Breaking Through 20 Miles: Lessons from Marathon Training

No doubts here!

Twenty miles didn’t seem so bad the second time around.  The first time I ran that far, I was in doubt whether I could do it or not. This time, I knew I could do it just like I did a few weeks before. I anticipated a decent run, and it would be better because I knew the exact route. I knew what I would feel like, and I was ready. I shifted my schedule around to make sure I had plenty of time to get this “doable” run in.

Things are not always what they seem…

I started my run like any other long run. Plenty of Gatorade in my Camelbak, lots of Gu packets ready to fuel me,and my awesome running attire of the day! It was beautiful out, and the temperature was in the high sixties. I couldn’t have picked a more perfect day.

The first four miles felt pretty good, no complaints. I was running to my Jeremy Camp Pandora radio station, and did what I have been doing for weeks. I have ran on this trail so many times, and knew where all the bathrooms, water, and benches were. I don’t really need my Garmin any more to tell me distance, just time.

Then, a train was stopped on the tracks. I waited for about 20 minutes, and finally the train started moving again. I told the guy who was waiting on his bike next to me, that it didn’t matter what route I took as long as I got twenty miles in.  I said it confidently, and very sure that I was going to do it.

The last 10 miles

I continued running, and hit mile 10 , my turnaround point. This was one of my favorite points on the run, I felt like I was on my way to the taper. ( time period in which training mileage is reduced a lot to save your muscles for the big event)

And then, I hit the half marathon. At around 13.1 miles, my mind was off. I wasn’t focused, I was full of excuses and reasons I should stop. My legs were like lead weights, and I felt my muscles burning. I couldn’t possibly go on. I kept going. I had my first cry along the run there. I was miserable.

So…this is what they mean when they say hitting the wall!

Honestly, I didn’t know miserable at that point. At mile 17…I knew it. I was sobbing, walking/running/ hobbling along the trail. It was so hard because my body was beat and tired, but every time I stopped to walk, my quads and calves were burning and cramping up.  I kept moving forward,  rotating running and walking. It was the most physically challenging thing I have ever experienced in my life. The tears were falling, while I kept moving and talking to myself.

“Dig deep, Julie! You can do this! You are a finisher! You will be a marathoner! You are fighting fears! You are doing the impossible! God is with you, you will not fail! “

I repeated those, over and over again. I stopped at mile 18 and sobbed again. A marathon is 26.2 miles! My mind was saying,”That is around eight miles more than you are at now. How? How in the world? I can’t! I won’t be able to!”

The “Finish Line”

I kept running and walking. I was moving forward with one thing in mind, the finish line. I pictured what my finish at the marathon might look like. I envisioned the roads lined with people, clapping, and cheering. I thought about the fact that I won’t be alone in the marathon.

Twenty miles is so far to run, let alone when you are running solo.  I saw a few people on bikes, and honestly I wanted to catch a ride. I was full of regret for even thinking about attempting a marathon.

The Real Finish Line

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I finished.  Twenty miles, my longest run, and my last long run before the actual race. I had so many factors that changed this experience for me. This time, I wasn’t hydrated properly, the sun was beating on me, and my body just fought me.  But, I left with something. I felt feeling like I was capable of anything.

I finished that miserable run, and got through those brick walls in my head. I pushed through so many physical walls as well.  It changed me. I will never forget that training run as long as I live. I can say with confidence that I will finish these 26.2 miles on October 18th, 2014. I am sure I will be pushed past my physical and mental limits, but I know how to do that now. I am thankful for that miserable run, for it showed me exactly what I was made of.