20 Miles and a Mental Breakdown

Yesterday was the 20-miler of my marathon training plan; the peak of my training. It was to be my longest run ever. For the past 13 weeks I both looked forward to it and feared it. Up until a couple of weeks ago, my training had gone wonderfully, better than I'd hoped. But then I started having issues with my right foot - the worst possible time to have it. All week I'd been "baby'ing" it. I only wore tennis shoes to work, limped more than I needed to keep the weight off of it, took ibuprofen, and lathered it every morning and evening with sesame oil (advice from my yoga instructor).

On Friday, my foot felt better, but I still wasn't sure how it was going to feel on Saturday. I went ahead and prepared myself for the run anyway. I had my traditional pre-long run/race dinner of a salmon/spinach crepe with diced hashed potatoes from the Crepevine and spent the evening doing a lot of foam rolling and stretching.

I had planned to be out on the road by 7:30 am, the time that the race is scheduled to start. But come Saturday morning, I just couldn't make myself get out of bed; it felt so good to sleep in. When I did finally get up and I took my first steps of the day slowly, not sure what my foot would feel like. I was thrilled to feel ZERO pain! I had full mobility.

I had wanted to simulate this 20-miler as close to race day as possible so I had my normal breakfast of oatmeal (with honey and sliced almonds) but since I get so hungry during long runs, I ate a little more than usual and add a piece of fruit too. I also wore the outfit that I plan to use on race day.

I finally got out the door at 8:30 am, an hour later than I planned. It was 47 degrees and overcast. Perfect.

After the 17-miler I did a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I needed to start and end this run from my front door. I didn't want to be out on a trail and have to drive home after such a long run. Who knew how my body would feel? So I planned a route around town - something that's not so easy. I used the Daily Mile to map out the route. It let me see what roads/trails are out there that I may not have been aware of.

The first 3 miles were through some nearby neighborhoods. It was tough running on uneven pavement. I could feel little twinges in my foot.


Then I reached the San Francisco Bay and ran along it for the next 10 miles. First I headed north to Coyote Point, then tracked back south. The terrain was a mixture of sand and dirt. This was heaven for my foot. There was no pain at all. I had expected to battle some strong winds along the Bay, but there was only a soft breeze. At times it was just me on the trail and I loved it! I even dare to say that I experienced the coveted "runners high" at Mile 6 - that's how good I was feeling. I kept reminding myself to enjoy the experience. When I ran under the San Mateo Bridge, I thought to myself, "How cool is this? Next week I'll be running across the Golden Gate Bridge!"


Along the way I fueled with Cytomax and Honey Stingers. I experimented with Cytomax last week and it worked well but this was the first time I ate Honey Stingers. I usually run with Chocolate Outrage GU but felt like I just couldn't eat another packet of it. The Honey Stingers worked okay, but the taste was very different. I didn't like it and I don't think I'll be using it on race day. But it was nice to change it up and I'm glad it didn't upset my stomach. Unfortunately, I now have a whole box of it.

Not wanting to kill my foot I kept my pace very slow and took 30-45 second walk breaks every couple of miles. As the miles passed, it got harder to start up again, but once I did it felt fine. Until Mile 12. My foot started to hurt at Mile 12. This was when the terrain turned to pavement. I ran/walk until I could only walk and did this until Mile 13. That's when I realized that walkers were walking faster than me. The rest of the route would only be pavement and I knew I couldn't continue on. So I called my cousin and waited in this cul-de-sac

Cul de sac
Cul de sac

and sat on this curb while waiting for her to come and get me.


I had her take me home where I got my gym card and then drove myself to the gym. It was tough to continue on the treadmill. The transitional process took about 45 minutes so I had already cooled down and my legs started to stiffen up. I was able to get 5 more miles on the treadmill, until my foot couldn't take it anymore. I finished the last 2 miles on the elliptical.

I came home and went through the usual process of a chocolate milk smoothie, ice bath and food. It was 5 hours after I had started and I was famished. Luckily, when I ordered my pre-run dinner, I got a double order so I had another salmon/spinach crepe and potatoes waiting for me.

I spent the rest of the day (what was left of it), resting and elevating my poor feet. While doing this, I pulled up the race Web site. There hadn't been much communication from the race organizers since I signed up 3 1/2 months ago. With other races I have participated in (even small ones), there's usually a monthly email or updates on Facebook or Twitter. Personally, the communications really keep me engaged and excited about the race. But nothing from this one, so I often visit the Web site to see if there's any new information. It seems like every time I do there's a new rule or information that, had I known prior, I would have not signed up for this race. For example:

* Now they say they discourage the use of iPods. Well guess what, I can't even run 2 blocks without any music. I know people say they like to "enjoy the silence" as they run. For me, all I hear is me gasping for air while running. I don't want to listen to that, it messes with my mental strength and makes me think I can't continue on. I understand the safety issue and am very careful to keep the volume down so I can hear what's going on around me.

* Before I signed up, I contacted the organizers and asked about elevation. I was told it was 1200 feet in total, which was very doable for me because one of the trails I run on is about the same. Now the Web site says 1800 feet. Yeah, I haven't trained for that.

* And finally, there is now a 5-hour time limit posted. I could have SWORN it previously said 6 hours. I even asked one of my friends and she said she had read 6 hours as well. I have trained thinking that I have 6 hours to finish this thing. When I signed up, I listed my predicted finish time of 5 hours, but that was before I knew about the increased elevation, and before I had this foot problem. Now I think I'd be cutting it very close. I panicked and had a meltdown. What would happen if I didn't finish in 5 hours? Would I be disqualified? It would really hurt to run the whole 26.2 miles, finish in 5:01 and not have it count. I wondered if I should even run it. If that would going to be the case, then why put myself through the stress?

I emailed the organizers, expressing my frustrations. To their credit, they responded very quickly and addressed all of my issues and reassured me that I'd have the full support that I'd need on that day. They also took my advice and said they'd start sending out communications to all the runners. This eased my mind and renewed my excitement for the race. Whew!

This morning, the day after 20, I'm pretty sore. No, I'm VERY sore. My quads hurt the most. I am taking every step very gingerly. It hurts to sit down. It hurts to stand up. I feel like an old person. I'm going to an Easter brunch buffet with my family today and am wondering who can I bribe to get my food and bring it to me. :)

While this wasn't the 20-mile experience I had hoped for, I'm glad I was able to get it done, one way for the other. I have 3 weeks to get my foot to be 100%. On race day, I won't have the options of a treadmill and elliptical, so I can only count on my will to carry me through.