I went into this morning’s run with a little trepidation. This was my longest training run of the cycle at 30 miles and the weather was supposed to be rather harsh with low 30s temperatures and rain/snow. I didn’t have any fear of not finishing the run, but it just didn’t sound like fun. Last spring I did a long run in similar conditions and it was hard. At the time, I thought it would end up being good mental training for my upcoming 100 mile race, but in hindsight it was just a miserable run.
I’m starting to come to the belief that gutting through miserable training runs doesn’t make you mentally stronger. It might make you mental, but it doesn’t prepare you for the longer ultras. The key difference is the timing of when you hit your lows. If you’re out for a 30 mile run and you crash and burn at mile 20, well you’ve only got a couple hours left. You’ve done plenty of runs that length and while it won’t be fun you know you can crank through to the finish. When this happens in a 100 mile race though, you’ve probably still got 10-14 (or more!) hours left. You never do training runs that long so it’s tough to understand the anguish, frustration, and despair that can come upon you with that large of a hill still to climb. I guess you just have to experience the feeling enough in races and eventually you’ll figure out how to pull yourself through to the other side.
When I say I crushed today’s run, I’m not really talking about my time. Yes, my pace at 10:13 was 6 seconds faster than last week’s 27 mile run. It was much more than that though. I felt awesome for all 5+ hours I was out. I was in good spirits. My legs felt good. I was having fun. I mean, I was smiling and practically skipping down the roads/trails as I went along. It is very rare for me to feel this good after 15 miles let alone after 30. I’m chalking it up to these four things:
Keys to a successful long run
- Good night’s sleep. I haven’t been sleeping well the night before my long runs. You would think that I wouldn’t still get keyed up after having done 50+ training runs over 20 miles, but I usually do. I’ll go to be early, but will wake up a couple hours before my alarm goes off and never get fully back to sleep. Last night though I slept straight through till it was time to get up. I think this helped more in the early miles as I felt fresher and this is where I made up most of my time compared to last week.
- Dress right for the weather. In the past, I have typically underdressed for a given set of conditions rather than overdress. I’m not sure if I was worried about getting too hot or maybe I just wasn’t able to translate weather conditions to appropriate clothing. Today I went all out: gloves, rain coat, hand warmers, tights. I opted for a baseball hat rather than a winter hat because I wanted to keep the rain/snow off my glasses as much as possible, which was a good call. I was warm and comfortable all morning long. You need to be comfortable in endurance sports in order to perform well and that I was today. I’m not sure whether the rain coat or the hand warmers were more important, but it’s a given that without both this would have been anything but a good run.
- Steady nutrition program. I had an Ensure Plus at mile 13 and then gels at miles 18, 22, and 26. I was never short of energy. I’ve done enough long runs/races to know that you can’t be up or happy if you’re short on calories. My mood is always a great indicator of where I am on my nutrition. When I start getting down, I know it’s time to start sucking down some more gels. I had a solid plan today and I executed on it perfectly so never reached that point.
- Sustainable pacing. I kept with my strategy of running with my heart rate under 155 and this worked great. You can’t finish strong if you go out too fast and this keeps me from doing that. I’ve experimented with a slightly higher HR to mixed results, but I never seem to have problems when I use 155. This doesn’t keep me from slowing down. I don’t think anything outside of walking the entire distance would do that. But it keeps the fade to a modest amount. While my pace was about a minute slower over the second half of the run a decent amount of that was due to running on more trails and the roads having much more elevation change. Adjusting or these factors, my guess is I was only about 30 second slower per mile. I’ll take that any day.
I have a history of having good races after very miserable last long runs. I hope the reverse isn’t true. Regardless, I’m as ready for C&O as I’m going to get. Bring on 100 miles!