Monday, December 19, 2005

Tear Down That Wall

After a week of posting stories about my incompetence, stupidity and bad luck as a sailor, please allow me to indulge myself in a post of shameless self-congratulation.

On Saturday I ran 28 miles and I felt great. This was the final long run of my marathon race preparation program for the Disney World Marathon on January 8. What I'm really excited about is that, once and for all, I have proved to myself that the fabled "wall" experienced by marathon runners can be avoided. I know. I did it.

Sara Latta has a good description of hitting the wall.

"The Wall." It evades easy definition, but to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of obscenity, you know it when you see it — or rather, hit it. It usually happens around mile 20, give or take a couple of miles. Your pace slows, sometimes considerably. Some runners say that it feels as though their legs had been filled with lead quail shot, like the stomach of Mark Twain'’s unfortunate jumping frog of Calaveras County. Others can'’t feel their feet at all. Thought processes become a little fuzzy. ("“Mile 22, again? I thought I just passed mile 22!"”) Muscle coordination goes out the window, and self-doubt casts a deep shadow over the soul.

For those interested, Latta's article goes on to discuss the various physiological and psychological explanations for the wall. I certainly know that it's real. I experienced it in my first running of the Disney World Marathon this year and also in my previous long training run of 26 miles.

The advice from the
experts on how to avoid the wall is simple. Don't run too fast at the start of the marathon. And do long runs in training.

Last year the longest run I did in training was 20 miles. This year I have done 20, 23, 26, and now 28, mile training runs. The body does adapt. It's really not surprising that, if your longest training run is 20 miles, and then you go out and try and run as fast as you can in a marathon your body is going to run out of energy at ... duh, 20 miles maybe?

And on Saturday I started the run really reeeallly sloooooowwwlllllly. I was running on a course of 4 miles. So every 4 miles I was back at my car where I could take a drink and eat a snack. I recorded the times it took me to run each 4 miles. And I was able to achieve a slow, consistent increase in pace over the whole 28 miles. Every 4 mile split was faster than the previous one.

For the first 20 miles I felt like I was holding back. Never pushing the pace. Telling myself, "Relax. Hold Back. Take it easy." I was thinking I wanted to arrive at the 20 mile mark with something left in the tank. Then, after 20 miles, I allowed myself to stretch out and increase the pace. I ran the last 4 miles about 2 minutes per mile faster than the first 4 miles. I imagined myself running the last couple of miles through Epcot, seeing the crowds, passing other runners, powering across the finish line ...
Man if felt good!

So I've busted the myth. I've proved to myself that I can train my body to store enough glycogen in my muscles to give me the ability to run well past 20 miles. And I've learned how to pace myself to save enough energy for those last 6.2 miles.

I just hope I can achieve the same on race day.


Carol Anne said...

I have always considered people who run in marathons to be at the least masochistic, and possibly a bit insane.

But now, that's a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

Anyhow, good luck!

Anonymous said...

First of all, I have to admit that I googled myself--but I swear it wasn't a vanity thing! It was only to see if my recently updated website comes up on a google search (it doesn't--aargh!). But what DID come up was your reference to my article in Marathon & Beyond. Hey, I'm glad you liked it! It's good to know somebody actually read it. And congratulations on finishing the marathon. Sounds like you were awesome.--Sara

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