16 Miles Down, 10 To Go

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10 more miles? HOW?

As I slowed to a hobbling stagger at mile 16 of this past weekend’s long run, these were the questions that were slowly swirling around my head. With my first ever marathon booked for September, I’m progressively getting more and more intimidated by that number—26.2.

It hadn’t always been like that, though. At half-marathon distance, I was feeling great—buoyed on by a view of the ocean and an old favourite song in the headphones. But at mile 15, the legs that had so seamlessly caressed the tops of the freshly cut blades of grass just minutes before had now been injected with what felt like lead and jelly in equal measure.

On the plus side, this was the longest distance I’d ever run. So, my head knows that it’s just a matter of time and patience. I probably need to work in more strength exercises to better equip my glutes, my hips, my hamstrings, and the numerous other achy body parts. But my heart… Well, my heart is wondering why I couldn’t have just scraped another mile and why my legs completely gave way at 16 out of what eventually will be a possible 26.

I was recently listening to Alex Hutchinson on the Rich Roll Podcast promoting his new book, ‘Endure’. This was great fodder for my long run as Hutchinson detailed and analysed various superhuman feats of runners and other sports-people, examining what it was that allowed them to succeed. And laced through the whole conversation was the basic premise that the limits that feel completely physical to us (which was certainly the case for me in this example), are almost always mediated by the brain. 

Wow. 

So tricking my subconscious mind into thinking that everything was, in fact, hunky-dory might have just allowed me to push on when it didn’t seem possible. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I was so focused on my leg that there was no space in my head for other thoughts. Shame. But I’ve now ordered a copy of ‘Endure’ and look forward to incorporating some of Hutchinson’s techniques into my runs. After all, if a person is able to run the MOAB 240 then there’s no reason I can’t make it to the 26 mark. Or even just the 17 mark—I’d certainly take that for my next long run!

And yes, the marathon is something I’m aiming for, but overall it just feels good to be out there getting after it. We had a rough winter in Estonia which meant that I was treadmill bound from December to April. Which is fine, except I can’t handle treadmills for more than 30 minutes before I inevitably lose the will... A big part of running for me is being outside—through the forest, at the water’s edge, in the sunshine. Oh, how I’d missed that feeling this winter. So now, every run is a pleasure, of sorts—something I’m not taking for granted as I know that snow and ice will soon return. 

So, could I have pushed another mile if I’d set my mind to it? Potentially, yes. And do I need to work on the mental side of running to avoid my mind stopping runs before my body does? Definitely, yes. 

But what matters the most is that I was out there that Saturday morning, taking the world in, going through the motions and running my longest distance yet. 

Don’t get me wrong—numbers, races and PRs are great. They are important. But the sheer act of just putting one foot in front of another, while the bridge of your nose bathes in some light spring sunshine and your brain floats in a deep pool of endorphins, now that’s what it’s all about. 

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The Nitty-gritty

Distance - 16.6 miles

Time - 2:29:55

Conditions - It really was one of those ideal running days that Saturday morning. I’m talking 13 ºC, full sunshine but for the odd wispy cloud and a faint breeze blowing off the Baltic Sea. 

Nutrition - Well, as you’ll come to find out—I do not eat before my runs. If I’m running in the morning then I’ll have a big dinner the night before and that does the trick. I know it’s not for everyone, but this is what I’ve done for years. Food in the morning slows me down, makes me lethargic and gives me cramps when running. 

Being new to these longer distances, I am now experimenting with gels. For this run, I slurped down a gel after about 50 minutes. I need to research a little more on how many one should really take for a run over two hours, so please reach out in the comments if you have suggestions!

Mood - OK, so this was interesting. I had a terrible night’s sleep the night before this run. I was up at 3 am, 5 am and 6 am at which time I just decided to get up. I had that muddled feeling in my head as if I hadn’t actually slept—and I was extremely disappointed as I’d planned my long run that morning. At that point, I was thinking to myself that I could scale it back to a 4 or 5 miler and make up the miles the next day. But at least I made it out as I do have a tendency to talk myself out of runs sometimes... 

For the first 3 miles or so, my attention was splattered all over the place. I’m a headphone runner and that morning I tried three (yes, THREE) different podcasts but I just couldn’t concentrate on the words. Nothing was feeling right. In general, I devour podcasts like watermelon on a summer’s day, so I knew something was up. So, in the end, I resorted to my running music playlist. And the rest was history. I ran with that playlist for the full 16 miles.

Who knows, maybe I needed the emotional power of music to drag my exhausted mind through that run. Perhaps that’s why the slow, ambling podcast just wasn’t working. It certainly felt like it. 

All in all, I felt great for the whole run. It was only at mile 15 when I had to run back past my home to make up the next mile that I started to feel my legs. There could have been something about seeing home that subconsciously started pulling me to a halt, so next time I’ll definitely be running out a longer distance to avoid that situation.

And of course, the mood for the rest of the day, knowing that I’d completed my longest run possible was the best it’s been in a while.
 

Piers McEwanComment