I ran 19 miles this past Saturday, and let me tell you it just about killed me. What made it especially difficult was the gross amount of humidity that we experienced that day, and in particular, that morning.
The reason why the long runs are important in marathon training is to get your body acclimated to the conditions of running for hours on end. It's been interesting to me to see how my aches, pains, and challenges have been different this time around as opposed to the first time I did this. I don't have the same knee pain from sheer impact that I had last time. My food diet is better. Since coming out to California I have managed to cut off about 8-9 lbs. It was mostly water weight, but after my run Saturday I actually came in at under 170 lbs for the first time since I was like 16 years old. So instead of the knee pain that I would feel after these long runs I'm feeling pain in my right ankle. I haven't been taking any pain relievers yet because I don't want to train for a marathon if I'm having to rely upon medication to get me through it. I'll do it for the recovery from the actual marathon, but I want to make sure that I'm feeling well enough during the training to make it through without popping 800 mg of ibuprofen. Maybe that's dumb, but I just want to make sure that everything is working naturally.
One of the main reasons for doing the long runs is to expand your body's limits in fighting off the build up of lactic acid in your muscles. You know how when you decide to carry 20 bags of groceries from your car into your house in one trip, that that is somehow better than making multiple trips, but because of that your hands and arms start to burn intensely? Well that's what it's like when you run for a few hours. I ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes on Saturday, and although I'm alternating from one leg to the other so one is not flexed the entire time, each of them is flexed for about half of it, so imagine holding those groceries in your arms for about 80 minutes in a flexed position, and the kind of burn that would leave you. That's what it feels like when I finish the runs.
For about the first 12-14 miles I'm actually feeling fine. It's not really a problem for me to run those distances without any real difficulty, but once I get upwards of 15+ miles, that's when it gets really hard. Legs become fatigued, and one place that I really feel it is in the lowest part of my abdomen, right above the crotch but below the belly button. That's not an area that gets much direct workout, at least not with what I do, so those muscles get really fatigued for me. Anything over 17 miles is done just be sheer will power, but until I'm actually done nothing really hurts too badly.
And it's once I'm stopped when the lactic acid begins to settle in. What's funny about it is that my memory becomes so short-term anytime I finish these especially long runs. The burning becomes excruciating, I can't stand anymore, and I always think to myself, "this is the worst pain I have ever felt in my entire life." It's like, up until that point in my life, I've never felt pain before, but at that moment I'm introduced to it and in heaping doses.
I always try and walk around for at least 10 minutes post-run to warm down, get some calories and electrolytes back in me, and then I finally lay down and put my legs up for the next 20 or so minutes.
Greg was talking to me the other day about a point that Stephen Covey makes in one of his books, that some spiritual lessons can only come when we experience them first physically. This is why I want my kids to play sports on a competitive level when I become a parent, but I think this is a point that people who don't play sports or do any kind of intense physical exercise never fully appreciate.
Everything that we do physically has more to do with the mental aspect than anything else. It does take a certain amount of physical gifts to do athletics, but in the end people succeed because they overcome the mental barriers before the physical ones. The reason why I can run a marathon is not because I'm just really physically blessed. It's taken several years for me to learn how to manage my diet and weight, which is a big part of being in a state where I can even consider doing one. I can run a marathon because I've set my mind to doing the training for it. I've committed myself to running 4-5 times a week, up to 40-45 miles a week, for upwards of 14-18 weeks.
And I don't say this to boast of myself, because heavens knows how deficient I am in so many other areas. I say this to make the point that the accomplishments we're able to attain are won through the day to day personal battles that we have in our heads. Don't think for one second that I go to bed Friday nights not dreading the next morning when I have to get up early knowing the pounding that my body is going to take. I'm well aware of the incredible burning sensation in my legs that follows for about 30 minutes after every one of my long runs, the kind of pain that makes me forget all of the other pain that I've ever felt during my life. I have two more 20+ mile runs, and I guarantee you that I will wake up every couple of hours throughout the night prior because of the dread that I will be feeling.
The great things we do in our lives are preceeded by the small and simple things that help us arrive to that point. If we do enough of them for a sufficient amount of time, eventually we'll get to the point of achievement without even realizing that we had even run the marathon in the first place.
Now if I could just apply this to finishing my thesis, I think I will become unstoppable.