Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lessons from the Long Run

When I trained for my first marathon, I didn't think too much about running fast or setting a big goal.  My big goal was to run a marathon.  Time wasn't an issue.  I chose the first training plan that I found when I googled "marathon training plans" and I went with it.  My long runs were all run slow and easy and I never really thought of them as a key workout.  They were just opportunities to fit in the miles.  Now that I am on my fifth marathon and I am training to do more than just finish but rather to be faster, the long run has come to be perhaps the most important of all my weekly runs.  

Each and every one of my longs have proven to be opportunities for me to not only grow and connect with myself on a personal level but also to gain more understanding of how I will will want things to be on race day.  These long runs are my "dress rehearsals".  Whether they are run with some miles at marathon pace or just slow and easy, they give me an opportunity to test out fuel, music, gear, strategy, mental cues, mantras, etc.  And they surely give me plenty of time on my feet to fit in the miles AND have the time to connect with myself, God, and reflect on life.    

My long runs these past two or three weeks have really given me lots to reflect on. I've been getting up really early on Sunday mornings so that I can fit my long runs in and still have time to make it to church with my family. I like the way things are working now. And I like that I've started seeing my long runs as more of a key workout instead of just logging miles.  I've had a chance to test out marathon pace, new fuel options, and really think about what I want from this Boston Marathon. 

Today's run didn't call for anything special.  Just 18 easy miles.  I did end up running it more progressively and finishing stronger and faster than just "easy".  It ended up being 18.30 miles in an 8:05 average.  Nothing jaw dropping for me personally but I learned a lot on this run and I came home with some new goals in mind as well as a bit more confidence in myself than I've been feeling lately when it comes to running.  My splits were as follows:

Avg Pace
18:48.61.008:49 nice slow warm up
138:13.21.008:13 some muddy trail running here.
148:10.11.008:10 more trail.
187:38.41.007:38 steep hill

Here are a few things I've had a chance to think about on my long runs the past few weeks:

Long runs are a GREAT opportunity to actually try out different strategies for fueling during these longer distances.  The past two weeks I've tried just taking my water belt with 20 oz of water and using sports beans to fuel gradually over the course of the run.  Today I tried these:

I'm not entirely sure what I think about the "Extreme" part of these with the caffeine but they served me well.  My stomach seems a little upset compared to the sports beans without caffeine but that could just be because of other things.  Some things I do know about experimenting with my fuel:

  • I'm convince that I it will work best for me to fuel gradually instead of taking gels all at once at different times.  I'm not sure what this will look like yet but maybe it is just that I start with these beans at mile 5-7 and take a few every mile or two with sips of water.  This would be harder to do if I don't have my own fuel belt.  The beans can also slow me down since I'm fiddling with a bag. I could also do this with little bits of GU.  
  • I'm not sure HOW MUCH fuel I will need to "race" a marathon and not just "run" it.  I think it might be interesting to try a bag of beans up until mile 20 and then take a gel to finish strong.  
  • I'd also like to try fueling off of just Powerade, Gatorade or some drink like this.  Maybe alternating it with water if it is warmer outside.  This is one strategy that my friend Nicole talked with her coach about.  
I'm getting closer and closer to finding my hopeful marathon pace.  I am fully aware that Boston isn't the easiest marathon course out there so I'm being realistic about my goals but after today I'm ready to be a bit more aggressive with them too.  I plan on racing this baby harder than I did when I did it last time...that's a fact.  Today's run was just a normal long run but just the fact that 8:00 pace felt so natural is a sign that I'm getting stronger.  Mile 17 was 7:17 pace and while I was running it, I was saying to myself "I can't believe I'm NOT tired!! I'm not tired!"  No joke, I said this out loud.  I felt so strong and this made me very happy.  Especially at the end of a long run.  

No music for me.  I don't remember the last time I ran outside with music.  And I LOVE it.  Perhaps my head is just too full lately but I've really been loving these long runs with nothing to listen to other than my own thoughts.  It has been a very peaceful and focused time for me.  I'm probably NOT going to race Boston with music.  In fact, as of today, I won't be.  I'm learning that music might be a distraction for me that I can afford.  It can be nice sometimes too but just not now.  

Connecting with God and having time to pray is always something that brings my life strength and clarity.  My early morning long runs have proven to be a great time for this.  I've felt such a connection with God lately when I'm running.  And it is these long runs that leave me with the most time to be alone and reflect things.  Oh, how this has helped me in so many other areas of my life.  

As I was running today and keeping things easy and comfortable, I just felt so strong.  Things are solid right now.  And I could feel my confidence coming back.  Not that it was entirely gone but I've been having doubts in what I am really capable of.  I've been setting my sights a bit lower than perhaps I'm capable of when it comes to ability.  I'm realizing more and more that such a big part of this whole training gig and reaching big goals is BELIEVING WE CAN!  Obviously this is within reason, but oh so much power comes when we just BELIEVE that we have what it takes!  This is coming to me slowly but surely.  

I continue to learn so much about myself and life through my training.  Training for a marathon takes a lot of time and energy.  It requires us to give certain things up and manage our time wisely but it also allows us to gain so much energy, wisdom, self discipline and satisfaction that can be applied to the rest of our lives. Yes, it all takes time, but in the "long run" it proves to be well worth it.  



  1. Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing you!!!! Wishing you the best!

  2. It is funny to look back and see how much we have evolved in our running over the years. I also googled a marathon training plan when I decided to run Portland in 2008. Each race has been a learning curve for me. I hope to someday have the "perfect" race, but I know that it will take some effort on my part to get there.

    Your workouts have shown how confident you are and I love reading that in your blog. I can tell by the mileage and your training times that you are ready for Boston. You are strong, stronger than you probably think! I have a feeling that lucky #5 is going to be a huge PR for you. You go girl!

  3. You are so right about long runs being our "dress rehearsal." It's definitely a time to experiment with fuel and pace. I am still trying to find what works for me. For my last marathon I tried to change up my long run strategy. I decided to run 3 20 milers instead of just 2. My 1st and 3rd were run about a minute slower than race pace. My middle 20 miler I ran only about 15 seconds slower than my MRP. I just wanted to experiment with various training paces. I don't know if one way is better than the other but I'm glad I mixed it up a bit.

  4. Very impressive long run stats! I absolutely can't wait to see what you do in Boston. :)

  5. You sound so prepared and so centered- it gives me hope for my next marathon.
    I tried sport beans and liked the flavor, but the noise factor and how easy it was to drop them ended up doing me in. Have you tried Gu chomps? I love those for the gradual fueling effect- I'll take one per mile in the middle of a run rather than eating them all at once. And the watermelon flavor is sour and fabulous!

  6. I think one of the coolest things ever about running is all the things we learn around ourselves during the journey! Sounds like you're doing just that - and more :).

  7. This all sounds so awesome and awe-inspiring, Amanda! You are discovering and uncovering so much that will lead you to huge successes. Love that your workouts are giving you such they should...they are looking outstanding :)

  8. We think so much alike sometimes in training! (Um, or it might be that we're running the same race and probably at the same pace, lol)
    I was just thinking this morning about how I'm finally learning from my long runs. I say "finally" because they used to be such a struggle for me. In fact, my only twenty miler before my last marathon was a terrible experience - I was exhausted, I positive split by like ten minutes, my fueling was a disaster. But somehow these last few long runs (the past three weeks) have been good workouts!

  9. Even though I've done a 70.3 and am training for one now, I have a marathon on the schedule for October. And it's those long training runs I'm most nervous about. But sometimes I think it's because personal reflection scares me. And boy howdy, nothing like time to reflect than 20 miles. It's nice to see how you are using your time. I especially liked your comment about finding confidence. Good post, and great job on the running!

  10. Sounds like a fantastic run! The reflection time alone is so valuable. Feeling strong, even at the end had to feel great too.

    I tried Sports Beans on long rides and while I loved the taste (I love jelly beans and candy), they were a hassle to move around in the packet and get them in my mouth. If I ever do use them in a race, I'll get (or invent) some sort of tube delivery system.

  11. Your long runs sound almost joyous. That's what I want! I don't know how you can sit through a church service after a long run, though. I'd be scared of dropping off during a prayer and snoring loudly.

  12. Mike this is a brilliant idea! I like the taste and change up of having something to chew on but it is tricky. I wonder what I could invent! Char, I do nod off a bit but this church is really really good so they keep me awake...really laid back, good band, relaxed and if I did fall asleep...nobody would judge. :)

  13. you sound really happy in this post. I love it....well you are ALWAYS happy, just like I was saying the other day:) but I can tell you have found that sweet spot in training. I think you've got your mileage right, your workouts great and sounds like your long runs are going awesome too. so happy for you Amanda.You have such a wonderful joyous spirit. That is why I love to be around you:) You really are one of the most special women I have ever met. I love youand I am so excited to see you get an awesome new, WELLL DESERVED, PR in Boston!!!! IT will be fun to celebrate together after!!
    Love you girly! xxx

  14. What's kind of cool about your list is that all of the above fit into gaining confidence, starting at the basics (fuel) to the essentials (prayer) and so on.

    Keep up the consistency, work your own formula and the marathon is yours!

  15. You never cease to inspire me!! Long runs are an amazing time to connect with God...nothing to distract you. Just a time to run side by side! You're doing awesome!!

  16. I'm so glad your training is going well! I trained for races with out music, and I have to agree that I did like not having the distraction. I concentrated on my running form and pace a lot better.

  17. Impressive post on many levels. Well done.

  18. great post and great run! I love my long runs too. I definitely believe I get as much from them mentally as I do physically. :)

  19. Great post!! I like to pray during my runs too or listen to worship songs. Lately I have found that that gives me more energy and pumps me up more than dance music.

    You are very inspiring!!

  20. Great observations Amanda! I had an amazing 20 mile run with the last 5 miles all at sub 7:35 and it was definitely one of those "aha" moments for me as well. Not sure why I'm sharing this with you but I just feel like I understand so much of what you're going through since we're going through the same thing with training.

    I could not agree more about the music is a total distraction for me and always gets me out of sync.

    Great training run!

  21. Good post Amanda! Fun to see you growing as a runner (and also growing myself WITH you) as I've actually known you through almost 3 marathons! Both of us running #5!

    I'm interested in fuel and I'm also very interested in pre-race fuel and food leading up to the race. I've had what I felt were perfect fueling/hydrating experiences and 2 not so perfect so I'm tending to cling back to what has worked for me! I think one should just forget what everyone else says if they seemingly find something that works for them. 1 gel, 12 gels-gradual, all at once....if you finish strong and feel good-that's what matters!

    This is really a super long run. You ran a solid 20 last week too!! Again, my jaw always drops when I see sub MP near the finish of long runs. Even in my own training log. Something to be proud of and excited about! Love to see your confidence up!

    Can't wait to see you. Can't wait to give you a big sweaty finish line hug and congratulate you on a GREAT race!

  22. You sound so centered and confident in this post. I cannot wait to see how Boston plays out for you. I think you are going to have an amazing run!

  23. I enjoyed this post, in part because the long run is the most satisfactory part of training for me. I'm not sure I could run 20 miles without music unless it was a race.

    Those were good split times. esp. since it felt easy to you.

    I like the Sport Beans. Never knew before now that they had the "Extreme" variety.

    BTW, everytime I stop by your blog, I have to admire your header pic. The light is at a great angle, the background is blurred with you in perfect focus, and you're looking pretty chisled. Don't tell me it's photoshopped. lol

  24. Great long run, Amanda! I love an easy pace long run that feels TRULY easy at the end. Sounds like it was a great time to pray and sort thoughts. Those runs are good medicine.

    Fueling: I am not sure what the secret recipe is, but i like that you are experimenting with new things! I would like to try sport beans too. They sound yummy :)

    Looking forward to MANY more adventures in long runs from you as you get ready for this incredible race!!

  25. Great post Amanda!! You are doing an amazing job. Great long run. You are going to do awesome in Boston. I just know it.

  26. I love using long runs to experiment too... I've only run one marathon, so I feel like I have lots to learn and try along the way. I'm with you-- no music, I'd much rather have quiet time to think, pray, notice what's around me. Great run!!

  27. Oh, I think finding the right fuel is hard. I tried the sports beans. I liked them okay. I also used sharkies and chomps. I can't do gels. Blahhhhh!! I hope you find what works best for the belly and for endurance.
    So impressed by your running Amanda!