Well, today was the big day. The 20-mile day. The longest distance of any one day on my marathon training schedule.
I'm not going to lie to you guys. It was horrible.
I set out from my dorm around 1:00 p.m. First three miles, then six, with the usual water/walking breaks at three-mile intervals. So far, so good. Now, it's not exactly the best idea to start a 20-mile run so that it coincides with the hottest part of the day, especially if it's a sunny, humid, 80-degree day in Iowa. But I've run quite a long way in the sun before, and besides, there's the side benefit of getting a tan.
Around mile seven or eight, I felt like I was dragging a bit, and the sun seemed to be shining awfully brightly. Sure enough, it took me nearly two hours to finish the first nine miles -- slower than I wanted to be going. When I went into the PEC for water, I decided that I would try running inside on the treadmill for a while. It would be easier than running outside in the hot sun, and it would save my skin, which already looked a little red, from getting utterly fried.
So I went and did three more miles on the treadmill. It was, indeed, good to get out of the sun, but at the end of the three miles I felt worse, not better. I drank more water, used the bathroom, and walked a lap around the gym, but I was still feeling pretty crappy. Normally I might have called it a day and just counted the day's total as two six-mile runs or something, and gone back and done the long run later. But I knew in my heart of hearts that if I didn't run 20 miles today, I wasn't going to run 20 miles. So it had to be today.
Back to the treadmill. Now, I abhor treadmills. In fact, I've managed to avoid using them all through this training. I've done every single one of my runs outside, no matter how foul the weather. But I think that now, after today, I abhor treadmills even more than I used to. The treadmill is merciless. It tells you, with its terribly precise digital readout, exactly how much more it is going to make you suffer. Worse yet, you can't just decide on the spur of the moment if you want to speed up or slow down. No uphill spurts or downhill dashes, no slow interludes, no sprinting as far as the next mailbox and then backing off to catch breath. If you want to change your pace, you need to tell the thing exactly how much to change it by, after which it helpfully displays myriad statistics such as how far you've gone, how long it will now take you to get where you're going, how many calories you're burning, how many calories you're burning per minute, and any number of other things which I would be much happier not knowing. The point is that when you're running on it, you're no longer in control. It's in control, and it knows it, and it loves knowing how much you hate it.
The plan had been to go at least three more miles on the treadmill, but after two miles I was beat. I couldn't go on. I've never stopped in the middle of a three-mile segment before -- slowed down, sure, but never actually stopped. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I'd gone eighteen miles last week, right?
It was then that I remembered that I hadn't eaten anything all day. It had just slipped my mind.
I got off the treadmill and took a long break. Like, a ten-minute, walking, water, bathroom, stretching, face-washing, self-weighing, milling-around-the-locker-room break. Stupidly, the one thing I didn't do was ingest anything caloric. I figured since I was already in the middle of my run, it was too late to eat anything; I usually didn't run for at least an hour after eating. Besides, I only had six miles to go.
I decided to head outside to get away from the evil treadmill. I took off running again -- but after a half-mile, it became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to keep this up. I was utterly exhausted. I stopped. I walked. I walked the whole rest of the way around my three-mile loop. It's okay to walk. My program emphasizes that in training, what matters most is how far you run, not how fast you run. But I've never, ever had to walk that far before in training. I pride myself on not having to take walking breaks as frequently as many novice runners do. Now I was walking a huge chunk of the way! Other people were out running and passing me. I hung my head in shame. But I just...couldn't...run. My body just didn't have the strength. Runners call this "hitting the wall", when your body runs out of carbs to metabolize and has to go to burning fat directly. I had been expecting to experience the wall earlier in my training, had been really curious about what it would be like, in fact, and when in previous weeks I'd gone sixteen miles, then eighteen miles, and still no wall, I'd figured that it wasn't going to happen. Well, I realized today as I walked that it was happening. And that I needed to do something about it. And that whatever twisted trait it was that had made me eagerly anticipate hitting the wall was one that evolution really should have axed a long, long time ago.
I made it back to campus, found a vending machine (I had to go a long way; the first machine I found was sold out -- and lo, a stream of profanity did issue forth), and bolted two Minute Maid orange juices. I have to say that I've never been so happy to read a nutrition label and find "Calories 170" and "Total Carb 40g" written there. I sat on the floor, stretched, and let the life-giving Minute Maid flow into my muscles. After several hours of running and drinking water, it tasted nastily sweet, but when I stood up I felt better. Then I went back to the PEC and ran the remaining three miles on the treadmill, since I was, in fact, sunburned and reluctant to run outside anymore. I didn't run them very fast, and you can bet I wasn't very happy about it. But, by God, I ran them. I finished the 20 miles. I stumbled back to the locker room at 6:30, 5.5 hours after I had begun. 5.5 hours is the sort of time that I would really like to run the whole marathon in, in case you're wondering how pathetic of a time that is for a total of 20 miles.
Well, it's over now. I did it. But I hurt, and I'm sweaty and sore and I missed Vegan Co-op. If you need me, I'll probably be curled up in a ball, rubbing my poor abused leg muscles.