20 mile win!

I've always had trouble with 20-mile training runs. I can't quiet seem to get to the 20 mile mark without stitches or fatigue and having to walk the last quarter of the run or cut the run early. It has to be something about the number 20 in my head because I have had great runs at 18 and 19 miles, heck I've had a great 26.2 mile run--but for some reason my body freaks out when I know I have to run 20.

So with mixed feelings I woke up early yesterday for the first 20-mile run of this training cycle. I told myself that it was only another training run, only two more miles beyond the 18-miles I ran two weeks ago. I made sure I wore exactly the right clothing: the new shorts, the good shoes, and the warm-weather long-sleeve t-shirt (my most versatile running t-shirt).

I also saved a new running route just for this distance. For the first time I was going to run over the George Washington Bridge (the GWB, which links I-95 from New York to New Jersey) and try to run along the Palisades in Jersey. New routes always excite me, and this one was extra special because I was going to be running across two states, which sounds impressive.

I headed out from Astoria and caught the bus over to Columbia University and at 116th and Riverside Drive I started running north. This is one of my favorite stretches of Manhattan because of the views up the Hudson with the GWB in the foreground and the apartment buildings clinging to the hilly terrain.

After snaking along Riverside Drive and remote parts of Washington Heights I arrived at the ramp for the GWB. Dodging cyclist all along the way (apparently there was some big ride going on) I made it across the GWB. The views were stunning: downriver was the biggest city in the US, every landmark building glimmering in the sun; upriver was the Hudson Valley carved deep by glaciers in the last ice age, now lined with forests as far as you could see.

On the Jersey side I turned into the Palisades Park. I had researched this part of the run, but couldn't find more information beyond how to get there. Once in the park I was faced with two paths; for no particular reason I made a split decision to take the path on the left.

I instantly found myself on a trail run complete with fallen trees, rocks, roots, streams, and branches. I couldn't believe I was just across the river from Manhattan. Although when I turned off my headphones I was kindly reminded by the non-stop air traffic noises and the cars on the Palisades Parkway.

Eventually, I ran into a church or a catholic school (couldn't really tell, because on the same campus they had a Shalom Center, which most certainly betrays St. Peter's name on the main sign). I couldn't find a way around this campus so I went onto the road and started heading back to the GWB.

Once I was back in Manhattan I was at the 10-mile mark and felt fantastic. So I kept my head up, controlled my breathing and started heading toward Central Park, knowing that I could easily find 10-miles between 178th and 59th streets.

On the way south I stopped at my favorite sewage-plant-cum-public-park since I had never run through the park on top. This was a well-timed detoured because the second I saw the bathrooms my stomach decided it was time to go. Let me tell you, those were some of the cleanest public bathrooms I've ever been to--just as clean as the ones in Central Park next to the Boat House (you know, for all you people out there that need to know these things).

After the bathroom break I continued the march south along Riverside Drive. At Grant's Tomb I made a left and cut through Columbia to Morningside Park, and from there went for the last five miles in Central Park--starting at Harlem Hill.

When I got to Central Park I felt great. I had five miles left and I knew I had them all inside of me. I ran over Harlem Hill and cut across to East Drive. I was feeling so good and I had such a short distance to go that I started picking up the pace, like the show-offy 20 something year old I am. Yeah, that back fired.

At the end of Mile 18 I started to get a stitch. I was so close to the end that I couldn't believe it. I had gone 19-miles without any type of problem and then at the very end I get a nasty stitch. I was rocking the pace so I slowed that down. I started breathing hard and timing breathes with my left foot. I straighted up my back to correct my form. All of these things do work for me, but not when it's the last mile of a run. It suddenly puts me in a two-front battle: on one side I'm tired and have to push every step and on the other side is a stitch that I have to keep at bay. And what's worse is that they compound each other: the tiredness makes it harder to fight against the stitch and the stitch makes me more tired.

At mile 19.7 the stitch was so bad it was impacting my stride. I stopped at a bench to stretch out my side, correct my breathing and then pound out the last .3 miles--the stitch was not winning this one. I sucked it up, and in a half-hobbling gait cranked out .3 painful miles. As soon as Fenny ticked over from 19.99 to 20.0 I stopped.

And then it was done: my first ever 20-mile run successfully completed. Even though I got the stitch at the end, I'm still going to count it--but walk away with the lesson that I really need to always pay attention to my breathing and not let myself get lazy.


RunToTheFinish said...

form is so easy to let go at the end, but it makes a huge difference...almost mentally too when you start to sag you think you need to stop

way to go on pushing through!

The Laminator said...

Always concentrate on your form...especially when fatigue sets in...

It's funny, I ran in the Palisades State Park yesterday too! What a coincidence!

Congrats on finishing your 20 miler!

Irish Cream said...

I seem to have the same mental block with 20 miles . . . good to know that these things CAN be overcome! Great job pushing on through!

Adam said...

That is great!! Nice work on the 20 miler. It is all downhill from here.

CyclingDivas said...

Way to go!

Biscuitman said...

Good job - how was your overall pace?

FLYERS26 said...

Awesome job on the 20 miler!
Keep up the good work.