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The longest run: Almost bonking...

The final long run of my marathon training was scheduled for twenty miles. I planned to do it on Friday, Dec. 16 in Walnut Creek, CA before heading down to Las Vegas for my graduation from my PhD program. Unfortunately, due to construction delays on a backyard project, I needed to stay close to home on that day and could not get out to do the twenty mile run. At the pace I run, I figured twenty miles to take about three hours.

So I ran on Dec. 18th in Las Vegas. The thing many forget (and I shouldn't because I lived there for almost 20 years) about Vegas is that it’s high desert (2000 feet above sea level) and very dry. As it turned out it was unseasonably cold, too. But I had no choice – this was the day to go or I’d miss my opportunity and the natural arc to begin tapering toward my goal of running 26.2 on Jan. 8th with my dad in the Walt DisneyWorld Marathon. I also hated running on this day as it was my wife’s birthday and I wanted to spend time with her. But she gave me the greenlight as she had things to do with her parents. That didn’t stop me from thinking about the time however – which can lock me down like a prison if I’m not careful. It’s very hard to get in the zone, where I truly enjoy my run, when I’m worried about external pressures.

From the outset, my legs felt heavy. That’s not necessarily uncommon. I did wonder if I’d overbundled myself due to the cold. I also wondered if I didn’t choose the best route. I’d been doing loops back in the Bay area – 12, 10, 8 miles at a time to add up to the distance I needed (including recent 15, 16 and 18 mile runs). This scheduling allows me breaks for Gatorade and Gu at home and also the chance to reassess if necessary. So far there haven't been any reassessments. All my runs have gone for at least the distance I set out for if not more. But this time I made a tactical error right out of the gate when I decided to go out on a 20 mile loop with a single 12 ounce Gatorade and two Gu packs. While this is my first marathon, I've run several half-marathons and have done hundreds of long road cycling trips which means I should have known better.

For the first three miles, it was tough to keep my legs motivated. Complaints, whining in my head, e.g. "can I do this"? Did I underperform in my training? Was I fooling myself? Did I suddenly get much older than I feared? No. None of that was true; however it is interesting how far and fast I’ll travel down that negative path if I’m not careful.

Around 4 miles in I found my pace. I felt better. I began sipping Gatorade. My body temperature felt good. I took half of my first Gu. Eight miles in. More sips. Finished Gu pack one. Feeling good – but perhaps a little warm. This Carhart sweatshirt I wore doesn’t breathe very well. I had a thought to turn back and make a loop – then I could reassess the second half of the run and maybe change my outfit. But I didn’t. Onward.

12 miles in and I felt very strong in my legs. I enjoyed some flow mentally, too. I was concerned with how hot I was getting though. I started Gu pack number two and I was down to a few ounces of Gatorade. The sweatshirt is a bit too bulky to take off and wrap around me – and as it’s still cold outside, that sudden shift in temperature might not do me well.

16 miles and I had to run a hill – it’s not a sharp grade but it’s a bit long. At the top of it, my breath was rapid and I was a bit concerned I may have been nearing a “bonk”. In brief, a bonk is a term endurance athletes use to describe a body shut down due to over exertion and/or overheating. I finish the Gu and Gatorade. I take my phone out of my wrist strap and see that the phone is practically submerged in sweat that ran off from my sleeve. I take my sweatshirt off and it and I are absolutely drenched. I run another two miles and stop. I’m not recovering my breath as usual. I’m laboring, hot and sweating a ton. I decide to walk. The last two miles are confidence killers – the whole way doubting whether or not I’ve over done it, fooled myself or completely blown my training.

I get home, hydrate, shower and stretch. I’m okay. It was a bad run – my first bad run of the entire training session. I made some mistakes. I was pressured by time. I have learned and will do better. I’ve earned my taper and will run strong over these next few weeks – including a week of runs in Molokai! Shortening the distance, strengthening and lengthening as I stretch and weight train, all toward the goal of a healthy and fun 26.2 with dad on Jan. 8 in Orlando. Onward!

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