Occasionally someone will mention that they've seen me out running and ask if I'm training for something. When I tell them I run and train for marathons the conversation generally moves toward how awful or difficult or boring or impossible running 26.2 miles seems to them. What I can't explain to them is that the marathon is, in the words of Travis at Finally Airborne, a victory lap. A victory lap for all of the hard work, dedication, time management, commitment to nutrition and regular sleep and perseverance through dark, raining, cold mornings for months and months. A victory lap for completing something that is awful and difficult and boring and sometimes seems impossible: the 20-mile long runs.
In my experience, the 20-mile long run is far more difficult than a 26.2-mile race. For while the marathon requires an extra 45 minutes to an hour (at my pace) or more of running, here's what the 20-miler doesn't have:
- Family & friends cheering you on along the way or waiting for you at the finish line
- Spectators cheering for those around you (but pretending they are cheering for you)
- Good Samaritans holding signs that read "We don't know each other, but I'm proud of you" at the point when you want nothing more than to quit but know you can't. And won't.
- Bands/cheerleaders, even bad bands and girls half my age wearing WAY too much makeup -- you know they'll be there and you're glad they are
- Little kids giving high-fives to everyone they can
- Moments that remind you how lucky you are
- Regularly spaced aid stations
- And if you train alone like I do, the camaraderie of others, spoken or unspoken, who are pushing themselves towards a similar goal
- A medal, T-shirt, medical staff and general overall pampering at the finish line
- The pride that goes along with walking (or limping if your prefer) around the rest of the day with your medal hanging around your neck for all to see
The 20-miler early on a Saturday morning is a lonely, grueling experience but it must be done. Multiple times. It's not fun. It's not glamorous. No one that sees you knows if you're in mile 2 or mile 18. But it's necessary. It's the run when your mental toughness is put to the test. 26.2 miles will be more physically demanding due to the number of miles, but if you can mentally will yourself through your 20-milers you'll be more than prepared for the physical challenge that awaits on race day.
I have my 2nd of three 20-milers coming tomorrow, and while I'm not looking forward to it, I will do it. Five more weeks and two 20-milers and I'll be ready to take my victory lap around Red Rock Canyon on March 5th. Can't wait.