The Long Run

Today I ran one of what is going to ultimately be approximately 15 long runs building up to the Marathon. The long run is considered the foundation of marathon training as the body becomes accustomed to the rigors of this distance. The theory has fluxuated for a few decades now, but the current school of thought is that a long run varies anywhere between 15 and 24 miles, while anything past that distance is inviting a higher risk of injury closer to the  race. There are also those who subscribe to the overdistance theory, where the idea is that running the full 26.2 miles not only prepares you for the entire race, but also that anything above it will build the necessary strength and endurance to succeed. The former school of thought responds to overdistance by claiming that the recovery time it takes after extensive long runs cuts into more quality workouts that are necessary to developing race speed stamina. It’s a curious consideration and probably varies from runner to runner, but for this specific race I’m going to avoid overdistance and stick with higher quality long runs that fall just short of a full marathon. 

So for today’s run it was suggested that I go for a 2 hour run and keep my long runs at that distance for the time being, while later on adding more “quality” to them (explained later). I was already considering on tackling a 20 miler, and seeing that 2 hours isn’t that far off, I decided to just go for that. 

I got up at 6am to avoid the strength sapping heat, ate an english muffin with peanut butter, drank two cups of coffee and was out the door before 7. Honestly, I was a little bit concerned about doing this full 2 hours as the monday previous I went out for 1:30 and came dragging my tired ass in around 1:15, completely drained of all strength by the hot sun. Fortunately, as I left the house, the temperatures were in the low 60’s and the sun was only stretching above the horizon. 

I ran through the neighborhood where I live to a long paved rail trail with a thin stretch of dirt on either side and began working my way up the trail. I felt just fine, but held my legs back just to make sure I didn’t overdo it later on in the run. I made it to the 5 mile mark at just over 31 minutes, which is a touch over 6 minute miles, about where I wanted to be. I thought that might be a little fast, but it was awkward trying to go slower.

I mentioned the difficulty of running slow and my gf, Michelle, lightly mocked the macho air in my tone of voice. But it’s true, as any competitive runner will tell you. When your body gets used to running at such a quickened pace, any forced slowed pace is exactly that, forced. You must ease back on pushing the pavement, shorten your stride, and keep the slowed pace no matter what capability your lungs are telling you they have. It feels really awkward and unnatural and your tendency is to pick it up until things feel smooth again, but in doing long runs, this is a recipe for disaster as you pay for it dearly later on down the road when you need those precious stores of muscle strength and lung power to get you through the final miles.

I was doing good after the turnaround and started to head back home where I had set out a watered down glass of gatorade for a halfway refueling. I know at some point I’m going to really  need to work on liquid intake a race pace, but I figure getting a head start on acclimating my body to a relatively foreign substance ahead of time can only help.

I continued my consistent pace back to the house and made it home at around 1:02, the same time it took me to run the first five. I dashed into the house, took about two gulps of the watered down sweetness and took off down the street towards the inner city. 

I still felt strong as the temperature continued to stay relatively low and made my way down nearly empty streets on the early saturday morning. The terrain of the city started to pose a few problems as the curbcuts on the sidewalk broke the rhythm of my stride and forced me to overexert when I wanted a consistent run. I still felt strong as I hit the center city and  took note of the cool air in the shade of skyscrapers. 

I made my way to the scenic downtown canal to do a large loop before heading back home. At this point I still felt good, but noticed I was checking my watch a little more frequently, which led me to believe that I was either mentally tiring or physically tiring more than I had noticed. I came halfway around the loop at around 1:20 and congratulated myself for outlasting Monday’s run, but steeled myself for the considerable amount of running that lay ahead.

One of the bigger problems with city running is the surface. For quite some time now I’ve been running on a beautiful wooded, packed-dirt towpath that is gentle on the body, but the city terrain is only harsh and unforgiving. Whenever I can, even if it’s 20 feet of grass next to a sidewalk, I stay off the pavement, but unfortunately the downtown canal is all sidewalk with no reprieve from the pounding what so ever. I’ve never really noticed the abuse of pavement a lot of runners cry about, but this far into the run it started to become undeniable. 

I continued my way around the loop and at 1:30 began to feel the beginnings of fatigue. My stride wasn’t as smooth, my posture not as upright, and my footfalls a little more clumsy. These weren’t big faults, but always indicate the beginning of a downward trajectory. 

Just as I hit 1:45 I found a point to run off the canal and make my way back home, but that point happened to be a severely steep grassy hill, which wasn’t a huge problem to climb, but the break in rhythm really threw me off. The fatigue in my quads made themselves known at this point and it took a larger than usual effort to get back on pace, but soon enough I started to hit streams of downtown traffic that forced me to stop, go, stop, go, which quickly wreaked havoc on my run. 

At this point I still felt confident I was going to hit home around 2 hours, but I noticed my strength falling at an ever increasing pace. I kept pounding the sidewalk, ignoring the pain and distance left, finally hitting the street that marked a mere 10 blocks from home. I imagined myself picking up the pace the last mile, but after the toll the sidewalk was taking on me, both my mind and body decided to simply make it home cleanly. There wasn’t a whole lot left in my legs, even though my lungs weren’t stressed in anyway. I pushed and pushed and finally made it back at 2:01:26.

Initially I was a little frustrated that I felt so terrible the last mile of only a 20 mile run, knowing an extra 10k was out of the question, but I had to remind myself that this was run after 8 days of consistent and sometimes strenuous running, not to mention it was one of the longest distances I’ve ever run….ever. Once I convinced myself of my potential on fresh legs, I could only get excited about the changes my body was going to experience and at some point I’ll look back and laugh at the difficulty I had towards the end of this run. Someday not too far off a 20 mile run will be routine. A 2o mile run with 12 of tempo however, might be a little more problematic.



19+ miles – just over 6:00 / mile


Pre-run – english muffin with peanut butter, 2 cups coffee
Post-run – oatmeal with peanut butter, turbinado, raisins, almonds
Post-run – Kickass Michelle smoothie
Lunch – Pasta salad with brocolli and peas (olive oil, lemon pepper, chili pepper, etc.)
Dinner – Gourmet “senza formagio” pizza (eggplant, onions, sauce, etc.)
Snacks – oatmeal cookies that didn’t sell at my garage sale, gatorade, water


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