Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I walked in yet another training run.  Sequels are typically horrendous affairs (think Caddyshack II), however every now and again you stumble across a gem (Lethal Weapon 2, Back to the Future II).  This weekend’s long run definitely goes into the latter category and not the first.  It was my last truly long run in my build up to Eastern States 100 and if I was going to nail a workout, then this was the one to do it.

I had this run planned out last winter when I noticed 3 weeks out from the race would fall during the weekend that I’m Cub Scout camping with my son down in southern PA.  I like having my biggest training run 3 weeks out from my races as I think I have a better chance of healing up any little niggles beforehand than with just 2 weeks.  So that meant I either needed to do the run down there or when I got back on Sunday afternoon.  The thought of a 6+ hours run in the afternoon sun exhausted after a week of camping, while probably great training, did not appeal to me.  So I stumbled upon the idea of an overnight run while my son was sleeping.  Even though I’ve run through the night twice now in my first two 100 milers, I’ve never done this in training.

The plan was to start at 11pm and run up and down this one hill for 7 hours.  The length of the road and trail was about half a mile or 1.1 miles round trip.  I discovered this little trail right where I planned to start earlier in the day that led down to the river.  It gave me a little longer continuous uphill to run and added in some technical trail, both of which I’ll need next month.  From running the hill in the past, I figured I should be able to get in about 240 feet elevation gain per mile.  It ended up being 220 feet or right in line with both my Cheslen Hills workout and ES100.

Seven hours.  Massive vertical gain.  Short section of road/trail.  At night with no sleep.  If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you are in exactly the same place mentally as I was Friday.  To say I wasn’t looking forward to the run would be an understatement.  I was borderline dreading all day what I was going to put myself through.  I kept counting down the time till I could get this done.  I always run first thing in the morning so waiting around 16 hours until I could start running was pure torture for me.

Finally, I walked to the parking lot of the campground where I would start and end my run.  This was super convenient as I was able to use my car as an aid station.  I had 2 gels, 2 Hershey bars, and just over a 2 liter of Mountain Dew to get me through the night.  I went with 1 bottle of water and one of Dew.  I’ve needed caffeine to get through the night before and brought plenty with me this time.  In hindsight, this may not have been the smartest thing in the world.  So my backside got pretty wet fairly early on in the run.  I couldn’t tell though if my bottle was leaking or if it was sweat.  It didn’t get wetter so I just assumed it was sweat.  Then I refilled both my bottles after about 90 minutes.  I wasn’t too far over the hilltop when one of my bottles exploded.  You know what happens when you shake a can of soda and  then open it?  Well, apparently the same thing happens when you pour that soda in a water bottle and then run with it.  I’m not sure why it didn’t happen the first time.  I’m guessing I was drinking it often enough that the pressure never had enough time to build.  Well, lesson learned.

I think the Mountain Dew was also messing with my nutrition.  The first couple hours went by OK, but I wasn’t really feeling it.  I was counting down the time right from the beginning (1 hour down, 6 to go; 2 down, 5 to go, etc.).  I cruised through 2 hours at about a 13 1/2 minute pace.  It was comfortable and I was moving well, but I was just grinding out the run.  Walk up the hill, run the rest.  Rinse, grind, repeat.

Then the music changed.  Literally.  My MP3 player moved over to a Krewella double mixed CD I got a couple months back and I started getting into the run about 3 hours in.  I was thinking in 2 hours, I’ll have 2 hours left to run, but this didn’t bring on feelings of dread or despair.  It was merely another fact.  I was power walking the uphills like I had just started and every time it started to level out, I was running again.  I was just cruising along.  Then the endorphins hit.  Oh my freaking goodness did the endorphins hit.  I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a runners high that high or that lasted that long.  By the time I got 4 hours in, I wasn’t even really keeping track of the miles or time anymore.  Or at least not with the same precision I had been earlier in the run.  I was totally in the flow.  It easily lasted 3+ hours.  Frankly, I think I was still feeling the effects even after I had gotten back, showered, and slept for 3 hours.

Back to walking it in.  Earlier in the run, I had been hoping to manage the fade.  I figured if I started at a 13.5 minute pace, that I would be at or over 16 minutes at some point as that’s how my last several long runs had shaken out.  So as long as I kept my average pace under 15 minutes, then I would be happy.  Well, I had been periodically checking my average pace and while it was moving up into the high 13 minute range, it hadn’t gotten to 14 minutes yet.  At the end of 6 hours, I was still just under (13:57) so decided to allow myself to walk in the last hour as a reward.  I’m pretty sure I could have kept up the pace for another hour at least, but the goal was 7 hours not a given pace.  Pushing for an extra mile at that point wasn’t worth the injury risk even though I think it was very low.  My legs were sore, but no where near the red zone.  I felt like I needed to reward myself for doing a complete 180 mentally on the run.  It started as such a dragging slog of a run, that it’s amazing that it could have ended that awesomely.

So what did I learn and how do I use this in 3 weeks?  The physical and mental aspects of endurance running are so closely intertwined that sometimes it’s difficult to know which one is driving performance.  Are you blah because you’re not mentally into the run or is the suckitude driven by not getting enough calories, which can lead to really low points?  I obviously started the run mentally challenged and the soda wasn’t helping matters.  The unsung key was my sustainable pacing right out of the chute.  Recently, I have been running 11-12 minute miles early and then slowing down.  This time I started out much slower, which gave my body and mind a chance to work through their issues and get on track.  And, yes, I do find it amazing that I’ve gotten to the point where I can afford to spend 3 hours running before I get “warmed up” or on track.

I believe I am now physically and mentally ready for the hardest challenge of my life.  Bring on Eastern States!

How do you turn around bad runs?