My first EVER 20 miler was this morning and I was so excited for it.  My prior attempt at a 20 miler (while training for the Buffalo Marathon this spring) ended badly at 17.5 miles due to my then-emerging runner’s knee problem.  So, if successful, this would be my first time running 20 miles.

I was so stoked.

Carrie and I were planning on running it together (yay!).  I have been super wary of all the crazy insane hills in the first half of the actual course.  It’s basically miles 3.5 to 11.5 – that’s right, 8 miles of HILLS.  And I’m not talking nice little rolling hills, either.  This is shoot-you-in-the-foot-make-you-want-to-cry hills that feel like they never end.  Every time you turn a corner, it just.keeps.going. Oh sure, there’s little parts that flatten out along the way, and a nice couple downhills.  But then – WHAM!  Back to “Okay, just make it to that leaf 10 feet in front of me.  Okay, now make it to that next leaf.”

So Carrie and I decided to go up to Schroon Lake and run the actual course today.  And I am so glad we did!

Since we were only running 20 miles and the full 26.2 goes all the way around the lake (meaning, if we did just a straight 20 we’d end up 6 miles from our car), we decided to do an out-and-back on the first part of the course.  Since almost all of the hills – and definitely the worst of them – are in the first 11.5 miles, that was the part of the course we wanted to run and get some confidence on.  I knew that if I could just get my feet on the pavement there, my apprehension would melt away.

We parked in downtown Schroon Lake and headed out from the starting line.  Downtown was bustling today with garage sales all over the place (one woman we passed had about 30 bottles of shampoo for sale – are we the only ones that think that’s odd???), and banners for the race were already flying.

It was gorgeous out, and we were so glad the weather had finally cooled off!  It’s been insanely hot here the last couple days, but today was high 60s/low 70s and perfect.

One of the best things about the course is just the beautiful scenery.  We were having a great time just taking in the sights and the peacefulness of the quiet country roads.

And then the hills started!

At 3.5 miles there’s a very short but steep hill.  That was fine.

At 4 miles, there’s a very long hill (about 2 miles) with some pretty steep parts.  Fortunately there’s also some small spots that level out so you can catch your breath.  I had to stop and walk on this hill once for about 30 seconds, but other than that, it felt good!  Tough, but good.

There was a decent downhill around mile 7 (probably all the stuff you just ran up between 4 and 6!).  And then the uphills reappear.  From miles 8 to 11.5, it’s up-down-up-down-up-down.  And none of them are small.  Again, I stopped to catch my breath for 30 seconds here and there (maybe three or four times), but it felt good.

We stashed some water at 11 miles, which was perfect timing, because that was when I sucked my 1.25 liter Camelbak dry.  We refilled, and finished off the last .5 miles of uphills, and then turned around to head back toward the car.  I was absolutely thrilled that I had just tackled the hardest part of the whole course – the part that had been making me really nervous – and I felt great! I knew I had run faster than I thought I would.  But like my 18 miler, I didn’t look at my Garmin, because I knew that if I knew how fast I was really going, I would want to slow down.  I was playing a mental game with myself.

Now this was the part where we were in for a surprise.

On the way out, it felt like everything was uphill – with a few (maybe one or two) downhills along the way.  On the way back, we realized that was completely false.  Because the way back felt like it was all uphill too!

So I had already tackled (and defeated) the monster that is the first part of the course.  And then, like the crazy people we are, we turned around and went back for more!

Going back was definitely harder than going out.  By this time, my butt and hamstrings were tired.  If we had continued on the rest of the course, it would have been fine.  I could have recovered and been great for the last half.  But going back and repeating all those massive hills was exhausting!  I had to keep focusing on a leaf/rock/bump in the road 10 feet in front of me and just focusing on making it to that.  Once I would get there, I’d pick the next leaf/rock/bump in the road and keep going.  It’s a strategy that works well for me.  If I look up at how large the hill is and just stare far away, I feel overwhelmed.  Breaking it down into smaller parts makes it seem more manageable.

On the way back, I definitely slowed down.  I also started walking the really steep parts (my butt and hamstrings felt like wet noodles), but the walk breaks weren’t for long.  I kept telling myself “you are so much stronger than you think.”  Fortunately, Carrie was powering up the hills like they were nothing (rock on Carrie!), so no one could hear me talking to myself.

We finally made it out of the hilly section (rejoice!) and I realized I had passed 18 miles.  I started yelling to Carrie “every step I take now is the farthest I’ve ever run!”  That was a very cool feeling.  I felt exhausted, but giddy.  I knew I was going to make it.

When my Garmin beeped at the 20 mile mark, I made some weird type of “hehehehehehehehehe” noise, which I think scared Carrie a little bit.  🙂  I had done it!  Then I looked at my Garmin…

Sorry for the blurriness – my camera wasn’t cooperating.

10:36/mile!!!  On the hilliest 20 miles of my life!!!   I felt tired but amazing.  I rocked that 20 miles of hills.  It was hard, but I had gotten through it.  And I did it at 10:36/mile to boot!

I gave Carrie my car keys, since we were still 2.7 miles from the car.  She kept running (what a stud!) and I walked the last 2.7 miles back to the car.  She was going to do 23 miles today, but since this was my first 20 miler, I didn’t need to do those last 3 miles (which, by the way, were also mostly uphill).  I had pushed myself a lot on that run, and I didn’t want to overdo it.

Once I made it back to the car, we washed our faces and changed (thank you Stewarts’ bathroom) and busted out the cooler full of cold water and lunches from the trunk.  Then we spent a good 20 minutes lounging in the sun in the picnic area relaxing and enjoying some well-deserved food.  It was a great way to end the run.

My overall impression of this run (my longest/hardest one before the marathon):

I am absolutely thrilled with myself.  Even though the second half was really hard, I ROCKED the part that was the actual course the way it will be on race day.  If I would have continued on at 11.5 miles instead of turning back and repeating that section, I would have felt absolutely fabulous the whole way.  So I am coming out of this run extremely confident.  I can not wait until race day!

Here’s the splits: (this does not include the 2.7 mile walk back to the car)

  • Distance: 20.01 miles
  • Time: 3:32
  • Pace: 10:36/mile
  • Mile 1 – 9:36
  • Mile 2 – 9:30
  • Mile 3 – 9:46
  • Mile 4 – 9:55
  • Mile 5 – 11:34 (Oh, hello hills!)
  • Mile 6 – 11:08
  • Mile 7 – 9:34
  • Mile 8 – 9:52 (The hill torture comes back with a vengeance – wait, no, I LOVE THE HILLS!  LOVE THEM!)
  • Mile 9 – 10:49
  • Mile 10 – 9:58
  • Mile 11 – 10:37  (This is where we turned around, so I’m not really concerned with my splits after this point, but I’ll put them anyway.)
  • Mile 12 – 10:29
  • Mile 13 – 11:15
  • Mile 14 – 10:55
  • Mile 15 – 10:54
  • Mile 16 – 11:10
  • Mile 17 – 13:03 (That was a bad hill)
  • Mile 18 – 10:25
  • Mile 19 – 10:26
  • Mile 20 – 11:01
  • Time for the first 11.5 miles (the way it’s meant to be run): 1:57:33
  • Average pace for the first 11.5 miles: 10:13/mile  (WOW!!!)

Isn’t that funny?  When I first uploaded my Garmin data, I was shocked at how slow my second half splits were.  But now that I typed it out, that’s actually right on par with what I used to run for my long runs all the time.  Yay for progress!

As an afterthought, I pulled up the profile of the course.  Here’s what we ran today…

Now I know why the hill at 4 miles felt so much harder than the one at 8 miles!  I didn’t think it was that much bigger.  Wow!  I also now feel much better about being beat up by that same hill coming back (it’s even steeper going the other way).  Oh my goodness!

From now until race day I’m relaxing a bit.  Next weekend will be a 15 miler or so.  And after that my taper starts.  I can’t believe I just did my longest pre-race run!  It’s almost here!

Thanks Carrie!  You rock!