Saturday, March 31, 2012

The 20 Mile Wall

Today marked my first ever 21 mile run.  Can you believe that?

It was hard.

Really hard.

And that "Wall" most people get at mile 20?  It's very real.

A few weeks ago I started to wonder about this so-called Wall.  The wall where your body runs out of glycogen, and you have zero energy to keep going.  Glycogen?  It's your energy storage.  That's why you are supposed to eat a lot of carbohydrates the day before and morning of the long run or race, so you can store all that energy and have fuel for the next day.

You load up on your carbohydrates, but your body only keeps about 2000-2500 calories worth of glycogen.  Essentially 2000 calories only gets you as far as about 20 miles.  Once you use them up, you hit the Wall, and you start experiencing fatigue and the desire to cry.  Or maybe that was just me who wanted to cry.  Then your body wants to use your fat reserves, which apparently is really hard, and you struggle through the last few miles.


OK, so if you experience the wall around mile 20, why would training programs peak at 20 miles before they taper down?  Why wouldn't you train to break through the wall, instead of stopping right when it's supposed to happen?  Is it so newbies don't wig out and quit?

Call me naive, but I think that's just dumb.

I want to know what it feels like, and learn how to fight through it.

The last few weeks I've been slowly adding more miles to my long runs until I worked my way up to today, where I attempted and ran 21 miles.  My thought was to not only get to 20 miles, but to surpass it.  I'm going to have to do it in a month, so I should learn how to do it now.

The first 18 miles went well.

After running for about 3.5 hours, about the most I've run up to now, my legs started aching.  I hadn't stopped to walk at all until this point, other than stopping at stop lights or taking a gel break, so I took a few minutes to walk and loosen my legs.

By mile 18, I was starting to get tired.  I walked a little more.  By mile 19, I was starving.  I brought dried cranberries along with me and scarfed them down as I took a little more time to walk out some achy legs.  I read somewhere that dried fruit is good to bring along on long runs as an energy source.  They did help curb my hunger a bit. 

Miles 20 and 21 were hard.  Running was getting real hard to keep up, and I gave in to walking.  But I wouldn't allow myself to walk the last two miles.  I picked a point ahead of me and made myself run to it.

I had to keep up with the walk/run pattern the rest of the way home.  I kept picking something ahead of me to run to before I'd let myself walk again.  Some goals would be farther ahead than others, depending on how much pain my legs were in at the time.

These weekly runs just keep getting harder and harder, and this week was the hardest yet.

It's good, because it's exactly what I'll experience on race day.  I know what it feels like, and although I only ran 21 miles instead of 26, I can prepare a little better for it.

Next week I planned to run 23 miles, getting one more long run in that surpassed the 20 mile mark, but after doing a little more reading today, I might scrap that idea so I can start tapering my miles and letting my body fully recover so I'm nice and rested come April 28.  Apparently it takes your body about 3-4 weeks to recover and reap the benefits of a long 20ish mile run.  Interesting.

I guess these people who write the training programs really know what they're talking about.  I should dig mine out again and see what they're telling me to do the last few weeks.

Sorry for the lack of pictures this week.  My camera is still out of commission.  You know, from the day I fell into a manhole.  Ha.

March stats
Total miles run in March:  113.5
Farthest distance in March:  21.23
Total miles since August:  590.53
Total calories burned since August: 57,194

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