Today was the point in my marathon training to tackle the longest run I've attempted to date: 20 miles.
I knew it wouldn't be easy. Despite spending Sunday evening literally surrounded by people who love me, I'd been feeling depressed, tense, listless, and irritable. It didn't help that I'd be running for over four hours on the heaviest day of my menstrual period either.
I'd mapped out an out-and-back course that took me through Russian Hill and Pacific Heights, dipped briefly into the Presidio then followed Arguello Blvd down into Golden Gate Park, taking JFK Drive out to the Great Highway, down to Skyline Blvd at Lake Merced, and returning the same way to finish. This gave me an entirely new route from the ones I'd been training on; though I'd run numerous races in Golden Gate Park and followed a similar route out to the ocean for the Kaiser Half Marathon, I'd never done a training run there on my own.
I started the day with the same overnight oats that served me so well for my birthday race. I'd planned to get out the door no later than 8 a.m., but seeing as the forecast rain was now not expected to arrive until evening, I gave myself another hour to settle my stomach and wait for the weather to hopefully warm up a bit. Departed at 9 a.m. (weather: 52 degrees and sunny), and was soon happy I chose to run along Pacific Avenue. Different scenery; lots of stately houses, and relatively quiet, with very few people out and about. I kept my pace nice and slow, and stuck to my usual run-walk ratio of 5:1.
Turned into the Presidio, pleased to get off the sidewalk and onto a dirt path for awhile even if it was a bit rocky. I managed to navigate without resorting to my map by staying along the southern border of the Presidio. Had to go out onto the road briefly to get onto Arguello, which I always dread; I made sure to face traffic. Soon I was entering the more familiar territory of Golden Gate Park.
I say familiar but in truth, I've often gotten lost in Golden Gate Park. I kept my eyes wide open for landmarks, and once I got on JFK made sure not to waver from it. Enjoyed the views while I was there. I was briefly annoyed that the sprinklers were running since rain was coming soon anyway, but then the sun and water conspired to make rainbows, and all was forgiven.
By mile 7, 90 minutes into the effort, I was out on the Great Highway. And that's when the wind hit me full in the face, and continued to pummel me for the next three miles. I kept all zippers closed on my windbreaker and donned my gloves. I stayed on the path opposite the water rather than next to it, figuring the wind would be even worse on that side, and would blow sand into my face.
I continued past Sloat Blvd and the Zoo, and then suddenly the pedestrian path ended and I was at a water treatment plant with nowhere to run other than on the side of the road. I knew I hadn't reached my planned turnaround point of Skyline Blvd yet. I ran very carefully until I got there, and then even more carefully crossed to the other side of the street. Even with light traffic, this was very dangerous, and I made a mental note (and later a written one) to turn before Sloat Blvd the next time I ran this route.
Running on the ocean side, the wind was now behind me and I soon was able to get off the roadway, but then I had sand to contend with. Not the hard packed beach sand (which was far below me), but big, loose drifts, which completely filled my open-mesh shoes. It wasn't as uncomfortable to run with sand-filled shoes as I'd feared, but I was grateful to spot a rest area back at Sloat Blvd where I stopped, shook out my shoes and used the restroom. I really hate coming to a complete stop during any run, but with the length of this course and my period to deal with, I had already planned to make at least one restroom stop.
The break took longer than the five minutes I'd hoped for, so I tried to make up some time, running the next mile at under 12 minute pace. (My average min/mile thus far had been over 13.) I still felt strong, but I paid for speed burst, soon tiring after re-entering the park (mistakenly on MLK Drive, but I quickly got back onto JFK). My left knee was starting to hurt, but it was a dull stiffness rather than a sharp pain, which went away during my walking breaks, so I didn't worry too much. Unfortunately, I was also nursing a sore spot on the top of my right foot which actually hurt more when I moved slowly. So I was doomed to suffer whether I was running or walking.
By mile 18 I was back in the Presidio and had been running for over four hours. I was tired and disoriented, and ended up clambering over a low wall to get back onto Pacific Avenue a block earlier than I was supposed to. I was quickly faced with a very steep hill. My run/walk timer said Run, I said No Way, and walked, to my shame. But the next time my run segment came up, I was rested enough to do it.
Now, I was literally racing against my watch, as my battery was running out. As much as I love my low-end Garmin Forerunner for its ease of use, I would have happily paid an extra $20-$25 for longer battery life. I'd hoped to finish this run in 4.5 hours as the battery was rated for five while the GPS was running. (I'd actually worn my regular watch on my other wrist with the stopwatch running simultaneously, just in case.)
Right on schedule, at about 4:27 the Battery Low indicator came on. I had a bit under a mile left to go, and still somehow had life in my legs. I picked up the pace and cut out all remaining walking breaks. I spoke to myself out loud, which I very rarely do. "One more mile, Julie. You can do this." I also spoke to the traffic lights, which seemed determined to stall my progress. Finally at Van Ness I turned off of Pacific and detoured a street over. The run was nearly finished by now, but I was getting impatient. The moment my watch registered 20 miles, I hit the stop button.
Finished in 4 hours 36 minutes, for an overall pace of 13:49 min/mile - just about where I wanted it for a training run of this distance. For the actual race, I'm hoping for 12 min/mile pace, which will give me a finish time of 5:15 (maybe I'll upgrade my watch by then). I still had to walk up and over one more hill to get home, and I felt every last painful step of it.
Devoured a Clif Bar, some almonds and raisins, and a cup of tea, downloaded and studied my data, sent some e-mails then collapsed on the couch. boyziggy surprised me by coming home from work a little early with take-out from my favorite restaurant, Source. So wonderful since I was in no condition to cook. (I'd planned to make food in advance the previous day, but was thwarted by cramps and fatigue.)
Many people cap their marathon training at 20 miles. I personally think this is nuts. I might have forced out another two miles today if I had to (and will indeed have to on my next long run in three weeks), but six? No way, and I'm not waiting till race day to find out if I can run the last 10K on willpower alone. I'm sticking with the Jeff Galloway method of running up to and beyond the target distance, and planning to get up to 28 miles three weeks before the race. Thank goodness I still have over three months to go.