This last weekend was the longest run of my marathon training. This was my “dress rehearsal,” in which I ran 22.5 miles, mostly at my intended marathon pace of 8-minute miles, with intermittent breaks at a slower pace. I have three weeks until the big day and I am officially in the “taper” portion of my training, which is a gradual lowering of my miles so that my body feels fresh by the time I enter the starting corral. I figured this would be a good time to check in about how my training has been going.
Overall things have been going pretty well, but I definitely had a couple of learning moments. Particularly, I have learned to pay attention to nutrition/hydration on my long runs and have really leaned into the benefits of a slow recovery run.
Nutrition and hydration seem like a no-brainer, but it required a bad experience for me nonetheless. Until a couple months ago, the longest run I had done was 15 miles, taking around two hours. With my little hand-held bottle of water and a gel or two I could knock these out first thing in the morning and come home for breakfast. My first attempt at 20 miles taught me that, even though I was only adding on five miles, I was playing a different game. Going out on a hot day with one bottle of water and a granola bar did not end well. I technically finished, but I could barely move my legs at the end and I spent the last two miles alternating between walking and jogging, until I got to my in-laws’ house and collapsed on the floor for over an hour, officially achieving the status of weirdest house-guest.
While this was a pretty crappy experience, I’m happy to have experienced hitting “the wall” well in advance of race day and have spent a lot of time trying to think of how to avoid it. I now make sure that I am stocked up on calories to consume during my run and have experimented with different hydration strategies, all of which have at least worked better than expecting 12 ounces of water to last three hours.
I learned to embrace recovery runs due to necessity. I was very concerned about pushing myself too far and injuring my knee, so I would sometimes take a day or two off when I was feeling extremely sore after a long run. As my weekly mileage increased, I came to a point where this was no longer feasible. I was surprised, however, that after a mile or so of slow running, my legs felt fine and upon returning my extreme soreness did not return. While it is important to listen to your body to avoid injury, I have found the recovery run to be one of the most effective training tools for high mileage training.
Now that I am only a few weeks out, it is hard to say how confident I am in my goals. I am very confident that I will finish the 26.2 miles, but I am less sure about my pace. I am, however, beginning to believe that my goal is at least physically attainable. After a few runs in the 20-mile range, all at a pace slower than my race goal, the final miles were always pretty rough. After this last run, however, I finished at (relatively) close to my goal pace and still felt like I could walk afterwards. I’m starting to think that maintaining a higher pace is better for me mentally because it gives me something to focus on.
While I am feeling a bit more confident, I can’t stop reminding myself that I still have never run 26 miles at one time. So there is a lot of mystery going into this, but I guess that is what happens when you try something for the first time! All I can do is trust in my training and focus on my pace come race day.