The first few miles of a marathon are free, so make sure you don't pay for them.
I was fairly proud of this concept at mile 11 yesterday, but it may have just been the heat getting to my brain.
In the wake of my foot pain, my Sunday long run was set to be the first real test of whether I had a problem to deal with. I had no issues on Thursday or Saturday (Friday is a planned rest day for me), but it's a different situation when you're sustaining effort for over 60 minutes. Fortunately, I was scheduled for a step-back week, so this run was 13 miles instead of 17.
Of course, deciding to have some at-home brunch and watch a Kurosawa film made for a later start than normal, so it was well into the 70s by the time I got started. Coupled with the increased foot traffic of the Austin Kite Festival, this made for a higher degree of difficulty than I had anticipated. Perhaps it was the heat, or not drinking enough water on Saturday, or the four days off, but with two miles to go, I was fighting pretty hard. I definitely had thoughts of bailing, but I kept putting one foot in front of another, all the way home.
I was reminded of the last couple miles of pretty much every marathon I've ever done. In my eight attempts, I have never completed a marathon without walking due to exhaustion (or pain). Most devastating was Seattle, when I was on pace to qualify for Boston with four miles to go and simply ran out of energy, but all have been somewhat discouraging, and spoke to a problem with my training.
There's a widely-held (though often disputed) belief that training runs for marathons need not exceed 20 miles. For the average marathoner, this is the "wall" point - the 2000 calorie threshold where the body has to work a whole lot harder to find energy. Those who advocate a 20-mile ceiling sometimes argue that going beyond this point too many times can hurt more than help your endurance. For the most part, I've accepted this theory, and if I've gone over 20 in training, it's not by much.
My thinking became, if I've trained for 20 miles, my sheer determination will carry me the last 6. But now I think I was wrong. I shouldn't be training for the first 20 miles. I should be training for the last 20, because the first 6 are the free miles.
Now, if you're new to running, that last statement is probably aggravating. Please know, it takes a long time to build up to this kind of distance. This is not overnight progress, and it takes months to get your body into shape for that kind of work. Running is never easy, and anyone who does it deserves the respect and admiration that goes with completion of every mile.
Still, when that gun/horn/guy-yelling-in-a-megaphone goes off, adrenaline kicks in. I have almost always gone out too fast, and in that moment, it is incredibly difficult to convince yourself that you're not "just feeling good" today, but rather you're running outside your ability. I somehow tell myself that I'm "banking time" for later, so that I've got a little cushion against my goals, but it's this banking that makes me have to slow down later, whereas if I'd just stayed on plan the whole way, I'd be in much better shape at the end.
The truth is, I don't need to push for the first 10K. My adrenaline will do that for me. But when I hit that point, that's when I have to start checking in to every step around me. I need to run a 20 mile race that starts at 6.2, because that's what my body has trained for. So, every long run I do is done with a mindset of how many miles are left. If I'm doing a 16-mile run, I consider myself as starting out at mile 10. Yesterday, with 2 miles to go (telling myself I'd run 24), I felt fairly similar to how I've felt at that point in marathons. But I didn't give up. I didn't walk. I'm training my mind and legs to keep going to 26 every time. It won't just happen.
Nothing comes for free.