As I write this, I'm 30 days away from taking the flight to Orlando to culminate two years of running, and ... well, two years of a lot of running. I'm right in the middle of my training plan's peak mileage and -committed to write both the good and the bad from this journey- being totally honest I'm having a bit of a hard time and starting to worry.
On the one hand, I have not run better then right now. Before the year is out I want to do a post with a full progress report so I don't want to get deep into it but suffice it to say, I've been kicking butt and taking names. The person that steps out three and four times a week to run today is a far cry from the person who began this journey two years ago. To be able to go out and run 5 miles on a whim while hardly losing my breath and maintaining a 14-something minute per mile pace is near-unbelievable but here we are. So what's wrong? The long run. I am having a life and death struggle with the long run.
My first 20 miler is coming up this Sunday and so far I have been able to manage 15 miles. Don't let that number fool you one bit. Those 15 miles -especially the last 3- were the hardest fought I have ever done. I've been having trouble with this for a while so a couple of weeks back, I decided that I would do the long runs using the Galloway method. I have avoided doing this mainly because I just wanted to run the whole marathon but as I started to come up short on my long runs, my brain smartly found the logic in the fact that not finishing was a much harder blow to my ego than taking walk breaks and crossing the finish line so the last two long runs have been all Galloway.
Last week, I went out on a supposed 16 miler. "Trusting" my mileage base, which has been all running until now, I decided to try a somewhat aggressive 3 minute run/1 minute walk ratio. Everything went well until mile 10 when I started to fade and couldn't hold that ratio to save my life. I switched to 1:1 and managed to crawl to 12 miles until I couldn't run anymore. A week later, I went out and started on a 1:1 ratio from the very beginning. I was sick (so was everyone else at home) and it has been raining like Noah is about to take out the ark down here but at this point, I simply cannot afford to miss a single run. Let alone a long run. This time I managed to make it all the way to 14 miles, then walking (crawling?)one more mile to "complete" 15. It was supposed to be an 18 miler.
I'm trying to not freak out here and look at the problem from a practical standpoint. Other than the long runs, I'm doing great, so I must be doing something wrong during these long runs specifically. From a cardiovascular standpoint, I don't seem to be having any major issues (amazing considering where I'm coming from). The problem seems to be muscular or pace related. My legs simply reach a point where they do not want to continue. It happens suddenly too. At least it feels sudden: I seem to be doing fine then Bam! My legs go "well, that will be all for today. Thanks for coming. Make sure you validate your parking on the way out." No amount of trying gets me back in a rhythm. Once they are gone, it is over.
Which brings me back to my old fear of being swept. It could be (I'm honestly not certain) that in an effort to maintain pace, I could be over-straining early which in turn comes to bite me later on but this is the chicken-and-egg question. How to run slow enough to finish and how to run fast enough to not get swept. Obviously, there has to be a sweet spot somewhere but for the life of me I can't seem to find it.
Or maybe I should just start below race pace, save some energy then speed up later to make up for it which sounds scary. I could also start faster than race pace and then slow down later relying on the miles banked at the beginning which also sounds scary.
I'm running out of time. Next week, I try for 20 miles. There is not a lot of room to experiment here. I'm gonna try this run at the linear park which is completely flat so I avoid the extra strain of hills (which is similar to WDW Marathon conditions) and I'm gonna (try to) avoid the pace issue altogether. I'll try to concentrate purely on finishing. Assuming I do the whole 20 miles and they end up below the 16 minute/mile pace minimum, I will use the second 20 miler to figure out how to finish faster. Simple right?
I assure you, after these two weeks you will know how I did because I will either be jumping for joy or dreading each passing day on the calendar.