Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Going to "that Place" in a Long Run

My training for the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon (in Phoenix) is going well. I'm hitting good quality on Tuesdays (track), Thursday (tempo) and Sundays (long). My mile repeat times are in the high 5:30s/low 5:40s, which isn't bad when you consider that the track I use is at 6,200 feet. My tempo runs continue to be super solid. I've been consistent all year with my tempos. On Sunday, I completed a 20-mile out-and-back run in 2 hours and 32 minutes, climbing over 500 feet--from 5,700 feet back up to 6,200 feet--in the last seven miles. That was my second 20-miler in three weeks, and I plan to keep up with the 20s for the next few months.

After Sunday's 20-miler, I had a Eureka moment. There I was, climbing back up into my neighborhood and fighting fatigue, mild bonking (I'd allowed myself only one Hammer gel at mile 12) and "cotton mouth" from minor dehydration. Focused on the moment, I was totally devoid of all distractions and thought only of the task at hand: maintain pace, get up this long, steady climb and complete these 20 miles with an up-tempo finish in the last 1/2 mile. It was tough, as running 20 miles on a hard surface isn't ever easy. But I was locked into the moment and eventually the 20 miles got done with a fast finish. Sunday was a great day because I knew I'd put in good work.

As for my Eureka moment, it dawned on me on Sunday, more than ever before, that for the past few years I haven't done nearly enough long runs, meaning I haven't pushed myself to "that place" in a run when I must totally focus on the task at hand and get past the mental and physical hurdles before me. I think it's the same place you find yourself in the last 10K of a marathon. I've pushed myself hard in long tempo efforts, but there's something about a 20-mile run that you can't replicate in any other way--and in these past few years, as time for training has been harder and harder to come by, I'd forgotten that. I used to do lots of long runs! Why did I stop when they work?

Long runs benefit you not only physically (especially when you allow recovery afterward), but also mentally. If you don't go long on a consistent basis, how can you expect to be ready for the challenges of a long race? Maybe that's been my problem over the past few years--I got away from long training runs. It certainly could explain my recent propensity to start races strong but tail off in the end.

I believe that sticking with my plan to do several more 20 milers in the lead-up to Phoenix will help me be mentally and physically ready for the challenge of 26.2 miles--at 6:40 pace or faster--on the road. And you can bet that long runs of 25-30+ miles will certainly be in the mix for my Leadville 100 training!


  1. It's good to hear that you're back in the saddle and running strong Wyatt.

    Did you run the Boulder Half Marathon? It's listed on your race bar, but I didn't see the results.

    Good luck in training! You've been an inspiration to me in finding running again!

  2. First of all, I enjoy reading your blog. Not too many people -- relative to the number of people that run -- are willing to consistently put their thoughts out there for the world to read.

    As for the plan, I am smiling as I read this because I am actually thinking about going the other way. I did too many 20 - 30 mile efforts for Leadville last year and it resulted in too few hard efforts, too much time on my feet, and ultimately an overuse injury. I think there is a balance between doing enough long runs and enough quality that must be found -- unless you are someone that is gifted enough (with both time, injury resistance, and talent) that can train 20+ hours a week. I am hoping to hit a long run (22 - 30) about every 2 - 4 weeks when training for my next 100. In between I'll work on shorter, harder efforts with some back to back components -- 18 and 14 for example. My two cents!

    However you approach it, you'll do great. You are a tremendous runner as long as you stay motivated to keep pushing yourself like this.

  3. David: I didn't do the Boulder 1/2. I decided a 20-miler was more valuable. Hope the race went well for you. I am leaning toward the Highlands Ranch 1/2 and the Rocky Canyon 1/2, but I wish there were moe road 1/2 available.

    AJ: Thanks for the kind words! You raise a great point about how long runs can wear you down. I plan to take 1-2 weeks OFF from running after Phoenix and then will restart my training for Leadville soon after coming back from my layoff. Anyway, I agree that too many long runs will mess you up. I think, realistically, going super long 2 times a month is a good plan. I think doing 20-30 every week will eventually break you down, but I also think it's vital to take a recovery day after a super long effort and keep up with healthy eating, stretching, etc.