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!