When I signed up for the marathon and wrote down my training plan, I put three stars next to the big 20 mile training run. It’s like the run was a big neon sign blinking in the country that was just impossible to ignore. I was looking forward to it, because it’s farther than I’d ever run before, yet I couldn’t shake the anxious feeling I had about it at same time. For many first time marathoners, like myself, the 20 mile run is the last long run before the race. It almost feels like a right of passage in itself. I wanted and needed this run to go well so I would have enough confidence come race day.
All the advice I had read on running your last big training run was to make it a "dress rehearsal" for the race. I followed this advice and I think I have a good plan for marathon success.
My pre-race dinner was a hearty portion of pasta with a light olive oil sauce. It had some veggies for extra nutrients and scallops for protein.
I also had a big serving of frozen yogurt and toppings. This has become a pre-long run tradition for me. I'm convinced it's just the magic food that my body needs to get through a run the next day. Or maybe I just want a really good excuse for my favorite treat...
Sunday morning I woke up early and had my traditional plain bagel, peanut butter and banana. My food plan worked perfectly. I had enough energy, but didn’t feel weighed down by eating too much. So, I will recreate these meals before the marathon.
I got to the park just as the sun was starting to come up. I have really grown to love running while the sun is rising. There is something inspirational about that quiet time of the day.
I walked a couple of minutes to warm up and then I stretched. I felt a little anxiety starting the run because I knew this run was going to challenge me physically and mentally. I actually found myself stalling for a few minutes. I played with my shoes and fuel belt to make sure everything was comfortable. Those first steps were hard, but once I started, I quickly fell into a groove. I knew if I was smart about this run, I could do it.
My legs felt very fast at the start of the run and I had to catch myself and slow down. This was probably because I had done an 8 and 13 mile run at my marathon goal pace over the last two weeks. This run was not about speed though. It's about endurance and getting your body used to moving for a LONG time. Over the miles, I started pacing my run evenly. I followed my plan to walk for one minute and drink water every mile (to simulate the water stops along the marathon course) and take an energy gu every 4 miles. I decided to mentally break up the run into four five mile runs. That seemed much more attainable to me than 20 miles.
Around mile 5 my hips started to feel sore and stiff again, much like on my 18 miler. I said a little prayer that it was not an injury and just kept running. My gut told me that it was fine and it's normal to be sore at the end of marathon training. Luckily my body seemed to hold out and it was just a little soreness. I finished the first 10 miles in under 2 hours. My goal was to hold my pace and speed up in the second half if possible. By mile 18 I started to get a feel of the mental game of running. My body really wanted to slow down and even stop, but I knew that this was what I was training for and I just needed to keep the legs moving. I focused and it worked! I finished my last mile at one of my fastest paces of the run.
Proof I ran 20 miles!
My GPS watch bell rang at the 20 mile marker and I smiled and slowed down. My goal was to finish in under 4 hours and stopped at just after 3:55. I kept walking for awhile and chugged some G2 Gatorade to get my heart rate down. I finally sat down next to my car and couldn't believe I was done. The hardest part of my marathon training was over.
Hey guess what?
I ran 20 miles and I’m still smilin’
Now it's time to "taper." In running that means you scale back your training for the weeks leading up to the marathon so you can have fresh legs at the race. I found some physical therapy exercises online that are designed to help stiff hips. I'm hopeful that reduced running, lots of yoga, and those exercises will reduce the hip soreness during the marathon.
I'm not going to lie, running 20 miles is not easy. It was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, but there is a certain level of pride and happiness that comes with doing something so challenging. I’m so happy that the run went well enough to give me some confidence going into the marathon.
But much like this 20 mile run, I don't expect the marathon to be easy, but I do expect all of my hard work to be worth it when I cross that finish line. Chicago Marathon, ready or not, something Wunderful is coming your way 🙂