A Race to the Finish: Marathon Training Weeks 19-20

Health Icons
November 8, 2016

Ever wondered what it’s like to train for a marathon? Our blogger, Rachel Glum, invites you along for the ride as she takes on her second marathon. With less than 2 weeks to the race, Rachel reflects on how her peak weeks have gone, and how her goals have changed.

Still smiling after running 20 miles!
Still smiling after running 20 miles!

As I write this, there are just 12 days until I run the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon. A few weeks ago, that prospect would have terrified me.
Since coming back from my injury, my long runs had felt exceptionally hard, both physically and mentally. I found myself feeling apprehensive both before and during the runs, rather than determined and ready to attack them. And while it’s normal for long runs to be challenging, I was frustrated that a distance of almost 10 miles less than a marathon was taking so much out of me.
Luckily, something changed with my last two long runs. After tough 17 and 15 milers, I was hoping to make it to 19 miles the following weekend, but a 2-mile increase in a long run once you’ve already hit a high level can be difficult to achieve. But then something magical happened—as soon as I began to run, I felt myself settle in. I was able to push away any anxiety and simply enjoy the journey without freaking out about the length of time I’d be out there or how much my body would hurt towards the end. It’s this freeing feeling of being able to exist in the present moment, take in the beautiful nature around you, and feel grateful for your ability to move your body that makes long-distance running so amazing.
In addition to being in such a great mental space, my body felt stronger. In fact, once I hit 19 miles, I had extra energy to tack on an extra mile and round it out to 20. Needless to say, I was pumped after achieving that.

All that was left at that point was to get a 22-miler under my belt. Many marathon training plans only include long runs up to 20 miles, so this was where I peaked my first time around training. Yet during the race, I felt strong until mile 20, and then terrified of those last 6 miles of uncharted territory. Running for an extra hour after you’ve hit your familiar territory mark is a huge challenge, so I knew I wanted to train up to at least 22 miles this time around.
Because of a work trip, I had to start running at 5:30am on a Friday to get the distance in before my flight. As unappealing as this sounded, I knew that if I could make it 22 miles under less than ideal circumstances, I would be prepared for race day. After less than 6 hours of sleep and a much smaller than usual breakfast, I got up and started my run. I ran for over an hour in the dark, and then joined the rest of the usual runners on the path for the next 2 ½ hours. My energy tanked before mile 10 even hit, but I thankfully felt better after fueling up with a few dates. I’m not going to lie—my legs were in pain starting at the halfway point. But despite how difficult this run was, miles 21 and 22 were the fastest of the entire run, which is a great indication that I would have been able to run a few miles longer if I needed to without slowing down my pace. And just like that, my hardest training run was over!
I’m feeling confident for race day, but my goals have changed significantly since the beginning. My original goal pre-injury was to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes, and even if my training had gone 100% according to plan, this still would have been a huge challenge for me. My injury set me back a lot, and I haven’t done any speed training post-injury in an attempt to keep the injuries at bay. This means that my comfortable pace is now much slower. My new goal is to run a sub-4 hour marathon, which is a pace of about 9:09 per mile and still 20 minutes faster than my first marathon. Having said that, my primary goal is to simply finish this race and enjoy the day that I spent 6 months training for.
Until then, it’s time to enjoy 2 weeks of tapering. Be sure to follow @FitFoodieFiles to follow along with the last few weeks of training, and see how I do on race day. And be sure to tune in next time for a full race recap!