This has been a week of milestones, meditations, physical and emotional recovery, and resolutions. Not bad for a rest week, eh?
After a pretty intense 4 weeks of cranking up the mileage in the midst of a heat wave and riding an emotional rollercoaster throughout, I was looking forward to this week’s rest week. There was only one hiccup in my restful plan – I had skipped last week’s long run for a 10K race at the weekend. And it wasn’t just any long run, it was my first ever 20-miler. Every marathon-running article I read or marathon runner I speak to seems to have the same bottom line – do not skip your long runs, skip anything but your long runs.
Core strength this, tempo that, threshold-hill-reps-with-pressups-at-the-top-and-bottom, protein powder in your porridge, pilates in the park, run fasted, run easy, run after recovering, recover by running – the advice has been endless and appreciated, but all underlined by that mantra: do not skip your long run.
So on Tuesday morning I stepped out of the door for one of this week’s two runs. It just happened to be 20 miles long.
The run itself felt good. I took a flat route from my home in North London to the Thames and then headed West along the river path to Kew Gardens, listening to the Marathon Talk podcast as has become customary on my long runs. I zoned in and out of the podcast, chuckling at the Toby’s Trials segment and letting the weekly news and results wash over me as I entered Chelsea territory and watched Thames cruisers become houseboats, which became posh school boat houses further West, which soon became birds and recreational fishermen hidden in bushes.
I tried to drink water every 1.5 miles – roughly when the water stations will appear during the marathon – and take my gels every 5 miles. The first 10 miles passed pleasantly and then, as usual, things began to ache. My right arm goes first and then my right hand goes numb. Then my left tricep niggles. Then my lower back tightens – only slightly, but enough to notice – and by 16 miles everything hurts. My glutes are hammered, my quads ache, my tummy muscles feel like I’ve been doing sit ups for days and my breathing gradually shifts from a totally relaxed puff to a slight, but definite effort.
I push on.
I look at the trees that line the river path and imagine I’m in the New Forest, that I’m 17 miles into the marathon, that the 20 mile mark is approaching – the point at which I’m told the race really begins. I tell myself to hold it together, stay steady, listen to my body, listen to my breathing. What would I have left at 20 miles? Would I be able to maintain this effort for the final 6.2, or could I squeeze just a little bit more? I thought about the friends that have said they will be there to cheer and the fellow bloggers, tweeters and RW forum users who will be running too, and I imagine what it would be like to see a friendly face right now.
I push on.
18 miles ticks over and I have no idea where I am. My online map told me that 20 miles should take me to Kew Bridge, but the bridge I pass is a railway bridge. I’m alert and searching into the distance like you do at the end of a race, trying to scout out the finish line. My pace begins to quicken as I stride out for a fast finish. I have no idea where it’s come from, but I decide to let my legs do their thing, if only for a mile. I muster a 9:20 pace for the best part of 0.2 miles before my glutes have other ideas.
I push on and I see the bridge.
I run up the steps, leaving the river path and crossing the Thames, North towards Gunnersbury station. I spot Kew station though instead and decide that I will travel home from there instead. There’s 19.4 miles on the watch so I continue along the main road, aiming for a bus stop that will be my turning point back towards the station, back past the builders and office workers on a fag break.
20 miles beep and I stop dead. I let out a breath so hard it hurts. An ache surges up from my feet to my shoulders faster than I can describe and I let out a wimper of pain. I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve run until I’ve ached, I’ve run until I’ve felt sic and I’ve run so fast my lungs felt like they might burst, but I have never run for so long that I have felt such a deep, tired ache that almost verges on pain. It was something else.
And then the emotions came, an overwhelming urge to cry – not happy tears or sad tears, because I in fact felt quite numb, but to cry because the hard, last breath out didn’t seem to have quite rid my body of the effort the run had cost me. It was as if all the determined thoughts I had meditated upon during the run suddenly had no purpose and needed to get out of me. This wasn’t the marathon, so they didn’t want to stick around.
And so I was left feeling a bit empty.
I went to Sainsbury’s and picked up a couple of oranges (fellow Chaser Steve passed on the wisdom of this amazing post-run treat), a bottle of coke and some Lucozade, and after discovering that Kew station had no trains to anywhere useful, walked the half mile to Gunnersbury station. Endorphins kicked in during the walk and I began to feel a bit chuffed with myself. I sat on the train, took a photo of my watch and instagrammed it with a totally honest report of post-run thoughts.
Running 20 miles feels strange. Any non-runners reading this are probably rolling their eyes and muttering “no shit, Sherlock” (but to you I mutter, why are you reading my blog? Get your trainers on.) but after being told by friends that a 20-miler would leave me euphoric and buzzing, the feelings of resolution and determination felt, well… just strange. I just felt like I’d ticked a box, run a session and confirmed that this marathon was indeed going to happpen.
That euphoria and buzz arrived eventually of course, and it arrived a couple hours later, after my train ride home. It arrived as I sat in the GP surgery awaiting a routine health check. I felt a wide smile spread across my face, much to the bemusement of the coughing OAP opposite, as I thought to myself, this marathon really is going to happen.
I had planned to run in the last 3 x mile relay race of the summer (organised by Sri Chinmoy in Battersea Park), but I decided to get an early night before my long run instead. Wimpy, I know. But it was raining too…
Tuesday: Long run
Oh, you know… just a 20 miler.
Ok, I know it looks like I’ve been slacking off, but I did lots of stretching this week. And I started cross stitching a portrait of Steve Prefontaine too, so I wasn’t a complete couch potato.
Saturday: Progressively nauseous run
I had planned a beast of a session for next week – a 15 mile progression run – but moved it forward a couple of days so that I could run it with Marathon Girl. The plan was to hit 5 miles easy, 5 miles marathon pace and 5 miles at an ambiguously faster pace (i.e. whatever you can muster and maintain). However after a recent split from the GF, 4 pints of lager, a can of Tyskie with my housemates and an undetermined portion of 2 bottles of red wine and 4 hours sleep I’m sure it will come as no surprise that this session not only sucked, it also completely fell apart.
We managed our first easy 5 miles without too many problems (apart from a niggling nausea, which came as no surprise), but 2 miles into the second 5 mile loop Marathon Girl pointed out we were going way too fast. I had no perception of pace and appeared to be determined to finish the run ASAP. 3 miles in I felt SICK. 4 miles in I boshed my way up a hill. 5 miles in I felt SICK again.
I bailed. We went for coffee. I opted for juice and fruit because when you run a lot that is what you crave for a hangover – juice and fruit. My punk rock youth and party lifestyle are drawing to a close.
Sunday: THE BEST REST DAY EVER
I know that my training is going to be brutal over the next 6 weeks and so I reveled in this rest day. I plonked myself on the sofa mid-morning after an indulgent breakfast of fruit, pancakes and yoghurt and the restfulness became contagious as my housemate joined me for 2 movies, meal plan writing, grocery shopping, a 2 hour cooking marathon, 4 hours of Radio 6 Music and a whole afternoon of cross stitching while watching movies and listening to the radio.
I’ve looked over the forthcoming week’s training and those 40+ miles are going to be tough. Fingers crossed all the rest and stretching this week will get me through them without the need for any ibuprofen or ice.