with especial thanks to Steve for being such a generous-hearted running companion
Yesterday I ran my second 20 miler.
A beautiful golden morning, cold but full of sunlight and heart-stopping autumnal colours. I've never seen an autumn so full of gold and tawny yellow as this. It was so good to be out running in it. This wasn't a solo run- someone very generously gave up their morning to run beside me and keep me to a sensible training pace. Well, that was the plan anyway. But, like the route, we didn't quite stick to what we'd intended!
The plan (in a rather loose sense of the word) was to be out for 3 hours and cover around 20 miles, the focus more on time than miles, and to keep a pace of about 9 min/mile. It was so cold when we stepped out the door! But the sun was shining, the colours were gorgeous and we set off. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the brightness of the day, maybe it was just because we were being ridiculously happy but whatever the reason we did set off too fast. Not silly fast but the most of those first miles were not really at a sensible LSR kind of pace and it took until about mile 10 to settle down.
And there's a whole blog post in itself- how much do you pay later for setting off too fast when you're running a long way? Sure you can burn out if you go off too fast for a 5k or 10k, but does it make a difference in an ultra (or even in a marathon)? You're going to end up tired and slow and hurting at some point anyway. The other week I was more or less ok even though I had that speedy burst around about the 2nd third of my long run. Yesterday my average pace was a fair bit slower and the speedier miles weren't as fast as on my previous 20 miler but I was far more tired at the end*. I guess the answer is the usual running answer: it depends.
It is such a joy to run alongside someone when your pace overlaps. I can't possibly match my training partner when it comes to putting on the after-burners (Friday's little downhill sprint was hilarious!) but for a steady LSR I can keep up just fine. Except it doesn't feel like keeping up, it feels equal. That's a rare thing when running- I've run alongside lots of people and find I'm never quite comfortable. Either they are going a tiny bit too slow for me or I'm having to try just a bit too hard to keep up. That's not a problem on group runs, but in a race it means I often get a bit lonely as I end up running on my own for long stretches, and on a run with just 1 other person it can feel a bit pressured as I'm determined not to get left behind.
I've learned a great deal the few long runs I've done with my training partner. Partly through him sharing his experiences of ultra running, and partly because it's reassuring running with someone when you're starting to hurt and muscles tighten up, get that empty legs feeling or just feel sick; you know you're going to be ok and it's really good to know that everyone goes through it. For me these things happen around 18-19 miles as I'm still quite new to running further than a half marathon, but I know the more I do it the more used to it my body will get and those uncomfortable feelings will happen a bit later on. I also now know that you can run through this and even if those feelings don't disappear you can reach a stage of meditating on movement, making the legs turn over, paying attention to core, breathing and cadence as a way of managing the discomfort.
Something that I'm not finding easy is fuelling on the go. I made myself eat half a 9 Bar after an hour then at hour 2 and tried to remember to drink a little every 30 minutes or so but the problem is I simply don't get hungry or thirsty while running. I know it's vital to refuel on the go on long runs as once you reach empty it's impossible to catch up with the fluid and nutrition, but it's not an easy thing when you have absolutely no inclination to put anything in your mouth. Apparently all I need to do is find out what my 'rocket fuel' is; that will help both in terms of keeping up nutrition and be the thing that helps me get through the tired, achy it hurts now dip. One thing is certain- it's not jelly babies!
Still not used to the state of utter splattedness and runger that ensues for the rest of the day post-LSR though. I'm hoping that becomes less of a problem as I get used to longer runs- there's too much to do to write off a whole day each week and I'm not sure I can budget for being quite so hungry!
* to be fair to myself I've been quite unwell this week with lurgy and a nasty wisdom tooth infection, plus getting myself through a karate grading. It's a wonder that I recovered enough to even contemplate a 20 mile run!