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20 Miles: Better Than Legos January 23, 2010

Posted by Richard Lowe in LA Roadrunners.
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Do you remember when you were a kid and you built your first Lego set? The exhilaration and excitement of accomplishment you felt? Well, today was so much better than that.

The dreaded and ominous 20 mile run was on today’s LA Roadrunner schedule. For months it has sat there on my calendar, staring me down, hanging like a guillotine ready to drop.

Since I’ve returned from Japan, my whole goal has been to not skip the first 20-miler. That gave me two weeks to get back into game shape and I made sure not to miss a single day of running. Additionally, I was mentally trying to prepare myself. “I can do this, I can do this.” But, in the back of my mind, I wasn’t so sure. This whole week I had been wondering whether or not I was ready. My longest run in over six weeks was only 14.5 miles and I had missed the Roadrunner runs of 16, 17, 18 and 19. Could I manage 20?

The answer is yes. And then my realization was this: nothing can prepare you for a 20+ mile run mentally. You just have to go out and do it.

Distance: 20.2 miles
Time: 173:23
Pace: 8:35 mile

It’s hard to see any detail in the route on this map, but even at this distance, you can see it was a daunting course. We started at Venice Boardwalk, went up through Santa Monica, through Rustic Canyon, back down the beach, then into Marina Del Rey. And it was absolutely gorgeous: post-rain blue skies with white clouds, damp and cool roads, misty air, and a dewy forest through Rustic Canyon.

I’m really bummed that I didn’t take my camera with me. I was figured it’d be too much to worry about on my first 20-miler and it was true: I wouldn’t have been able to focus on my running. But, I do want to share images of the run so I got creative and took some screen grabs from Google Maps and hit up Flickr. It’s hodgepodge, but it works.

Rustic Canyon from the Google Cam.

Despite it’s hilly terrain, I could definitely find myself running through Rustic Canyon again.

After that portion of the course, we shot out onto the Pacific Coast Highway and crossed over to the beach to complete the middle miles 7-16. We went back through Venice and into Marina Del Rey and I found that part to be more challenging than the hills of Rustic Canyon. It was mainly due to the compact nature of the marina that made it so difficult. With 30+ runners trying to cram onto the narrow walkways and alleys of the boat docks, it’s hard to zone out because you’re constantly worried about hitting a fellow runner.

See the narrow docks? Marina Del Rey from Das Bobby via Flickr.

I was feeling fine pretty much all the way until mile 18. Before this run, the my longest run ever was 15.xx miles so I was pretty happy with my legs at 18. But as we headed back for the final two miles, It Got Tough. My legs were so tired and tight. I was losing speed, even though my endurance was fine. I was keeping with the group, but it was a struggle. As I looked around, I could tell that the entire group was feeling the same thing. A few runners were tripping and one even fell—common occurrences with tired legs and uneven roads. Needless to say, we were exhausted but not nearly done.

Our pace leader kept encouraging us, yelling out the remaining distances and some morale boosters. “1.7 miles to go! You can do it!” “1.2 miles to go! You’ve got this!” That really helped mentally. I kept reminding myself that, “Hey, I’ve run 1.2 miles before! This is easy!” and surprisingly, that little mental trick did help. I was able to find some guts that I didn’t know I had remaining and eek out the final two miles, despite my legs. When our pace leader announced we had hit 20 miles, we all cheered, and when we finally crossed the finish line, we were all relieved.

There’s nothing quite like achieving something you never thought you could do, while also setting a personal standard. If you had asked me five months ago if I thought I could hang with a 20 mile run, I’d have said no. And even with five months of training, I still woke up this morning thinking to myself, “Well, if you can only do 17 or 18, that’s fine. Don’t push yourself.” But now, I can say I did it. I ran 20.2 miles and survived.

Now if only I can find a way to add 6 more miles, I’ll be set.

Full Steam Ahead!