|If you see this bench during a Long Run, take a bite and carry on.|
As a marathon runner, you get the joy of crossing the finish line in an event where most fear to start, but oh so much more. For one, there is nothing in life like finishing a Long Run in a marathon training program. Especially if it felt triumphant and you were running rather than just slogging and dragging yourself for the last few miles just to satisfy your training schedule. I have had my share of those. And then there’s that lovely, Saturday or Sunday afternoon exhausted feeling, where your whole body is tingling, all the molecules of your body seem to be on fire, and you can eat and eat and eat, and still not make up for all the calories lost. People seem like zombies compared to what you just did, the beauty of life is vibrant and easy to see, and afternoon football seem so much more vivid. I tend to look at the the athletes and think “I worked just as hard as you today, my good man.” You will sleep the sleep of the elite that night.
But, when it comes to Long Runs, there is so much variance on the buffet table of training options. When to run the long run, how fast, how many, and at what length? If you are obsessed enough to run like a crackhead looking for a rock, then you have googled pretty much every training table available. I am a firm believer in marathon training as an ‘Experiment of One’; the results will work for you and you alone. Of course, studying and having some sort of plan that resembles a tried and true program is important, but each marathon attempt is an experiment where you then modify your next program accordingly. So, with that in mind, here’s what worked for me.
**Scheduling: First of all, when doing your marathon training schedule, do so backwards. Look at your marathon date, and then schedule your last long run three weeks out. This is the pinnacle of a training program, so start with that and then work backwards. Usually, there is a shoe store sponsored training run in your area around that date, so circle it on your calendar, DVR what needs DVR-ing, promise your spouse you will watch the kids on another date so you can have that day free, and let your mojo build to that moment.
**Help On The Way: While you are on the go, you will need some help. Here are some thoughts to get you by.
-A killer playlist on your iPod. But no, not killer from the beginning. Put in an hour long podcast to start. (Pheddipitations is my fav) and let yourself slowly build to some momentum building songs. Sing the songs as you run, and badly, and out loud as if nobody's listening. And Love like you never been hurt and shoot snots out your nose like nobody's watching.
-Your Own Aid Station- make a central point where you can run out and backs froms your water spot. I have a route to a gas station where I run 4 miles, get a bunch of water and leave it by a tree, then do a few out and backs that return me to my water, until my final run home. Yes, getting the water at the gas station with sweaty bills pulled from your shorts and perhaps snots on your nose may get you some looks, but really, shouldn’t the dude next to you buying a 5 dollar pack of smokes really be the one getting the looks. (For nonconformity, the world will whip you with its displeasure. Feel the crack of the whip and ask for more.)
-Energizers and Fuel. Of course there is Gu, but ever since I read (I think it was in Runner magazine) about an ultra runner who gets by on Kit-Kats, I always buy a few and man are they perfect. Easy to digest, a nice change, and my body responds more when I promise a kit-kat after another 2 miles more so than the poopy-gooey stuff.
-Anti-Inflammatories- (insert not a doctor disclaimer notes) Before a few of my long runs, I started taking a few Naproxen’s (Aleve) and I think it helps. It may have been just a placebo effect, and it feels a little too much like cheating or doping or playing with nature, but as long as it's not oversused, I think it’s worth it.Test before trying in a race, as always.
** Getting There is Half The Fun: How to build up to your longest long run? Intially, I just ran a certain length and then bumped it up 2 miles for my next long run. What I have found, is that for many of the long run lengths, I do 2 attempts at a certain mile length before I bump up. (maybe not all the lengths, for example, maybe two runs of 14 miles, one 16, two at 18, before moving on to twenty, and so on.) The first one is just to cover the miles, but the second is to do a few, up to 8, at marathon pace. Preferably the last parts of the run to get yourself prepared to run fast when you are tired. That is so important, I believe, cause you can get to the point where you can run 20 miles at a certain pace in your sleep, against the wind in the rain, and on a boat with a goat, but if your legs can’t handle the speed, then you are done.
** Rabbit or The Hare: Start as a cute-as-hell turtle with the voice of that sea turtle dude from Finding Nemo, but end with the leg kicks of a wrasckly wrabbit. Some speed or marathon pace runs during some of your long runs is essential. This can be a shock to your legs if you have done 10 miles at a comfortable pace, and then you try to do that last 4 or 6 at race pace, so try some striders at race pace for a minute or two a mile before you hit the change of pace to preprare. The initial shock will seem hard, but once you hit it again, it will flow smoother. Think of it as getting into a cold pool. At first it is cold and shriveling, but then jumping back in again, its nuttin.
**Nothing Sacred. Top out with a run longer than the token 20 miles. Of all the changes that helped me to reach my BQ PR, (including a 3 instead of 2 week taper, resting when my mental demons begged me to run more) it was topping out at 23 mile long run that put me over the top. Making this change totally changed the feel of the last 6.2 of the marathon. Despite the character in my novel The Jade Rabbit, who believes in the adage that the last 6.2 are sacred and should be saved for the race. (I was going for the ‘Hemmingway-esque’ metaphor of fearing the psychologically dark places.) Running 20 is enough for many folks, but as I stated, in this experiment of one, it didn’t work.
Of course, the risk is that the last long run damaged me nearly as much as the race itself, so what I did was go out super-duper slogging slow. I ran the first ten miles slow, sped up for the next 5 to 6 miles, and then ran the last 8 at marathon pace. It made a huge difference.
If you are doing a training run with a running group, and you are doing more than the group is, then get there early and do them first rather than afterwards. Nothing more dehumanizing than having to run on when everyone else has finished. You will regret going more, you may stop, and you will feel slow when everyone else sees you crossing long after they did. On the other hand, if you get there thirty minutes before hand and put in three miles, you will feel a stud or an amazing Amazon warrior. (which you already are, by the way, so don’t forget it.)
**Simba, you are more than what you have become; Just some thoughts that worked for me. Take what you want and trash the rest. I will ramble on more about recovery time, recovery nutrition, why I cry every time I see The Lion King, tapering, how and why to brush your teeth in the shower, and why I don’t trust people who wink at me at a later date.