 23-miler next weekend to stay strong for". I made an agreement with myself that if I wanted to end this one with a little pace increase, I'll go for it. But whatever. This is what I'm talking about from the perspective of dealing with the mental demands of these long runs. I can't let the internal pressure consume me because it will drain my energy and my spirit.

My mom has 2 sayings in hanging in her house that I'm thinking of sneaking out with the next time I'm up there and they fit in perfectly here. 1) Life is all about how you handle Plan B; 2) Now is all you have.  As these relate to running, I wouldn't change any part of them. In handling my Plan B for the "now" that was yesterday's long run, deciding to go with what my body wanted to do and letting go of the internal/mental pressure I was succumbing to early on, I finished on a high note, without feeling completely spent. Definitely a first in that department. And even though I swapped being mentally consumed by self-imposed performance pressure for complete relaxation and enjoyment, I still hit my target pace. A grand success indeed!

Five Saturdays to race day.....


Andrew Opala said...

Super informative post!

... I wish you a wonderful success in these longer runs and on race day!

G. E. Anderson --- said...

Awesome post, Vera! I learned something that will help me as I start to ramp up to longer distances in the coming months.

Johann said...

Lovely post! The main thing is to forget about pace and time. Concentrate on distance only. Luckily all of this becomes easier and easier over time until you feel “it’s only a 20 miler”. I think you are close to reaching this point. Good luck for the next few weeks!