A blog by runners. For runners.

Woah, oh, oh, I'm on Fire (after 20 miles)

Continuing the them of song lyrics to describe my run, thank you Mr Bruce Springsteen. Man, is it hot this weekend in Chicago. I started my 20 mile run at 6am and the heat index suggested it was 85 degrees.
I prepared for the run with a good night of sleep and plenty of water yesterday, a chicken sandwich and fries for dinner and three pints of Guinness as is traditional at this point. When I woke up at 5am I set the coffee going and ate a banana while it brewed. At 5.45 at the suggestion of an article in Runners World I took one of my carb shot packs to get me started and put 3 more in the waist pack I run with. I have settled on Orange flavor Carb Boom as my Gel Shot of choice after a week of taste tests as my mid afternoon snack. I filled my bottle with full strength orange Gatorade, the new endurance formula and headed out of the door at 6am.
Since I was running twenty miles I decided to try Hal Higdon's suggestion of running 3/4 of the race at 90 seconds slower than marathon pace (9:30) and then try 30 seconds slower than my marathon pace for the last 1/4 which would be 8:30. I have the Crystal Method 45 minute mix of the Apple iTunes store on my iPod so at this rate each 1/4 of the run would take about 45 minutes so that was 4 repeats of the Crystal Method track. I also planned to take one of the carb boom gel shots every 45 minutes to keep my energy up.
The first 5 miles flew by and I decided that each time I reached my water fountain at Belmont Harbor, I would top up what was left of my Gatorade with water. The plan here was to avoid that taste in my mouth late run when I just want a splash of flavor, not the full strength gatorade since that tends to make me gag later on in a long run. It worked perfectly and the mix was essentially water by mile 15. My pace was working out really well and I was able to hold steady at around 9:45 per mile all the way to this point.
At mile 15 (around 9am) I had started to hit another wall and according to the weather channel the heat index meant it felt like 93 degrees at this point. Baking sunshine and an actual temperature of 90 degrees had begun to take it's toll on me. I made it to mile 17 without having taken any walking breaks throughout the whole run but a new problem had settled in. My legs weren't aching but my feet were on fire from the sun heating up the path where I was running, not to mention pounding my feet up and down for 3 hours.
I continued another 1/2 mile to 17.5 and then had to walk until the start of mile 20. I forced myself to finish mile 20 running and did so with a good 9:45 pace again. My total time for the 20 mile run today was 3 hours, 27 minutes and 36 seconds or an average pace of 10:22. As a reward I decided to follow the lead of a random guy who had pulled his bike off the path and climbed in to the lake to cool off. The water was sharply cool compared to the temperature which was now climbing to the mid-90s. I've never swam in Lake Michigan before but it was the best thing to be floating in 15 feet of water after a 20 mile run. The random guy had been cycling for about an hour when he climbed in and shortly after I swam out we were joined by another guy who just ran 10 miles training for the Chicago Marathon in October. We shot the breeze about training and then I headed home.
I've read that you hit the physical wall at 20 miles in a marathon where your body has depleted the glycogen stores to sustain running and extra fuel is essential and some willpower to push you through the sensation but only Dean Karnazes has mentioned the multiple mental walls you come up against as you run long alone. I realized on Thursday night at the Nike+/Apple Sport Kit launch that running with other people in a group actually is a bit of a buzz and a distraction. I've been training solo for the last 15 weeks with Melissa running 3 miles here and there with me whenever she can and I like the distraction.
Given the opportunity to start over at week 1 knowing what I know now, I would have joined a running group from the outset and secondly I would have reconsidered my training pace earlier. Week 15 is not a good week to realize that the major stumbling block you have been facing is that you are running too fast. Unfortunately I'm the kind of person who likes to push myself so knowing I can go faster I generally do and putting the brakes on is really hard.
Today was a victory in that I feel like I mastered my pace over 17 miles and given slightly better weather conditions I feel like I could have completed 20. Another alternative would be that if I had dropped my pace even lower to maybe a 10:00 or 10:15 pace I might have been able to finish despite the heat. Those are all maybes I know but I'm really happy that my last long run is done and now I have just 2 weeks to taper before the big day. San Francisco may have an average start temperature of 56 degrees but there are also some wicked hills to contend with! 40 miles knocked out this week and it feels great, and a little emotional to be able to say that.