The Dreaded 20 Mile Training Run

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Preparing for a marathon means following a plan, a plan that takes you up in mileage over several weeks (16 for me) and gets you ready to tackle 26.2 miles.  This is Week 13 of 16 for me, and it was time to do the dreaded 20 mile training run.

This year I decided to join in with the local Frankfort/New Lenox Running Club that I have been following and run their 20 mile training run.  This club really did a great job putting on this event.  The route was run on my local trail, had awesome volunteers, plentiful aid stations with anything you could have needed, and even a local team of specialized volunteers called CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) aiding with traffic at several street crossings.

We started at the still sleepy hour of 6 am in downtown Frankfort, Illinois after a group photo in the dark that surprisingly turned out well.

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Photo by Susan Danforth

I don’t know why I get nervous before long runs like this, especially when I am doing them alone.  This was just billed as a training run, not a race.  But regardless, I still was a little nervous.  As soon as the photo was taken, I hit the trail.

I was in a pack of about 12 people at the start, but by the time I got 100 feet into it I was in second place.  Not that I was racing it!

The trail was in great shape for the early morning run.  Most of the brush clearing that the forest preserve does in the summer/fall seemed to have been all cleaned up, and the trail was not yet overrun with cyclists getting in their weekend miles.

I could see a couple of runners ahead of me and I could tell that they were pulling away from me through the first two miles.  The girl was moving super fast.  They caught another runner and the male dropped back and ran with her.  It wasn’t long before I caught them and realized it was a guy from the group named Pat that had also run the Boston Marathon in April.  He ran with me for the next two miles to the 4 mile turn around point.  We had a great conversation about Boston, running and triathlon.  He decided to drop out at the turn around and told me he was heading to the 14 mile aid station and would see me there.

It was now just me and the super fast girl ahead of me, when around mile 6 I was passed by another guy from the group whose name I learned was Gavin.  Gavin killed it.  He was moving too.  There’s some good runners in this club.

I got back to the 8 mile aid station, which was our starting point and filled up my water bottle.  I think they were slightly surprised to see runners already returning from the first out and back.  It was awesome to have the aid stations.  I probably could have left my water bottle at home, but I like to be able to drink when I wanted it.

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Stopping at the 4 mile water stop running with Pat.  I’m unsure who took the photo, but thanks to those that did!

Around the 10 mile mark I couldn’t take my sweat soaked shirt anymore and I took it off and wrung the sweat out of it.  It could have easily been a cup or more of sweat.  The day started cool enough, and there was plenty of shade when the sun finally made an appearance, but it was humid and I was sweating.  I kept up with my run plan of taking a salt capsule every hour and it kept me in good shape.

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Me holding my GU wrapper garbage getting ready to toss it in the garbage at one of the last aid stations.  This might be near the 14 mile turn around.

Soon after turning around at the 14 mile mark, I could see that another runner Dan Doyle had made up some time on me.  He was closing the gap and finally caught me at Wolf Road when I stopped one final time to top off my water bottle.  We ran the remaining 3 or 4 miles together.  He was planning to do an extra two miles but he said that he was starting to feel like he was going to cramp up.  He ended up doing an additional mile.  He’s looking to get a Boston Marathon qualifier in Chicago, and I think he has a real solid chance at that.  You never know with the Boston Marathon numbers game.

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Dan and I getting to the finish of 20 miles.  He went on to do another mile.  

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I wasn’t planning on writing such a long report for a 20 mile training run, but I haven’t posted anything about my marathon training so far.  I was a little concerned about how I was going to fare, seeing that Boston was a terrible run for me and that I came to the conclusion that I was way overtrained.  After Boston I dropped the 3+ year running streak I had and took some time off to let my body heal.  Missing out on those recovery days after hard efforts was killing me.  I think I trained pretty well through the summer to get to this point.  It’s kind of hard to know sometimes, as the hotter summer temps produce slower times even though I was putting in hard efforts.  What was clear about this run was this:  performance on race day is so different than when you are just out there working on a training run.  Even though this highly supported 20 miler was not a race, it had a vibe of one, and it allowed me to see where I stood.  The previous weeks’ 18 mile run was done on a much cooler day and I seemed to struggle to eventually finish with an 8:15 average pace.  Today I averaged 8:05 on a much warmer day and felt strong at that 20 mile mark finish line.  A great weather day in October for the Chicago Marathon will hopefully make for another 3:30 or 3:25 finish for me.  This run certainly was a confidence builder.  I don’t think I have much to dread anymore.

One last shout out to FNRC for hosting this run and doing such a great job.  The cold drinks and popsicle at the finish line was the best ever!

Author: Ironman Chris

Family, running, triathlon and drumming are my things.

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