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October 3, 2010

Ran my first 20 miler of this training season today. I was almost paralyzed by fear before starting it, realizing it was probably the first time I’d really undertaken a run of that distane entirely alone.

I planned as well as I could. I mapped my run out on Running Ahead, planning stops every 4 miles for water and fuel, and potty breaks. I pinned 4 Hammer gels to the undershorts of my running skirt, and also packed my Spi Belt with my phone and some Endurolytes. My ipod went into the key pocket of the skirt, for when the run got truly lonely.

As I set out, I made myself commit to running solidly from one water stop to the next–that is, to run five four-milers. I knew running alone, my greatest temptation would be to stop to catch my breath every other mile, making the run interminably long.

Miles 1 through 4: predictably difficult. Runners know that these first few miles are always creaky as your body begins to stretch out, hating the movement, the pavement, the darkness, the run. When I hit that first water stop, I got my first gel out and discovered that the men’s room was left unlocked, so I went ahead and went even thoguh the need wasn’t that pressing. 4 miles done. (10:04, 10:05, 9:59, 10:16)

Miles 5-8: these early middle miles are tough. I know I’m so far from being done. I’m warmed up, but it’s still dark (I started at 4:30), and not a soul is stirring to keep me distracted. I’ve got to watch my footing or risk a fall, so my eyes take turns, now watching for obstacles, now watching for traffic. I hit the park I planned for my 8-mile stop and the bathrooms are open, but I just don’t have to go. I take an Endurolyte and a gel, though. Still feeling fairly fresh, but disappointed I’m so far from being finished–thinking that 20 miles is a really long way. (10:15, 10:05, 10:09, 9:56)

Miles 9-12 and I’m tempted to cheer up, knowing this is the turning point–I’ve passed the halfway mark. But now, a new challenge awaits: I’m supposed to do the last six at pace, and I don’t know if I have the legs for it. Little G, who did her 20 yesterday, did her last miles @ 9:02, and to be that fast at the last end of the run, when I ran six miles yesterday, seems impossible. I start to worry in anticipation of failure. (9:57, 10:07, 9:59, 9:52)

Miles 13-16: I try to continue to take it easy, though I know the difficult part is coming, for the first part of this segment. Then I hear the beep that marks the end of mile 14 and I let my legs go. The goal: 9- to 9:15 miles. Now I’m running, concentrating on how it feels to run this pace when I’m tired and spent, and thankful that at least I’m not paying attention to the route because I mapped it out and these are roads I run all week. I’m thinking of form, too–I’m not running with my ankles or my calves–all my strength is in my core and in my thighs–and I somehow manage to feel strong and tired, weak and powerful, all at the same time. (9:59, 9:42, 9:10, 9:03)

Miles 17-20: Having called to check in at home at the 16-mile fuel stop, I’m ready to push for home–which by now has an almost magnetic pull. I’m steadily pushing the pace a little more each mile, knowing each time Garmie* beeps that’s a little less energy I need in reserve, so when the mile 18 signal comes in I know I can burn everything but 2 miles’ worth–and then the 19-mile beep and I can let it all go–and then the final beep that means I JUST RAN 20 MILES and I feel like calling someone to drive me the two blocks home. (9:01, 8:57, 8:46, 8:40)

So, the entire distance finished in 3:14, basically, and I’m fairly satisfied, if a little sore. This wasn’t the hardest 20 miles I’ve ever run, even though I ran 6 miles the day before. We’re about eight weeks out from race day, and I just finished my highest mileage week to date: 49 miles. Included in those miles was an 8-mile intervals session, 5×1-mile repeats, fastest repeat @ 7:27, and a 20-mile run at a 9:40-something pace.

I’m not saying the idea of running 26.2 miles isn’t crazy–I’m more convinced than ever that it’s absolutely insane–but I feel like my body is in the middle of that fine-tuning process that it sometimes does so well.When we first started this several months ago, that entire repetitive, tedious process of “run 8 miles Monday, 6 on Tuesday . . .” seemed very pointless and arbitrary. But going out and running 20 miles . . . that’s not something I would have been capable of six weeks ago.

And it makes me think, you know, spiritually, that’s how it is. You often hate that first week of getting up for quiet times with God. (Wait . . . I’m the only one?) Or maybe you love the first week, but the third week really grinds you to a halt. It gets to be a pain. You don’t enjoy it. You don’t jump out of bed loving every second of it. It feels . . . dare I say it? Arbitrary and repetitive.

Do it anyway.

Do it because it’s training, and because you trust that one day, your Shepherd will require you to run a spiritual 20-miler, and if you don’t have your training in, He may call someone else. You won’t have the endurance or speed the race requires.

Do it because spiritual discipline is a requisite for spiritual battle, and because you desire to serve your Master well.

*Aside from my friend and partner Little G, Garmie is probably my best training partner, my GPS watch. He’s set up to beep at the end of every mile, and I trust him to tell me my splits, mind my distance, and keep me from going out too fast on race day. We’re tight, Garmie and I.

**Full disclosure: Most of this is taken from my journal, and was written on Saturday, October 2, 2010 . . . so “today” means Saturday, and “yesterday” means Friday.

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