Sometimes 20 Miles Is More Mental Than Physical

I am not ready to get into a debate on whether physical or mental wins out more, but yesterday my 20 mile run was more of a mental challenge than it was a physical challenge.  Please don't read this the wrong way - I am not by any stretch saying is was physically easy, I am just saying that physically it was a done deal, but mentally I didn't want to even start because I just knew I was going to fail.

Three weeks ago I ran my first 19 miler of this marathon training schedule.  It was a challenge, but I don't remember thinking that I wouldn't make it (maybe I have already forgotten)  During that run around 13 miles I started to feel a tightness in my left calf.  I continued my run paying close attention to make sure it didn't get any worse.  It turned out to be the wrong decision and I should have quit at the first sign of something not being right.  (you can read more about it here) After all was said and done I ended up with two weeks of a lot of rest...... right in the middle of marathon training!  Not only was it right in the middle of marathon training, but was the two weeks around what was supposed to be my first 20 mile run, as well as the two weeks leading up to my mid-training half marathon race, the 13.1 Atlanta.

Following the half marathon and the good feeling calf I started to ramp back up my mileage.  I knew at that point I was only 6 weeks out from Race Day for the Soldier Marathon - with me sponsored by Sony Electronics :)  Being just 6 weeks out and one 20 miler already missed due to injury I was starting to get concerned.  I know that I can complete the marathon, even if I was to run it next week, but I wouldn't do as well as I had hoped to.

I took the slow approach to ramping my mileage back up because 1) I had just ran a half marathon and 2) I didn't want to run the risk of re-injury this late in the game.  After 5, 3, 5 on Tuesday through Thursday I took Friday off to try to keep the slow approach going.  On Saturday I went out for 7 miles, of which the first 5 miles was at tempo pace.  This run was great up until the end of mile 5.  I had planned on doing the entire run at a marathon pace run, but went out way too fast for that plan and ended up crashing at mile 5.  I spent the next mile run/walking trying to get mentally back into it which I finally did for the last mile. Needless to say, that 7 miles was a really bad idea for a mileage building week and although the first 5 miles built some confidence, mile 6 destroyed every bit of it and then some.

Saturday afternoon I was not preparing for, or even remotely ready for a 20 miler in the morning.  The entire week leading up to it I was not planning on doing the full 20 miles.  I was not committed to any specific distance, but knew I would shoot for something longer than 14 miles.  The more I thought about it the more real it became that I only had time for two more long runs before the taper.  This fact started to scare me so I talked myself into going for the full 20 miler.

As I was getting everything prepared Saturday night I realized I didn't have any GU's, Shot Bloks, Sport Bean's, or Hammer Gel's.  I knew I that I wouldn't be able to make the full 20 if I didn't have some kind of fuel to make it through so I started digging through my drawers.  I ended up finding some PowerBar Energy Gel Blasts.  I had never run with these before, or even tried them, but I was going to test them on this run.

I woke up Sunday morning at 4:50 and tried to get in the mode for running.  I was not ready for a long run and was absolutely confident that I would not be able to make the distance.  I took care of every excuse to not run and headed out the door at about 5:35.  I was worried on many levels that I would not be able to make the distance.  Would it be the lack of proper fueling the day before?  Would it be the lack of on the run fueling?  Would it be a mental block? Would it be that I would talk myself into cutting it short because I had not been running much the last few weeks?  Or the worst yet..... would I have to cut the run short and call for a pick-up because of a re-occurrence of calf pain?  Truth be told - it was the possibility of a re-occurrence of a calf injury that was causing me the most concern.  I set out for this run with the determination to not run through pain that could side-line me again.  If I had a re-occurrence of my last 19 miler I would very possibly not make it to the marathon prepared to run.

I started the run very slow, slower than I have started a long run of this distance before.  The biggest difference between this long run and others that I have done of this distance was that I was not trying to get to any pace.  I was running it to complete it and that was the extent of the motivation.  I had somewhat planned for that though in that I told my wife that I would probably not make it in time to get to Sunday School with her and would probably not make it till the actual Church Service started.

As I ran I did get discouraged at the slow pace, but kept on going.  In my running log I am sure I sounded less than thrilled about the run, but that was more about the pace than anything else.  The run actually went pretty good in hind-sight.  I did stop once to make a change to my music because my Daily Audio Bible Podcast had finished and I was switching to the radio for the rest of the run.  I normally would run while doing this type switch, but since this run was not about pace I felt the freedom to stop for the 2 minutes it took me to adjust everything.  I took Gatorade and water with me and alternated sips between the two throughout the run.  I took about 3 of the Energy Gel Blasts at about mile 7 and again at mile 14.  I didn't find them to give me the same boost that I have experienced in previous runs with other types of fueling, however they were not revolting like other things I have experienced either.

At about mile 10 I thought I felt a little tightness in my left calf, but it quickly subsided.  I was very happy that I didn't feel the desire to cut the run short even once.  I was determined to finish the 20, regardless of how long it took me.  Just before mile 15 I came around the corner to find one of my daughter's running buddy's and fellow top 7 XC team-members out doing her long run.  Right behind her was her mother following her in the car since it was still early and she is only a freshman.

At the 15 mile mark I was starting to feel confidence as well as a lot of fatigue.  I knew at this point I would make it at least to 19 miles because I was 4 miles from home.  I had to make up an extra mile someplace between there and home and that was going to be the next mental hurdle.  It would be so easy to just head straight home and say that is good enough, but I was able to persevere and actually took two separate detours to get the extra mile in.  The last four miles my legs were very heavy, but as is true to my style I kicked up the pace and finished each of the last four miles progressively faster to end at a 9 minute pace.

My legs were so much more fatigued following this run than they were just 3 weeks ago with my faster 19 mile run which was at a pace 30 seconds per mile faster than this run.  I am sure this is because of my lack of mileage over the past few weeks, but also had to do with my lack of being physically, nutritionally, and mentally prepared.  I ended up completing the 20 miles in 3:21:33, an overall 10:05 pace which ends up not being the slowest I have ever run 20 miles like I previously said.  (Last year one of my 20 milers was 3:22:11 - a 10:07 pace) You can read about yesterday's run and my splits here.

To try and keep any possible over-use injuries away, as well as to try and keep the recovery quick and easy I headed straight for an ice bath upon my return.  I only spent about 10-15 minutes in the bath, and had limited ice (since I hadn't planned for this either) but I am sure this helped with the quick recovery I am currently experiencing.  I drank a lot of water and Gatorade and mixed me up some Endurance Amino Vital.  I haven't tried it before but was given a chance to try it by the kind people over at America's Nutrition.  If you haven't heard about America's Nutrition before you need to check them out.  They have a lot of the nutritional items that we runners use on a daily basis.  While you are there you should also check out their newly re-designed blog at  I thought the experience was a bit chalky and wouldn't be a flavor that I would go looking for, but that is not the reason we take this type of product..... it is for the recovery.  I am not sure which helped more, but after the ice bath and the Endurance Amino Vital I am having a much better recovery than I have had in the past after the longer runs.

Following Church, lunch, and a quick nap it was time to get going again.  I wasn't really sore, but more just tired.  My daughter Payton couldn't find anybody to do her long run with so I jumped on the bike and we headed out.  She is nothing if she is not consistent.  After a couple miles in I was watching my watch and she was running each and every mile between 8:00 and 8:10.  She is like a machine just cranking those miles out without slowing or even getting winded.  I was starting to work up a sweat following her on the bike but I noticed only a small spot on her back about the size of a tennis ball that was sweaty.

Less than two miles in her mp3 player died and she wasn't too happy.  I was carrying my blackberry which has a decent external speaker.  Since I don't have her kind of music I turned on Pandora and created a new station based on a song she said she liked.  I then became her radio station as well as her bodyguard. I didn't know Pandora actually played anything but 80's :)

We turned around at the 4 mile mark and headed back home.  When getting close to home she added an extra mile with a loop close to home.  Of course she picked the hilliest area around us which is oh so much fun on the bike with legs trying to recover from a 20 mile run just hours before.  She kicked it up the last few miles and was running around a 7:40 - 7:50 pace.  When she was almost finished I remember thinking she was getting pretty close to the mailboxes.  Just a few minutes later - BAM! she said ouch, I just hit that mailbox.  After I knew she was OK I just had to laugh - she didn't even miss a beat or fall out of stride.  She just said she hopes the mailbox is OK and that she didn't dent it too much with her Super Muscles! :)

My legs felt fine with very little pain the rest of the day.  It wasn't till later at about 8:00 when they started to ache a little bit.  Nothing that a little Advil and sleep couldn't cure.  I went to bed early and woke this morning to some almost fresh legs.  They are not 100% but I am very pleased with the recovery they have given me.

And to think...... I almost didn't even get out the door.

- subscribe - follow blog - twitter - fanpage - call


  1. Congratulations on pushing through and ending up with a really successful run.

    That's great that running seems to come so easily to your daughter!

  2. I find my really long runs are more mental than physical. I already had myself psyched out about my 35km run I did on Sunday before I had I even gone out.
    I need to chill and take whatever comes...

  3. Laura - I have really not thought this through before, but I can see where you are coming from as well. I know mental plays a big part in running in general.... even just the short runs.

  4. I think we've all had those runs, Tim. Way to stick with the plan (which is good, unless you're injured...but it sounds like the calf held up). Good luck with the rest of your marathon training.

  5. Glad you got through it. Sounds like it was worth it!

  6. Glad you got through it. Sounds like it was worth it!