For my first few marathons the 20 mile runs in my schedule were the big, big mountains in my training. They were the runs I dreaded, the ones I felt I had to get right in order to feel confident about my training and upcoming race. Then, last training cycle I ran both of my 20 milers as races. This both improved my times (considerably) and made them more fun and less of a big deal. Also, the Pfitzinger program has so many relatively long runs and big training weeks. For whatever reason, I was feeling quite seasoned and I no longer felt any fear about doing my first 20 miler of this cycle while on holiday in Greece.
But this long run proved a fickle mistress.. I had gone to bed early the night before, leaving the rest of my family to have their night out and instead staying in to eat pasta and drink water. I got up at 530 am to beat the heat, but found, upon being outside, that it was still dark. Greek drivers have to be seen to be believed, so I dared not venture out before daylight. So I headed to the treadmill for my first 2 miles. By then it was light enough (and I was fed up enough) to head out. Strike one - for the first time ever my Garmin acted up. 1 minute into my run the autolap feature told me I'd run a mile. Dang! I started panicking - how was I going to measure out a 20 miler in a new territory without the Garmin? However, I managed somehow to restart the thing and off I went. I had run 12 earlier in the week so the first 6 miles were not too hard, though I felt no pace in my legs. I could feel I had the (still mild) wind in my back and, all in all, it was not going too badly. And then, very suddenly, I ran out of road. The track which follows the coastline, simply stopped. So I waded across the sand and ran the next 2 miles along the beach, right along the shoreline. Although this was the best (most packed) surface, the camber was very steep and, of course, I mistimed my steps and managed to wet both feet. I was getting thoroughly fed up by this stage. I decided 2 miles out along the beach was enough (was, by this stage, getting 12:30 minute miles) and so turned around. 2 miles back was worse as the wind was now picking up (the kitesurfers were already setting up at 7am so that tells you something) and I now got sand in my face as well. Great. Back on the track things improved a bit - at least the surface underfoot was better) but the wind was now getting very strong. I sucked down an espresso Hammergel and headed out on a 1 mile out and back up and down a hill road to add the extra 2 miles I had missed by only heading out 8 miles to begin with) and then started on the way back. What can I say? It was horrible. It was really hot, really windy and just a constant struggle. In my 20 milers for London I had run great races and now I felt like I was just back to square one - struggling to get under 10 minute miles. I didn't. My overall time for the run was 3:26.
I don't think it's my fitness. All my runs for the past few weeks have gone very well and I've not struggled at all with any of the set paces. I think it was purely the very unpleasant circumstances of the environment. But nonetheless it was humbling. I thought I would just slip this long run in. And I didn't. It took every ounce of mental strength I possessed to just carry on and drag myself through this run. Probably a good thing to just regain a little respect for the distance and the effort. Not to mention for all those pals of mine who train in the heat all the time.
Finally - here is a photo I took along the way. It convey nothing of the unpleasantness and makes it all look rather lovely. Maybe it's my attitude that needs changing and nothing else..