Two days ago, on Saturday, I ran 20 miles.
And I’m happy to report that, as of this run, I feel ready. That’s right: bring on 26.2 miles.
A key feature of Saturday’s run is that I started at what I plan to be the actual starting line. From there, I ran 13.1 miles to what will be the actual halfway point. I got there in 2 hours and 3 minutes, then started back. My run stopped less than 6 miles from the actual ending point–which is my starting point (see image: the tiny green dot on the left side of the route is my starting point, the tiny red dot at Watt Avenue in the middle is where I stopped on my way back). Saturday’s run, in total, was about 20.4 miles, which is over 3/4 of a marathon.
As I ran, I continually did virtual reality in my mind, imagining I was running the entire race. I said to myself things like, “11 more miles. How does that feel?” when in fact I had only 5 miles more to run. And my answer, pretending I was going the entire 11 miles: “It feels challenging. But this is what I trained for.”
This mental imaging process revealed something awesome to me: I felt that I actually could have completed the marathon right then and there if I needed to!
This was a first. It was also a complete validation of the entire training process, the culmination of a great ride that has included twelve weekends in a row of long runs, namely these:
- 1/9: 11 miles
- 1/16: 12 miles
- 1/23: 9 miles
- 1/30: 14 miles
- 2/6: 15 miles
- 2/13: 15 miles
- 2/20: 17 miles
- 2/27: 18 miles
- 3/6: 13 miles
- 3/13: 19 miles
- 3/20: 12 miles
- 3/27: 20 miles
For the sheer frequency of long runs, this has been the most intense running period of my life! Admittedly, at times, it was a challenge. Yet this program is doing what it was meant to do: give me the confidence of knowing I can run the whole darn thing.*
I can do this. Better: I am doing this!
Looking back at the last few months, this is what made this training program work so well:
- Picking the right program to begin with. By picking Hal Higdon’s “Novice 2” program, I took on a doable challenge. After my initial reluctance ( “I have been running for over a decade. I’m not a novice!”), I made the smart decision: the program has been plenty challenging, both physically and psychologically.
- Taking my time. I have let myself slow down, and I have let myself recover fully. I have kept a clear schedule on long-run weekends (the stay-at-home nature of the Pandemic helped).
- Taking the coaching. When my coach said get a massage, I got a massage (actually, two so far!). When my coach said practice walking for water breaks, I did that. When my coach said the long run should be slower than pace runs, at a conversational pace, I learned to do that. When my coach said see it through at all costs, I have done that.
- Paying attention as I go: I have been paying attention to what each stage of the process feels like, making adjustments as necessary. Whether that’s staying in, sleeping longer, getting a massage, taking a bath, slowing down, or even speeding up, I have been paying attention to my body’s signals and working to stay in balance.
- Doing it on my terms: no matter what my app says (it keeps wanting me to go much faster than I feel ready for!), I take the speed that works for me. I remind myself constantly that I’m here to do this for myself, and I act accordingly.
*Though I ran 20 miles three times last year, at that point 20 was both the physical and psychological threshold. Not anymore!