"I'm psyching myself out about it," she wrote, "I already feel like it is not going to go well, which I am sure is not a helpful outlook!"
I read it on my phone as I was headed into volunteer in a third-grade classroom, so I didn't respond right away, but my gut roiled a bit as I thought about what to write back. As with any marathon training cycle, Kelly has had some high highs (a half-marathon PR) and some low lows (a 19+ miler where she was barfing, walking, cursing Ma Nature, and hating life). I knew we could perservere in the Philadelphia Marathon no matter what, but I also knew it would be much more helpful, both physically and mentally, if she could nail this 20-miler.
Earlier that week, I gave her specifics—considering the weather, planning for nutrition, having a plan—that I think are important for any long run:
On this 20-miler, we're going to use the lessons you've learned over the past couple weeks. Head out as early as possible so it's cool. (High on Saturday is 70...not humid 85, but still not super cool if the sun is shining.) If you can, start around 6 or 6:30 a.m. The Philly Marathon starts at 7 a.m., so it would be ideal if you start no later than 7.
Eat well on Friday...or Saturday (I'm assuming you're running Saturday a.m., like normal.)
Eat a breakfast before your run similar to a breakfast you anticipate eating in Philly.
On your run, please have at least 3 Uncrustables at your disposal. (Note: Kelly has a delicate stomach, and found that these sandwiches, which come in a little over 200 calories each, work best.) You don't have to carry them all--you can stash one somewhere (home, car, on the route), but have access to them. Ideally, you eat one uncrustable every 6-7 miles. Really try to do this, unless your stomach is rebelling again; it'll help you mentally get through it, and also help your recovery on Sunday.
Then, finally, of course: run/walk intervals from the very first step. Whatever you think will work best in Philly: 6/1, 7/1, whatever you want. Again, this is our last—and most important—dress rehearsal, so let's make it as effective as possible.
When I got the panicky email on Friday, I repeated all the above instructions, and added these two to help with her head:
Ok, so every time you think, this is going to suck or I'm going to fail, turn it mentally into a positive: this is going to get me SO ready for Philly. I am SO going to nail this. No energy or effort goes towards negative thoughts...not worth it at all.
Mentally, I break a run up like this into many parts: first 2 x 10 miles. Then each ten miles is 5 x 2 miles. And if need be, each 2 miles is 4 x .5. Using 10 as your benchmark means you can turn your progress easily into percentages and fractions and the like...I like doing that
And then Saturday morning came. And I contemplated texting her to see how it was going, but I didn't want to jinx it...or dwell on it if it wasn't going well. (Yes, training can be hard on us coaches as well!) So I sent her good vibes as I did my own workout, and hoped she was clicking off the miles with a smile on her face.
Around 10:45 a.m., I got a call from her. I have never received a call from Kelly unless we set up before, so I braced myself. Good or bad? Waiting around for Ben's basketball game, I picked it up. I could tell by the way she said "hello" that she had nailed it.I was so happy, so proud, and so flattered that she called to tell me.
She recapped what she did well—pace, most importantly; eating well; going conservative with her run/walk intervals (5/1). But I'll let her tell you what she did well in her own words; these entries are taken from her blog, where she's faithfully recorded her 26 Strong journey weekly, complete with relevant song lyrics:
She took it as a dress rehearsal: I laid all my clothes out, like I always do the night before an early morning run. Dimity suggested using the run as a true dry run for Philly. I chose the capris, shoes and warm weather option shirt I plan to wear at the race.
She started—and stayed—slow. Jen (one of her running buddies) and I agreed to run this last really long run at an easy pace. We have trouble pacing ourselves and you have to pace yourself when you are running 20 miles. The half marathon ladies from Team Indiana Jones—part of her Fleet Feet training group—had to run their 13 miles before the taper so we knew we’d have lots of company for at least 13 miles. We made sure to stay behind the half marathoners for the first 13 miles to insure we maintained an appropriate pace. It saved us in the end.
She kept her mind positive—or at least ran with people who did. I have to give major credit to Jen for her positive attitude during this run. She framed everything in a positive way – instead of “we have to run 20 miles”, it was “we get to run 20 miles." (Hey Kelly: I'll be happy to remind you on race morning that you "get" to run 26.2!)
And she learned a few valuable lessons from the experience.
The first lesson is that I CAN do hard things. I now know that, while it will be hard, I can and will finish a marathon.
I learned that you really do have to eat a lot of food the day before a very long run. The idea of not eating and torching massive amounts of calories is not realistic (thank you, Eating Disorder I Developed in College, for continuing to warp my eating habits)
I also learned that I still have not perfectly nailed my nutrition challenges out on the run. I did much better this time but I got a little headachy and light headed at about mile 18, and had to take a few more walk breaks.
She celebrated her success appropriately. With a shopping spree at Fleet Feet of course. I love her sense of humor in how she described their choices: I love Jen’s new top and I envy her height and long torso because I covet that running tunic! I, of course, opted for yet another article of running apparel in black because I will stop wearing black when they invent a darker color.
A couple times on the phone—and in her post—she mentioned having to run for one more hour on race day. With the upcoming taper and 20 strong miles under your Saucony Rides, you've so got this. City of motherly love: hope you're ready, because KP and I are coming for you. Better have your uncrustables ready.
What tips have helped you get ready for—and through—a long run?