Saturday, April 20, 2013

#435: The Last Long One Part 1: In Theory

How the Last Long One Feels
Every run has a purpose, especially when you are training for a long race. Sometimes you're teaching your legs to find the right tempo. Sometimes you're attacking hills to build strength or running intervals of speed and recovery to teach your feet to turn-over faster. There are lots of different kinds of running workouts, but the granddaddy of them all is the one that gets runners out of bed on Saturday mornings in all kinds of weather to hit the roads in pairs, in packs, and all alone. The Long One.

The Long One is about endurance. It's about building the conditioning and the wind and the will to keep going mile after mile. In the off season, the Long One might be 5 or 10 miles, depending on how you feel. When you're chasing 26.2, the Long One is your most important workout of the week, and my favorite of them all is the Last Long One. The biggest mileage you put up before a race.

Conventional wisdom has most runners going for 20 miles three weeks before a marathon. I have two problems with that. First, I found that three weeks of rest actually knocked a little of the edge off of my conditioning. In spite of putting in all the miles before Pittsburgh, I felt under-prepared. I decided last year that my "taper," - the time you spend easing up on the gas before an event - would not be as long this year.

Second, I know from consistent experience that it is very hard for me to add more than 2 miles every two weeks to my previous long run. A 20 miler would have me hitting "the wall," - and yes, the wall is very real - around 22 miles, making those last 4.2 an even more horrific experience than they are designed to be.

So today, I ran my last long one before the Flying Pig Marathon two weeks and a day before the start. and I ran just under 28.4 miles.

Now, if you're a runner, you know that is just insane, but bear with me. I've thought it out. I just have to wait until May 5 to test whether I was right. If I'm wrong, I'm going to have a looong ride on the bus of shame at the back of the pack.

Two weeks is my standard interval for increasing my long runs during training. I run long, then back off a little the next weekend to recover, then add two miles the next Saturday. That's just the way I've learned I respond to training best. If my body holds to form, I should be ready for a 30 mile run on May 5. The marathon  is a lot shorter than that.

But those miles. What's the point? Well, for me, there is only one point to the Last Long One and that is to put your shoulder into the wall and push the sucker back. Doesn't matter if I hit it at 17 miles, at 20, or at 25.5. I have to know that it isn't going to stop me, no matter what. The wall isn't a myth, it's physiology. At 20 miles, your body has used up just about all the resources it has to make you go. If you aren't well conditioned. If your training hasn't prepared you. If you haven't been taking water and nutrition for the first 20 miles. If you don't have the fuel and the guts and the will to endure the pain, your tank will empty and you will seize up like a jeep with a cracked oil pan. The wall hurts, and once you hit it, you only have two choices: give up, or push it back. My run today wasn't about 28 miles, It was about mile 28. I needed to know that I could run the whole marathon and then some before beginning my taper. I didn't run all out. I took long walk breaks. Stopped for water and a pee a couple of times, and once I even sat down and enjoyed a banana in the warm April sunshine for a few minutes. But at the end of the workout, after more or less 7 hours in motion, I had run farther than my legs have ever taken me before. And I pushed the wall out past the point where I will ever have to face it in this race.

I'm not going win any awards in Cincinnati. But I'm going to PR. I won't hit my dream goal of running an hour faster than I did in Pittsburgh, but I'm going to run strong. And I'm going to hit that finish line knowing that if I had to, I could knock out another four miles, just to show off.

Tomorrow, as you might imagine, is a rest day on my training schedule. Mrs P has some chores for me, and I might try to get to the pool for a little water jogging. But I also want to write about the run itself. I don't think I've ever had one quite like it. The combination of depression and distance can make for an interesting morning's work...


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