I swear. The more I learn about my body and running, the less I end up knowing about it.
Saturday was my last long run of this training cycle heading up to Long Haul 100 in 2 weeks. I had a 20 miler scheduled. This is the same 20 miler that I have done 7 other times over the past couple months. Those runs were done at a pace between 9:18 and 10 minutes with most of them clustered in the 9 1/2 minute range. I know this run and I know about how long it’s going to take me to do it.
Or at least, I thought I did.
As I went to bed Friday, I was thinking that maybe I’d push the pace a little bit on the run. Not for any specific reason. Just because. When I started out the following morning though, I hadn’t decided whether to actually follow through or not. At about the half mile mark, there’s this little hill. Well, it’s not really a hill. It’s more like a slight incline though it’s steep enough that I had been walking part of it during my prior runs. Saturday I decided to just run it. Not hard or anything. Anyways I finish the first mile and was shocked to see an 8 flat split flash across my Garmin, which is about a minute faster than I’ve been running it. Um, what?
I’m feeling good so continue running more of the hills than I have in the past. I’m still mixing in walk breaks on pretty much every hill, but I’m feeling strong so they’re shorter than they have been in the past. And my legs feel loose so I’m pushing the pace a bit on the downhills and flats. Its not an all out race effort, but it’s definitely more effort than I typically expend on my long runs.
And the miles keep ticking off much, much quicker than I’m used to seeing. Part of me is a little afraid of the second half fade (or blowup), but mostly I was just present in the moment and rolling along.
I got to the halfway point with an average pace of 8:32. My legs were starting to feel the effort at this point so I’m hoping to keep my average pace below 9 minutes for the entire run. The next 5 miles are very flat (217 feet total elevation gain) and I’m able to drop my average pace down to 8:30.
My legs are really starting to get sore by this point (shocker). The fade has finally arrived as its harder and harder to maintain the same pace. I’m still pushing and the effort is still higher than normal for me, but not all out. Finally, I’m up and over the biggest hill, down the last couple trails, and rolled into my driveway with a time of 2 hours 53 minutes or an 8:38 pace.
I was very happy with my time knowing I was over 10 minutes quicker than any of my other runs this cycle. Then I looked in my training log and was shocked to discover I’ve only ever been under a 9 minute pace on a 20+ mile run twice before. Both times back in 2013 during road marathons (8:05, 8:42) on much flatter courses so never on a training run. And I’ve only ever had one 10 mile run faster (8:17), which was also back in 2013.
So that’s a lot of numbers trying to show how far outside normal Saturday’s run was for me. It was an order of magnitude beyond what I’ve done before. It’s a nice confidence boost heading into a 100 miler, however I’m trying not to get too high based on one run. I’ve had awful races follow great final long runs and great races following awful runs. It’s just a data point, not necessarily the beginning of a trend.
So now I’m 100% focused on resting and recovering. And who knows? Maybe I’ve got another great long run left in me.