This weekend I ran the longest long run of the cycle – 31 miles. Sometimes people ask why you would top out at that distance when the actual run is 50 miles – wouldn’t it make more sense to go further? Well, yes and no. Yes, because you would have more experience with the distance and presumably be able to mentally handle the big day better. But no, because the general thought is that the amount of effort it takes to cover that many miles beats your body up pretty badly and at some point you do more harm than good when it comes to prepping for race day. Your body uses an enormous amount of energy to run that long, depleting the tank, and many micro tears occur in your muscles (don’t worry, they are perfectly normal and even happen in everyday life – but this is stepped up a notch or two). It would be one thing to run that far and then spend a few weeks recovering. That is not what happens in this scenario, though. Instead you have to walk the fine line between preparing your body for 50 by continuing to train for another month and going overboard and preventing it from being recovered by the time of the race. Folks smarter than I think that running a 50k (31 miles) is where that line is for a 50-miler so I happily accepted that and got ready for a very long training day.
By getting ready for the big day, I mean that I spent the week leading up to the run doing my best impression of a whirling dervish. When I originally planned the 50 mi, the date was going to be the first week of Feb. But after consulting Sherry and settling on Florida for the location, logistics called for the date to be shifted a week sooner, which meant that the training had to be shifted, which meant the 31 miler would now take place 2 days after Christmas. Perfect timing! NOT.
I am a Christmas procrastinator, which translates into lots of last minute shopping and baking like my life depended on it. In the week leading up to the run, I baked 4 kinds of cookies, a pie and 2 cakes. I shopped and wrapped, I wrangled two rabbits (we watched Laur’s Lola this week, who was an absolute sweetheart. Keebs on the other hand – well, let’s just say that even though he is old and rickety he was very concerned with everyone knowing he was the king of the castle), ate an enormous number of cookies and enjoyed lots of fun social times.
Come Friday night, though, I was fried. I had two meltdowns, one with GD and one with Laur, that mimicked almost exactly what you would see with a toddler. I was just plain tired and nervous and worried about the run. I have done this distance before, so I knew it was possible, but I had not done with a lack of sleep and general lack of preparation. The night before a long run I usually reserve for a quiet night in, when I set out my nutrition, monitor the weather, get Garmy charged, fill up the Shuffle, eat a good meal and get to bed early. This year, there happened to be a party that I really wanted to go to – one that I had volunteered to bake a cake for and that was about an hours drive away.
I did my best to drink enough water through the day but I definitely did not stay off my feet, I hastily hooked up Piper (oh, news alert, I got a new Garmy!! My bff Garmy’s battery can’t quite hang with the miles so for a Christmas present to myself, I grabbed a purple Garmin Forerunner 220 and tried her out on this run. Bottom line: IN LOVE but kinda feel like I am cheating on Garmy), I added whatever I could manage to the Shuffle and headed out the door. I came home after the party and tried to decompress but I was so worked up it was hopeless. I woke up the next morning feeling nothing but dread.
My body felt tired and creaky and maybe like it was getting sick. I tried to focus but it was not happening. The only two things I had going for me were: 1. Lil Sis was being relentlessly positive and encouraging through conversations and texts and 2. The day was perfect – it was the most ideal weather for running no matter the day, but especially in December and especially on a training cycle that has been dotted with dreary, rainy, windy days. Saturday dawned bright and clear – upper 40s-low 50s and barely a hint of wind. It was incredible.
I started my run and within a mile thought, “huh, this might be ok”. From there on out, I figured that every mile I got that was a good one would reduce the number that would inevitably be torturous. But you know what? The bad miles never came!! Unexpectedly, inconceivably, some way some how, this turned into one of the best runs of the cycle. When Piper hit 30 miles, I cried because it was then undeniable that there would be no bad miles! 31 came and though I felt the kind of pain that naturally comes with those miles in my shape, I was triumphant! One of Lil Sis’ last texts that morning read, “You got this. Go run the f$#& out of those 31 miles!”. I hit stop on Piper and yelled, “I ran the f$#% out of that!” It was a sweet moment that only got better when I opened my phone and saw messages of encouragement from friends. Turns out, Lil Sis rallied the troops to tell them I was having a rough go of it and she asked them to text me cheers. Already an emotional live wire, I sobbed for a few minutes with happiness and relief, relieving the pressure that had built up over the last week thinking about this day and feeling grateful to my friends for helping me through it (I am pretty sure text ESP must have played a role). Oh, long runs, how I love thee.
When I was telling people about my plans, some of the same questions came up over and over so I thought I would answer them here, in case you too are wondering about them! It’s also a handy way for me to refer back to this run when planning future ones.
Where did you run?
I ran a loop course that started and ended in Seaville. I did not have time to create a new one so I used the same one I did on the last training cycle. I had not run this area in some time so it felt really fresh and fun! It went like this:
What do you think about?
I did the run in 5 hrs and 12 minutes so the short answer is everything, lol. Specifically, I thought about wildlife (lots of good sightings that day – a bat, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, all sorts of fun winter birds like that), my job and what I want to do on different projects in the new year, our upcoming Florida trip and what we will do with the time when I am not running. These are roads I have run on quite a bit (when I run at lunch from work) and I called up memories of past runs and also of the last time I did that whole loop. I listened to podcasts and thought about the topics they discussed. I also tend to think about food early in the run, before the nausea sets in later, and oddly crave food I never regularly eat and have no taste for after the run. I have mentioned that before – does that happen to anyone else? On this run, I thought about pot roast (?!?!).
Later in the run, it gets harder to think complicated thoughts and a lot of what goes through my mind is focused on what is happening in the moment – thinking about what hurts and if it is getting worse, what feels good, how much water and food I am ingesting and how I can battle the nausea. I also start looking forward to water stops – I don’t really even stop, it is just something fun to look forward to (side note: the version of “fun” late in a run differs substantially from regular life. I can’t imagine normally thinking, “oh my gosh, it is going to be so great to take a swig from that water bottle on my desk!”). Around Mi 26, I knew there was going to be a Wawa with a bathroom, which I looked forward to more than you can imagine. Not only for the actual bathroom but for the hand dryer that would warm up my fingers. The anticipation was fantastic, but the warmth being restored to my fingers even better!
What did you eat and drink?
Please note the following is not what I think you should eat on long runs, just what I did. After years of experimenting on myself, I know what does and does not work for me. You are likely different!
Pre – The night before I ate a spinach salad with avocado, hard boiled egg and salsa, a large bowl of whole grain pasta (yes I know what they say about pasta and that it’s not the super run food it’s been made out to be, but it works for me and my belly and has for 20+ years so I’m sticking with it!) with broccoli and veggie sausage. I also had some anise bread from the Bread Lady. As a snack before bed I had raw almonds and a 2 granola bars. That morning I had a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel (from my Brooklyn stash in freezer, thanks Anne! – and I toast because it seems to reduce the sloshing feeling I can get from eating too much before a run – must evaporate out some of the water) with honey and about a cup of dry cereal. I sipped on water for the few hours I was awake before starting to run.
During – I set 16 ou. water bottles out at miles 5, 10, 15, 20, 23, 26 and 29 and drank 1/4-1/2 of each. I hate carrying water with me so I always set out beforehand (and pick up after). I ate a GU, a mini honey Stinger Waffle and half a Clif Z bar, which totaled about 250 cal. I know most people recommend far more than that, but I just can’t seem to stomach more when running. That is why I front load my calories the night before and morning of – it seems to work better for me. Nutrition and hydration felt spot on – I never came even close to bonking so I was pleased with this.
After – I was not really hungry the rest of the day, but within a half hour of finishing I ate a Clif Bar. I got home and ate a plate of leftover turkey and some cottage cheese. A few hours later for dinner I had a spinach avocado salad, veggie sausages, protein pancakes and an apple. I ate almonds and 2 granola bars for a snack. I drank water with Nuun and then plain water to thirst. I went to bed at a normal time, but I slept poorly, as I often do after a long run that ends late in the day. I think my body is just still too keyed up.
Why would you do this??
This post is already too long and there isn’t really a satisfying answer to this question anyway, so I generally give my stock response: I like the places my mind goes when the run gets realllly long (it can be good and bad places, but they are only accessible when enough miles have passed). I like the person I am when running and hope that by going out there and logging those miles, some of her will rub off on the “not running” me. She worries less, is more generous, and better able to live in the moment.
So there you have it! A training run recap that lasted almost as long as the run :) Don’t worry, you ain’t seen nothing yet, I still have the 50 to go! But before that, one more month that will build on the confidence that I felt that day, which I know will help plow me through the upcoming tough weeks.
What do you think about on long runs?