Marathon Running: The twenty miler

Finding out what twenty miles can do to a person with Laura Romeo

Poppy Sports Blogger Laura Romeo takes on 20 miles and gains many more miles of confidence

Training the mind as well as the legs

Arguably, the most important training run for a marathoner comes in the form of 20 miles. While the shorter runs are equally important to work on speed or to improve your strength on hills, a 20 mile run covers most of the distance of a marathon and its value is hard to substitute. Not only does running 20 miles prepare you physically, it prepares you mentally.

I had my first 20 mile run of the season on August 27th. I was nervous because it had been close to two years since I ran that far. My day started early at 4:20 a.m., well before sunrise. I met up with a few other runners who were equally driven to start early, and my 20 miler began promptly at 5:00 a.m. with a flashlight for the dark and sunglasses on my head for when the sun rose. I carried 20 ounces of water on my waist and a pack of Clif Shots for fuel. I ate one shot before the run for some simple carbs.

The first eight miles flew by. I ate another Clif shot after that eight and stopped to walk and chew on them periodically if my stomach panged with hunger. What a difference that made in my energy! I felt great all the way through mile 16. After that, I started to feel tired, but not so fatigued that I couldn’t finish strong. I finished this monumental run in 3:40:03. (To put this time in perspective, my 20 mile run two years ago for my first marathon was just over 4 hours.) I was euphoric and it was a real confidence boost. I believe now that I will finish this second marathon in about 5 hours, if I’m careful. This will shave 45 minutes from my first marathon finishing time, which is an enormous accomplishment. This isn’t a fast pace, but that’s not what I’m after. I’m looking for improvement from my first race and I know now I’ll be able to do it. The race isn’t until the end of October, so I still have plenty of time for at least two more 20 mile runs – or more. (I’m thinking 22…)

Marathon training with clif bloks
Not only yummy, they do exactly as it says on the packet. Thanks Clif Bloks

I attribute my success to several factors. First, I didn’t usually eat anything for long runs the first time I did this whole marathon thing. Consequently, I felt tired early into a run, likely depleting any stores of glycogen my body might have had left. The long runs felt especially long. So, eating those little shots while on the move helped tremendously. Second, I ran with two other ladies and conversation makes the miles seem a little less strenuous. Third, my personal trainer has helped improve my strength, and stronger muscles means a stronger runner.

While I have completed a marathon before, I never felt like I earned the title “marathoner” because it took me so long to finish. I learned my lessons the hard way with a particularly difficult first marathon. I worked through some staggering motivational issues. With all the running I did (I did nothing else at the time; not even cross-training), I didn’t want to run at all. I was tired of it. I felt like I wasn’t worthy to train for a marathon, let alone finish one. A 14 mile run back then was agonizing and I hated every mile. You could say I ran into a month-long “wall.” So, I took some time off after my first marathon. I didn’t run for a while, and when I could no longer ignore the calling, I took it easy. Running and I had to re-build our relationship, and that break was well worth it.

Now? I’m registered to run one of the most popular marathons in the country, at sea level no less, and I can’t wait.