The 20 Miler

In spite of last week’s injury and illness, I really hoped that my report on the dreaded 20 miler would be positive, like “It was hard, but I feel good,” or, “I felt so accomplished,” or something. But as I stated in my Manic Monday training summary, it was just hard, and I’m glad it’s over.

I was very, very lucky to be able to join some awesome ladies from Athleta for a fully-supported, pre-planned 20 mile route that closely followed the actual route that the Vermont City Marathon will follow on May 29. Two gals from the store were a mobile aid station, and they met us at miles 4, 8, 12, and 16 of the route, with water, Gatorade, Gu’s, and they also carried our extra clothes around in case we got cold.

Photo May 03, 8 27 59 AM

The forecast called for rain, which wasn’t ideal, but it actually didn’t start truly raining until around mile 10. Katie, Roo, Nikhil, Ann and I started off from the store shortly after 8. Ann quickly left us in the dust as she was planning to run 8 minute miles, whereas my goal long run pace is between 10:30 and 11 minute miles. It turned out that Katie was injured too, so she was down to go my pace, and Roo was a rock star and slowed down to stay with us, but eventually Nikhil took off at his own pace too, leaving just me, Katie, and Roo.

I was disappointed to feel my left quad start to complain around mile 4, and my right foot joined the party soon after. Still, though, Katie and Roo were really good company. They’re running buddies, and had been training to hit a sub-4 marathon time together before Katie’s IT band became an issue. She was literally running with a plastic bag of ibuprofen, not sure if she was going to be able to complete the full distance. I just tried to focus on the company, and have completion as my only goal. I didn’t stop my watch for any of our water or bathroom breaks, so that I’d have a better idea of what race day might actually look like.

I did my best to keep to my usual sip of water every mile and fuel every 4-5 miles, but I was dragging by mile 10. My leg hurt, my foot hurt, my sinuses hurt… Honestly, I wanted to quit. Was planning to quit. Actually rehearsing in my head what I would say when we reached the next aid station and I bailed. The traveling aid station missed us at mile 12, but looped back around to meet us at mile 13, and I confessed I was hurting, but decided to keep going. We all took a round of Katie’s ibuprofen. Roo was chafing really badly under her arms, and we were all wet and cold. I told Katie and Roo to go on at that point. We were about to head up the Battery Street Hill, and I knew there was absolutely no way I could keep up with them.

Battery Street comes right after the halfway point on the marathon course, and it’s a bear. I used to run hill repeats on it all the time, but my hill training has been sorely lacking this cycle, so I ended up walking the hill. I knew that the only way I was going to finish was by adding in some walking. Coach Suz and I had talked about this beforehand, so I decided to walk for 2 minutes after each mile, to help rest my leg and foot and reset everything. I was a little cold, and very hungry, and also running all alone at this point, which was kind of a bummer. Around mile 15, I REALLY wanted to quit. I knew the mobile aid station would be at mile 16, and that they’d drive me back to the store if I asked. I thought long and hard about it. But in the end, I knew that I needed to finish. If I didn’t get it done that day, I’d just have to try again another day, and I REALLY didn’t want to have to go through this again.

I made it to the aid station at mile 16, where I announced “I’m struggling. Hard.” The girls gave me a pep talk and some Gatorade, and told me that there would be bagels waiting for us back at the store. Those were the most motivating words anyone could possibly have spoken at that moment. As I ran/walked the final four miles back to Athleta, I just kept imagining a huge bagel with cream cheese, how good it would taste, how amazing it would feel to be done… And I made it.

Everyone at the store cheered for me when I came in, and my friend Chris gave me a big high five. I shed my hydration pack, put on my jacket, and had probably the best spinach and cheddar bagel I’ve ever had in my life. Then I went to the grocery store for recovery supplies:


And took a long, hot epsom salt bath and ate sushi in the tub while reading Harry Potter. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating ALL THE THINGS, foam rolling like a responsible adult, icing my foot, and watching Game of Thrones Seasons 1 and 2 on the pulled out futon. I limped a lot Sunday and Monday, but I’m definitely feeling a bit better today. My quad is still achey, sort of like really bad DOMS. My foot is more acute pain in the heel, with a duller ache by my pinky toe, but again, less than it was even yesterday. I’m hoping that good rest and recovery this week will help resolve my issues and get me ready to run this marathon.

I have also decided to switch back to my very first pair of Saucony Mirage 4s, because in looking back at my mileage log, I have quite a few less miles on them than I thought. I’m going to test them out on a short run today and see how it goes. Worst case scenario, Amazon has ONE pair of Mirage 4s in my size available, and I can use Prime to get them here in 2 days, which should theoretically be enough time to break them in a bit before the marathon.

After writing this post out, I do now feel a sense of accomplishment, but honestly, on Sunday I was in such a haze of pain and runger that I was kind of emotionally numb to the enormity of it. Including all of our water stops, breaks, my walking etc, it took 3 hours and 51 minutes, an overall pace of 11:35, which I am IMMENSELY proud of. And I need to give a MASSIVE shoutout to the Athleta crew for sponsoring this 20 mile run. I absolutely would not have gotten through that distance without the company and support.

In closing, I have to say that my experience running 20 miles sort of solidified that the marathon will be a “one and done” for me. The training is just too much. Too much time. Too much energy. Too much worry. Too much pain. I’m just not a multiple marathoner, and that’s ok.

Have you ever done a 20 miler? When training for a marathon, do you cap your training at 20 miles, or go further?

28 thoughts on “The 20 Miler

  1. Nicole @ pink elephant on parade says:

    Rae, you did an amazing job training for a marathon while also being a star in a broadway show. you’re basically super woman.

  2. prairieprincessrunners says:

    They won’t all be glamorous Rae. Some will be great, some will be hard…what matters is you did it. You did your 20 miler…soon you will do your marathon and that’s all you need to do. Good work!

  3. txa1265 says:

    “And That’s OK”

    Yes, yes it is. And don’t ever let anyone make you think otherwise.

    When I started doing races four years ago I got swept up in the ‘half marathon is ‘better’ than 5k, but only a full marathon will make me a ‘real’ runner’. Ha! Sure I love running the marathon (and half marathon) distance … but it was completely asinine to tie my ‘running identity’ to a particular race, pace or distance! And really I have found that there is an unhealthy obsession with running the marathon – or even a half marathon. As in people who injure themselves regularly in the pursuit of BQ or whatever.

    Bucket list item? Sure – go for it! But I think it is MUCH more important to figure out what type of running is best for you and focus there. Some of my running friends have fallen into a happy relationship with the half marathon – less torture, fits into life better, and works for more people. Others focus even shorter, on 5K or 10K. Great races – they scare me because I am much more comfortable with long distance than short torture! 🙂

    I hope that the shoe switch works well for you … jeez this has been a pain and I am constantly hoping that you will catch a break here! My first marathon was one of my great running experiences, and I hope that even if it is a one and done … that you have a great, healthy experience.

    • DarlinRae says:

      Thanks, Mike! I agree that a lot of runners tie their identity as “runner” to a certain distance or pace. I don’t think you have to run a marathon (or any other distance) to be a “real” runner, and I am perfectly ok with never attempting another marathon after this. Maybe a different training cycle and different timing would be better, but I’ll never forget how awful I felt during that 20 miler, and that’s not what it’s supposed to feel like. I’m supposed to like running, and want to do it, not torture myself with “having” to run certain distances.

      • txa1265 says:

        I agree totally with everything you said 🙂

        Oh … and for my first marathon I did one run of ~30.5 miles … because I was paranoid and refused to believe that I could do it based on 20 miles (because I’m an idiot).

  4. Brittany says:

    I did a 20 miler before my first marathon… and it was rough. I stopped a few times to walk and thought really hard about calling a cab (I did an out and back in the city…) to bring my sorry butt home around mile 15. But, like you, I somehow finished and honestly… I think knowing I finished that 20 is what helped me finish the marathon when I wanted to quit at mile 24 (lolol I know, 2 miles to the finish, but the leg pain was real).
    That said, next time I do a marathon, I think I’m going to try the crazy Hanson’s method that tops out at 16 miles… like I said, crazy, but I’ve heard great things!
    And lastly… YOU CAN DO IT! Trust the training, and know that even when you had a bad run.. IT WAS STILL A RUN that will carry you across that finish line :0)

  5. Fallon @ Slacker Runner says:

    But you did it!! And in the rain? I so would have canceled. You rock for sticking it out. Hypothetically, I am attempting 2 20 milers before my race. Both are against what my training plan says so we will see how that goes.

  6. greenmountainlife says:

    I love how honest this post is, nice job pushing through! I saw the insta over the weekend and was like uh does that mean I shouldn’t be eating these items right now because I definitely didn’t run 20 miles to earn them…

  7. kebe51 says:

    I was “one and done” too Rae…and we know how that worked out 😛

    But seriously, you are my hero. No idea how you do it all! 🙂

  8. allisonfiorini says:

    So glad to hear that you did it. And, my friend, I was a one and done too. 40 marathons later…

    I did one 20 miler before Boston, but only because my weekly volume said it was okay. I know Hansons sounds scary, and I ran way more miles than their advanced plan dictated but you should look at it. The long run maxes out at 16. I highly recommend, and they have a beginner option!!!!

    Hang in there — you are SO CLOSE NOW!!!!

    • DarlinRae says:

      Thanks, Allison! We’ll see how I feel once the race is over. If I ever decide to do another (which is HIGHLY unlikely), I would definitely look at Hanson’s, especially based on your recent success, and Colby’s too!

  9. charissarunning says:

    Yay – you did it!!! That’s amazing. Before my first marathon, I struggled to get to an 18-miler (that’s the most I did). For each consecutive marathon, I gradually added more of the longer runs and got farther too (last marathon I had a 22-miler). I think getting to 20 though is a huge confidence boost. I know it’s tough but it really does help prepare your mind. Enjoy your taper! (Also, might I add I thought I was “one and done” too but you never know 😉 Sometimes you get bitten by the marathon bug a few months – or years -after you’re done with the first!)

    • DarlinRae says:

      Thanks, Charissa! I honestly can’t see myself doing another one, but apparently that’s what a lot of people say before signing up for another…

  10. dgobs says:

    Dang, girl. Serious props and kudos and high fives for pushing through and finishing 20!! A bagel would have been fantastic motivation for me too 😉 I have never run farther than a half, but can only hope that if I hit 20 someday, I’ll have something even remotely like your mobile aid station of awesomeness.

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