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This is Your Brain on 20 Miles

Yesterday I ran my first 20-miler of this training cycle. No matter how many times I’ve covered the distance, 20 miles always feels really far. Seriously – what is it about the 20 mile distance that makes it feel so much longer than a run of say, 18 miles? I ran 18 a few weeks ago and felt great. Ran 20 yesterday and was wiped out for the rest of the day. Exhausted, sick (well that may have been more to do with my choice of fuel than anything else…more on that in a minute), and unmotivated to do much else but lie on the couch. Funny how 2 measly little miles can make a world of difference.

Anyway…anyone who has ever run 20 miles knows that you don’t just go out and do it. Well, most of us non-elite recreational runners don’t. There’s the build up, the preparation, and then (typically) the roller coaster of emotions to keep you company for the 3ish hours of running. Running 20 miles is a process, a journey.

So, for your enjoyment here’s a glimpse inside the mind of someone who approaches these super long runs with a bit of trepidation.

Reader Warning: Proceed with caution. The following litany of crazy is real. Yes, all these things were really going through my mind yesterday. And yes, I talk to myself during runs. Doesn’t everyone?

Scene: Sunday morning. 7 am. Up, making coffee and toast, obsessively checking the weather.

Why is it only 26 degrees out there? What happened to the beautiful spring weather we had at the end of the week?

Ugh that wind sounds awful. And it’s raining. I think I have a stomachache. Oh no…I’m feeling sick. How am I going to get through 3 hours of running feeling like this? My legs are too tired. And it’s cold. And windy. Maybe I should wait until Monday…

IMG 1024My slight mental exaggeration of the conditions outside as I procrastinated the start of my 20 mile run

3 hours later… (10:00ish am). FINALLY ready to go. Head out in a direction I rarely run to mix it up a little bit.

Yikes! It’s colder out here than I thought. Cold rain, cold wind…maybe shorts wasn’t the best option?

Okay, calm down and shut up. Just run one mile at a time. You can loop back by the house to change in a few miles if you have to.

Woohooo! Never mind. This whole “start downhill” thing is awesome. I’m flying! I love running! Why don’t I run this way more often??

One minute later, a truck comes careening around the corner forcing me to jump into a ditch. Oh yeah, that’s why….

Mile 1: 7:48

Oops. So much for the whole start slow strategy. But this just feels sooo good!

Miles 2 – 4 all clock in under 8:00/mile.

Oh! I’m already at the bridge (my planned turnaround point)! Those 4 miles flew by! I love running so much! Okay – let’s keep going. Just run to the center of the next town and then you can turn around.

Miles 5 – 7. Still holding a sub-8 pace without much effort.

Yikes that wind is really bad. At least I’ll have a tailwind coming back, right? Maybe all the wind will blow some of these clouds away. It’ll be nice to see the sun…

Oh a hill! Where did that come from? Wow…look at this view. I don’t care about the traffic, this run is amazing!  I should’ve just planned to run out this way the whole time. Is it too late to call Evan and ask him to pick me up 20 miles from home? I don’t think I want to turn around.


(Source – side note: you should probably click that link. Gold mine of happy cat and dog pictures)

Get to the center of town, resign myself to heading back in the other direction. Pace immediately drops.

Ummm…did I really run down all these hills? No wonder I was feeling so good on the way out. I swear the road was flat just a few minutes ago…

WTH is up with this wind?! Why isn’t it at my back? I guess I should take some sort of fuel, maybe that’ll help me feel better.

Pull out the Margarita flavored Clif Shot Bloks that I stuffed in my pack that morning after a frantic search for Gu came up short (note to self: be better prepared next time!).

Margarita shot blocks

Nastiness in chewable form

Ugh. These things are the worst! How do people chew and run at the same time?! My teeth. Everything is stuck together. OMG I might gag. This flavor. Why did I think I’d like the taste of margaritas while running?!?!  Oh this is so so gross. Okay, fine, I’ll choke down one more and then these things are going away. (I am clearly not overdramatic or anything…)

Seriously, why do these things exist? They need to invent some sort of fuel that just dissolves on your tongue. Like a breath strip! Oh I’m totally going to invent that! I’m going to be the hero of runners everywhere. And will surely make millions. Enough with this chewing while running crap. It takes too much energy.

Hmmm…I guess that’s sort of why they invented Gatorade. No chewing, gives you calories and electrolytes. But Gatorade is nasty. Who wants to run with that crap? Nope, I’m getting to work on this Fuel Strip idea as soon as I get home!

Oh I love this song! Florida Georgia Line + Nelly should be so wrong, but it’s ohso right.

Finally back at the bridge. 10 miles in 1:18…I’ve slowed down, but still keeping a decent pace, all things considered.

Oh my gosh, the sun! I can’t believe it. Rain jacket off, arm warmers pushed down. This is the best and most wonderful day for running. Look at that river. And those mountains! Oh I just love Vermont.

DSC 0029Not really my view from Saturday. But a perfect representation of why I #lovermont

2 miles later…

I’m hungry. Shouldn’t I be back at the house by now? Maybe I should choke down another one of those awful Shot Bloks. Ugh. Or maybe I should just practice without the extra fuel. You know, to run with depleted glycogen stores or something…

NO. That’s stupid. I’m hungry and I’m tired and this wind is pissing me off. Why hasn’t it been at my back this whole time? Am I going crazy??

IMG 1084It was around this time that I started fantasizing about having lunch at my favorite local cafe

Choke down another Shot Blok.

Ugh. I never want to eat these things again. Barf.

Oh but what should I have for lunch when I get back? Crap, I’m hungry. I guess that’s what I get for starting the run around 10:00. How many miles do I have left to run?? {mild panic attack} Ahhh don’t think about that. Just make it back to the house. Focus on one section of this run at a time.

Finally! Back in town! Why did the way back feel soooo much longer than the way out? Oh but I love this view coming into town. It’s so beautiful here. I’m really going to miss it.

{Cue dramatic, emotional mental montage of all the good times we’ve had in this town. Complete with sappy music, of course.}

Hello house! Why did I think running by home during a 20 mile run was a good idea again?!

Throw windbreaker (should also throw arm warmers that have been pushed down to my wrists but feeling way too lazy to get them off).

Miles 15 – 17. Down a familiar stretch for the final miles.

WTH is up with this wind?! It’s getting worse! How have I only run 14 miles at this point? I feel like I’ve been running forever. All that stupid uphill. Now I remember why I don’t run that way…

Okay – focus. Just 3 miles. Past the farm that you wish you could buy and around the corner. You’ve done this run 1 million times. You can do it again. Don’t think about how far. Just think about getting through this next mile. And then you only have 2 more…until you turn around.

AHSLKDFHDSLKHF this wind! Doesn’t it ever stop gusting?? Why did I decide to run in this direction? Am I even moving forward? I want to cry. Or punch someone. I’m gonna punch Wind in its stupid face. Or maybe I’ll just lie down here on the side of the road. That would be nice… I wonder how long it would take for someone to find me.

I’m still hungry. Those stupid nasty Shot Bloks did nothing. I wonder if Evan is waiting for me to eat lunch. Just a few more miles until I can eat all the food! Gah I can’t wait to eat! And foam roll. My feet sure are hurting. So much pounding.

Finally – the turnaround point!! I see it. Maybe I could just turn around a little early. I mean, does 0.2 miles REALLY make that much of a difference?

I swear if I turn around and don’t feel the wind at my back I’m going to scream. I seriously want to murder somebody right now.

hurricane against the windThis is basically what I felt like. Obviously not an exaggeration at all.

Miles 18 – 20. Tailwind. FINALLY!

This is amazing!!! Downhill. Wind at my back. Oh! Macklemore. Can’t [nobody] Hold ME! Put this on repeat. It’s bringing me home.

Oh – look at that cyclist heading toward me. He’s clearly struggling against this wind. At least I know it wasn’t all in my head. This wind is no joke! Sucks to be you right now, buddy.

Look at that pace! You’re flying! Oh I love this tailwind. And this sun! And Vermont! Let’s see how fast you can finish this thing.

Okay – push up the final hill. Don’t let the pace drop now. You’re almost there. Just hang on….

7:11 final mile baby!! BOOFREAKINGYA! I love running!

And then I proceeded to sit on the back deck for a very very long time, until my hunger finally motivated me to get up and shower.

Long run conquered.

Unfortunately my post-run high was short-lived. I spent the rest of the day battling some major, not blog-worthy digestion issues. I’m blaming the margarita shot blocks (consider yourself warned!!). I’ll stick to Gu from here on out, thanks. Or, you know, the yet-to-be-invented Fuel Strip. It’s the wave of the future, I’m telling you.

Fuel strips promo

51 Responses to This is Your Brain on 20 Miles

  1. I love posts like this! I’ve often wished I could track my thoughts while I’m running. It’d be interesting! I guess I’m the opposite of you- I love to chew while I run, and I love the margarita flavor! I’m sorry you didn’t feel well after though! They’ve never given me any trouble…
    Caroline´s last post ..Mental Health Monday: Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

    • I don’t know what it was about that flavor – maybe it was just too sweet to handle while I was running? And of course I don’t really have any proof that it was the shot bloks that resulted in my sickness…I suppose it could’ve been a coincidence and I’m unfairly blaming them. I’m glad they’ve never given you trouble! I know some people can’t stomach Gu when they run, but that’s always worked best for me.

      • It is definitely sweet! I also have a health condition where I have to consume a lot of extra salt, even on a day I’m just sitting around. So the extra sodium on those chews is also helpful. Chewing while running definitely took me awhile to like. My stomach reacted big time the first time I tried it. I guess it’s a good thing there are lots of different fuels for all our different needs:)
        Caroline´s last post ..Mental Health Monday: Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

  2. Hahaha, I loved this! I can totally relate, and I can’t believe you went out for 20 miles in the rain, I NEVER would’ve done that. I would’ve pushed it off to another day. That’s pretty hardcore of you.

    I HATE chewing while running too. I feel like I can never breathe and it’s just so hard to do it while running. I’ve definitely learned my lesson to stick to just Gu while running. Hurry up and invent those breath strips!
    Steph´s last post ..VCM Training Week 11: Feeling Strong

    • Well…I’ve done 20 miles in the rain before but yesterday it was only drizzling when I started. And luckily it didn’t last long! I was just being a little overdramatic the morning before my run. So…not really very hardcore of me at all. haha

  3. YES, I always find myself wishing it were possible to take fuel in pill form. By the third set, my stomach doesn’t want any more chews and most certainly no gels.
    I’m jealous it’s cool enough up there to start your run at 10 a.m. I started my 20-miler at 7 a.m. yesterday and felt like I was starting to bake by the last 5! God bless Whole Foods in Houston for providing free ice water refills.
    Emilia @ Run for Your Life´s last post ..No news is good news

    • Yeah, by the end of a marathon, it doesn’t matter what type of fuel I’m carrying. The thought of eating it turns my stomach.

      And our weather up here is still cold! I have to wait until 10 just for it to warm up above freezing. I can’t even imagine running in the heat you face down in Houston.

  4. This is me nearly every single long runs, except I my dialogue includes tons of “why am I doing this” and I’ll never traini for another marathon”.
    Jess´s last post ..Say it, Do it! {formatting issues}

    • ME TOO! I spent yesterday’s analyzing just how much I cared about the registration fee if I bailed. haha.
      Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat´s last post ..Cross Training Galore!

    • haha same! I’ve had many runs where I curse my decision to train. And I swear, there’s a point (or multiples points!) in every single marathon I’ve run when I tell myself that there’s no way I’m EVER doing one of these awful things again. …then I finish, the runner’s high clouds my brain, and before I know it I’ve signed up for another one. It’s a sick, sick cycle…

  5. hahaha! I absolutely LOVE this. Please, please, please promise to do a version of this for your next race report? In a race, imagine how the crazies would come out!!! I went through some of the same emotions on my long run Saturday. I seriously was so angry for the last 2 miles. At who? At what? I don’t know, but I would have punched any person driving any car that didn’t stop so I could run in front of them. I was SO MAD. I rarely do, but I even asked myself “Why do you do this…this sucks so bad!” But of course, the first 15 miles, were like whooo “I love running! I am so fast!” But maaaaaybe that’s why the last 2 hurt so much :)
    Corey´s last post ..Taper Survival Kit

    • The level of crazy during a race is out of control. Every emotion is magnified x10000 and I’m usually at one extreme (running is the best!!) or the other (I hate my life. This sucks. I’m never running one single step again!). I fear that capturing it in writing would make me sound like a raving lunatic.

      And I was getting irrationally angry at drivers too! I don’t usually have to stop at intersections for cars around here (seeing as I usually just run on one long road), but the speed limit on these back road is always high. Most cars are good about moving around me but there are some that refuse to give me any space, even if there’s no one coming in the other direction. And then they glare at me as if it’s all my fault that they almost hit me…or I’m ruining their entire day if they have to slow down for 0.2 seconds to let me pass. There are no sidewalks and I’m already in the ditch. Where else do you expect me to go??

      (Apparently I still haven’t worked through that anger…haha)

  6. This is exactly how I felt during my 20 miler last week! I procrastinated until Monday, then got stuck in a flash thunderstorm 6 miles in and took a cab home, then FINALLY got the run done on Tuesday. The procrastination game we all play is ridiculous. Nice to know I’m not along!

  7. I love this and can relate to 100% of it (seriously the margarita shot blocks are barf worthy to me…flavor and consistency are different from the others – but I appreciate the sodium factor)

    I had so many similar thoughts during mine yesterday…love through mile 6 questioning why I am running a marathon again through mile 14 then realizing I was almost done and questioning why I was even stopping I could GO FOREVER. Ha. oh runners brain.
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat´s last post ..Cross Training Galore!

  8. I’m training for my first marathon right now. So far my longest run has been 17.5 miles and I’m approaching my 20 miler in a few weeks. I get nervous just thinking about it sometimes. There is something about that number!
    Shannon´s last post ..Recipe: Carrot-Raisin Cupcakes (or Muffins, If You Like)

  9. The difference between you and me is, I have this wave of neurotic “I love this, now I hate this” thought process in a matter of 4 miles, instead of your 20.
    Christina´s last post ..Island Love

    • haha well just imagine stretching that out over 20 miles. It takes a little longer to move from one extreme to the other, but the crazy becomes even more magnified.

  10. I have definitely been struggling with the wind in Boston this training cycle, seems worse than usual this Spring. It’s considered resistance training right?! But man, it sure feels good at your back!:)

  11. Way to go getting in those 20 miles!! Yep, you’ve definitely captured the insanity of the runners mind (and the love/hate relationship).

    Wind is my mortal enemy. We don’t get snow or freezing temps down here, but we get wind and it is SO mentally challenging!
    Michelle´s last post ..Weekend Full of Hormones

  12. HAHAA this is so true, well except for the paces, I’d be dropping dead halfway at that speed :) hehe. I surprisingly like the chews, they don’t make me as sick as gels and man I give you props for not starting until 10am! By that time I am done for
    Amanda @runtothefinish´s last post ..Accountability Mondays: Post Sugar Detox

  13. I don’t know how anyone can chew and run either. I can handle the honeystringer chews because they are smaller but those shot blocks are ridiculous. I tried them once and had to cut them up to be able to realistically eat them.
    Amanda´s last post ..Workout Recap and Workouts 4/8 – 4/14

    • I keep meaning to try those! But then I get lazy/forgetful and end up grabbing whatever type of fuel I can find at the stores around here (which isn’t much). You’d think by now I would be better prepared for long runs…

  14. Everything about this is so, so familiar. I put off my 20 milers like whoa. I feel like a 20 miler is an eternity, but an 18 miler is just a long run. I hate/love running the whole time I’m doing a 20 miler. Ha! I guess these things are universal.
    Katie´s last post ..Running is a cruel lover

  15. So funny. And so reminiscent of my long run this weekend, too. I’m glad somebody else actually blames Wind (yes, capital W) as an entity for all their problems. I hate wind, it sucks my soul from me on long runs. Regardless…I understand your dramatization!
    Robyn´s last post ..Eugene Marathon Training Week #9

  16. AMAZING. I actually laughed out loud reading this and I think you’ve been inside my head on a long run- by the end I think- am I bipolar?! cause I’ve gone through so many emotions in a few hours…and YES those bloks are so so sticky and it IS hard to chew when you’re running! I thought I was the only one- it feels like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time- what is it so hard?!
    gwen´s last post ..Life is Good

  17. No matter how many 20-milers I do, they still TERRIFY me. I respect the distance!
    Gracie (Complicated Day)´s last post ..I love this: bakery-grade bread pans

  18. HA, I tried the Margarita flavored shot bloks on a 19 mile trail run this weekend and had the same thoughts! Lucky for me, I also had a pack of the strawberry ones or I would have collapsed of starvation
    Logan @ Mountains and Miles´s last post ..Race Report: Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

  19. So on point! Every issue. Yep. Sharing!

  20. I laughed while reading this – it tooootally reminded me of my 18 miler this past Sunday. Thanks for the tip about shot blocks. I never could get used to chewing the Gu chews while running (too lazy to chew, personally…but not to run 18 miles! runner’s logic for ya, ha). Margarita flavored chews sound awful! Have you tried any Honey Stingers gu gels? or chews? I’m trying to branch out but don’t wanna buy anything other than pomegranate it seems….

    Love the recap! :)

  21. Lauren, I can definitely relate! I can never quite decide which is worse: a long run’s worth of internal monologue, or the last three miles of a race, which is when I really come into my own as a crazy person.

    Either way, it’s always nice to hear that I’m not the only one dealing with this :)
    Steph´s last post ..My Hood to Coast Application

  22. That’s some rocking pace for a 20 miler! Awesomeness! I love the commentary too!

    I need to channel some of your speed Monday. Good luck on your half this weekend!

  23. Back in the early 90’s there was no choice for us recreational runners for fuel, so long training runs consisted of gummy bears in a sandwich bag pinned to the inside of running shorts…with hopes that body heat would soften them up. More often then not those hard little bear bodies would glue my teeth together, cut off my windpipe, and choke me. I eventually graduated up to cutting up power bars, slightly more nutrient rich than the bears, but every bit as sticky and choke inducing!

  24. Oh my goodness this post. I haven’t run more than 9 miles, but I think like this for every long run. Also, Shot Bloks did gross things to my stomach too. I will never eat them again. I don’t mind chewing during a run, so I like Honey Stinger chews quite a bit. I have issues with gels and my gag reflex.
    Amanda @ Peanut Butter & Adrenaline´s last post ..Sleep Deprivation and Running

  25. Totally relate to this! I felt similarly on my last 22 miler and I’m sure I will feel the same way this Friday, when I’ll run my last long training run of the season. Honey stingers are nice, but I’m quite fond of Hammer Gels these days. Great pace on the run.
    Danielle´s last post ..Tyler 10k Trail Run Race Report

  26. Jocelyn and I definitely searched for investors for energy strips like that last year…we need a chemist/food scientist to make this work. Let’s do it, make millions, and run forever. Good? Good.
    Susan – Nurse on the Run´s last post ..2013 boston marathon plans…ish

  27. Love, love, love this. WHY has it been so windy this year? It’s driving me insane, too.
    Jen´s last post ..Am I injured?

  28. HAHA. I am going to send this to every person who has ever asked me what goes through my mind during a long run. This sounds like me. The constant back and forth in my mind about pace, how I feel, wind, cold, etc.
    I am a Powergel girl – I tried taking energy blasts the other day during a run and couldn’t – just too hard.
    I”ve been having some terrible GI issues post-long run and races lately. Like painful cramps and lots of time in the bathroom. If you figure out why you had the problems, please let me know =)
    Awesome 20-miler, Lauren! So happy to see you having some great runs!
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama´s last post ..I Miss Running

  29. I’ve only ever done one 20 miler (in preparation for my marathon) and it was pretty brutal! mentally though I had a much harder time with my 18 miler. passing home is definitely killer for any long runs!

    ps the fuel strip idea IS genius. pls invent immediately – I hate chewing and drinking during runs. and I am not a fan of the gus!
    nerri @LaPetiteRunner´s last post ..Friday Five!

  30. hilarious!! it sounds like my runs, i’ve just never written them out. :) hope the post run meal was fabulous. and love the strip idea!
    elizabeth´s last post ..Making Lemonade

  31. So true about 18 feeling much shorter than 20. Fortunately in Huntington Beach, CA we rarely have weather issues but 20 miles is still 20 miles.

  32. Exceptional post. I was examining continually this specific blog site with this particular prompted! Really beneficial facts particularly the final portion :) My partner and i take care of similarly info lots. I had been trying to find that specific information for years. Thanks a lot in addition to all the best.

  33. Thank you for the post. Great info for a newbe like me. Just started running 7 months ago. BTW, I just turned 54. Some of the runners I have met say that’s good, I have fresh legs. We’ll see. My longest run so far is 6 miles. I am going to see how far I can go tomorrow. It was great to hear all the craziness in your head. I truly thought I was the only one. I so hate to love to run sometimes.

  34. Brilliant!! Love it.. Am so there with ‘never again doing this’ until 10 mins after race & I’m planning next event!!

  35. Other than your phenomenal pace (you’re freaking FAST!) This summed up my 20 miler last week with a pal at about 90% accuracy. We even had the Margarita flavor discussion (though I do love the black cherry shot blocks and the mouth stuck thing at least distracts me for a couple minutes on the run!)
    a morning grouch´s last post ..How Being the Parent of Two Kids is Different Than Being the Parent of One

  36. Oh My GAWD I was almost in tears the whole time I was reading this!!! Especially when I got to the ASDKFAKD thoughts 😀 You absolutely captured ALL THE VARIOUS EMOTIONS you go thru on long runs or long haul lifting sessions.

    I talk to myself, sing to myself, snap my fingers. . . WHATEVER IT TAKES to get my mind off the burning and focus on pushing forward. I absolutely loved this post and thank you so much for sharing. I’m going to save this in my exercise file to re-read often because it was encouraging and fun at the same time.

    Thanks again!

  37. This is me on most runs. Congrats! I admire anyone who can run those long distances. I’m 6’3″ 195lbs and have only managed to run 26KM, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Do you think someone like me can ever reach 20m? I imagine I’d have to lose at least 15 lbs??? Any thoughts are welcome and appreciated.

    • I’m 5’10” 190lbs. I run full marathons. You can do it! Run out 10 miles from home, so you are forced to turn around and make it back home, haha!

  38. I ran 20.41 this past Sunday. Improved my overall time by 33 minutes since last year. Was a great run, not bad at all. But then, new for me this season is I’ve been training for 7 months now, ran a mountain ascent race and have continued my training to a full marathon on a week (my 3rd). Anyway, fun read! A high head wind, darkness, slight incline, and a bit of rain plagued the last two miles of my run. But I just kept moving my feet. I figured these steps had to count for something, even though it seemed like I wasn’t moving at all, LOL!

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