Long Run Fueling and Dealing with Negative Thoughts
It's my favorite training day: The Long Run. The first of three 20 miles runs is a wrap. There were some victories, an amusing user error issue and a rough patch. On paper it's a success. Emotionally, I feel pretty rough. It may be less commonly heard of, but there are times when the body has to pull the mind through a run. I wondered if there is such a thing as mental overtraining. My mind feels fried, even though my body is doing pretty well.
My legs turned over happily, but my head just wanted to quit. It was the complete opposite of my run the other day when my head was totally into it and my body flipped me off.
The Fuel Test and Everything Else
I make notes on what I do to before and during my long runs. In this journal entry I'm going to share with you:
- The plan
- The objectives
- The fuel strategy
- The run as a whole
- The results, including what worked and the problems I need to work on
When You Check All The Boxes and Something Is Missing
This was the first of three 20 mile runs before the marathon. I planned, I prepared and everything went to plan. It could have gone horribly wrong, because I experimented with a different fuel strategy. By now, you probably know about me and fuel on long runs. We don't get along.
This run was different. I accomplished everything that I set out to do, and the carbs and hydration worked like a dream. Then my head fell apart. We'll get to that later. This run, overall, was a great success.
The longer I run, the greater the high. There is nothing quite like being out there, getting into a rhythm at a comfortable pace and shifting into cruise mode. Sure, sometimes my body might ache a bit with the bigger miles, but oh, the rush afterwards!
I didn't really get that today. There was no high. The run was fine and everything went better than expected, especially the fuel. Despite finishing a bit dehydrated, which I'm OK with doing, nothing went wrong. I even managed to gradually accelerate the last seven miles and finish the final few at goal marathon pace. Yet I was so down in the dumps when I got back.
Planning Prepares You For Success
This time I made a point of planning properly for my run the day before. I ate well and paid attention to what went into my mouth. I drank lots of fluids and added my Nuun tablets for the electrolytes. Although a little later than intended, I also got to bed earlier than usual. Last week I felt so stupid for the mistakes I made and would have been ashamed to report a repeat of all the blunders.
Nutritious food, no wine with dinner and some rest. Even the dogs understand this stuff!
Often the best remedies are found in simplicity. All the wonderful vitamin supplements, protein shakes, recovery tools and compression sleeves will help what we have, but they only help if we have the basics in place.
There were a few objectives lined up for today's long run. You only have so many of these significantly long runs to play with for experimentation and testing new things, so there's a bit of pressure to make it count. There is also the reassurance that any mistakes that happen can be addressed before race day.
Figuring Out The Objectives For Long Run #1
This is my first 20 mile run since January. I was out for a few months through the spring with an injury, recovering just in time to get back on my feet with the onset of summer!
I came back from my break with a different approach to running. Sometimes I think too much about it, but mostly I'm just a whole lot more laid back than ever before; perhaps too much for my own good at times. Anyhow, the point of this run was to see what works for me now. Things have changed; I have changed in my approach and mindset to training. This marathon is also different to any of the other races I've done before.
It's at night and I'm a morning runner. Fuel has been a constant uphill battle for me. Actually, drinking anything, including water, while running has had me throwing up in the past. It's a stressful issue to tackle because I've never quite got a handle on this.
I'm training through the heat of Florida's summer temperatures with humidity to match. It's going to be cold on race day so it's difficult to test out clothing like I did last time for a local race. That leads to the next point. For the first time I'm traveling not only out of state, but across the country.
There's a lot to test, but you can only do so much on one run so I picked a few to start with.
I can never start too early with trying out my strategies for long run fuel. So that one is a given. I've tried out some different products from a familiar brand with good success on shorter runs, up to around 14 miles.
Until now, I have not carried a water bottle with me on a run. If I could avoid it entirely, I would do so, but I did all my long runs with it last time and I got used to it pretty quickly. Still, this is a new training season and I'm not leaving things to chance.
My third goal for today was starting out conservatively, finding an comfortable pace and keeping steady, leaving gas in the tank to run the last five or six miles slightly slower than goal marathon pace.
So how did it go? Well, to document the facts, it went really well. This time though, I struggled with something somewhat foreign to me: a barrage of negative thoughts that threatened to derail me on the last seven miles of the run. Was I just in a weird mood today? Or is this a bit of mental overtraining, leaving my head exhausted from thinking about all things training related? I don't have all the answers, but I did get through a lot of stuff in this run.
It wasn't a fail.
1. New Gas In The Tank and I Burned Clean
A new fuel combination and a great success was a big deal for me today. I finished a bit dehydrated, which I have gotten used to doing. I have not yet managed to find a way to ingest as much liquid as I'd like on a run and the two sips of water I had just before the 18 mile mark sloshed around in my stomach, doing nothing for me, but making me feel slightly sick. It's the same old story every time. But the carbohydrate chews and electrolyte drink I used was great.
Hammer Nutrition products sit well with me. Tweaking the timing and quantities is an individual thing and it's always subject to some trial and error. That's fine. It's normal.
I didn't want to incorporate a full-on product review into this post. It may not be relevant to you so I've put it up as a separate review if you'd like to read more. I'll share most of the photos in here though.
Unable to swallow the highly praised Perpetuem Endurance Fuel in its liquid form (just couldn't swallow that sludge), I was thrilled to discover an alternative: Perpetuem Solids. They are chews, but like no other I've ever seen before. For energy in liquid form, I stayed with the Heed energy drink, which worked for me through my previous training cycle and through the last marathon.
Right, these are described as chews. While that's the best way to describe them, they are not like any chews I've ever seen before. For a start, they are not gummy-jell-o style, which is absolutely fine with me.
But the first thing that got my attention was the size of these suckers. There was no hint when I ordered them about just how enormous these things are!
I thought I'd be smart and cut them in half with a wet knife. It was a really great idea and I split up three of them to give me six halves, stuffed them in a ziploc snack bag and shoved them down the front of my sports bra. Yes, I do that because it's just so easy to grab them while I'm running. Besides, I already had my big phone and sports drink in my FlipBelt.
There was space to add more into the belt, but with a strobe flashlight hooked onto the back as well, I didn't want to fumble with too much stuff.
So this is how I prepared my clever little chew stash. To be honest, I was a bit concerned about choking on one of these because they look like they wont' leave much room to suck in air while running. It would also be so typical of a race photographer is lurking around a corner as I appear in the frame, chewing like a cow.
A Minor User Error
There was one little flaw in my plan. I sweat profusely and didn't seal the ziploc snack bag. When I reached in for the first half chew it was wet and tacky on the outside. And a little more salty. By the time I got to the third piece I was making a little detour past the house to switch out the bag that now looked like it had some kind of soup going on in it, with the rest of the container. I always leave something in the mailbox when I do a long run because if there is a fuel or hydration emergency I can swing by the house without having to stop my run.
This was one time it was helpful. I grabbed the little container and took that with me to avoid wasting time. And because my hands were so sweaty there was no point messing around with them and I didn't have a spare snack bag to grab without going back into the house.
2. The Hydration Plan
I didn't make much of a change to my hydration plan.
Trying to simulate what is possible on a race course, I know there is water available so I don't carry my own. The last 8 miles of my run has drinking fountains at regular intervals along the way so I can take my sips there.
I generally finish my long runs and races a bit dehydrated and although not ideal or recommended, water seems to trigger my gag reflex after a certain amount of time on my feet so the trick is to hydrate really well they day, night and morning before I run and top up my electrolytes as early as possible.
I mixed up a scoop of Hammer Heed, which is gentle on my stomach and has a subtle flavor without the sweetness. It doesn't irritate my palate during a run and since it has worked faithfully in the past, I don't feel the need to mess with it.
My sense of taste takes on a personality of its own on a long run and I have learned to avoid anything sweet, overly flavored or heavy. Also, anything I ingest has to dissolve completely in my mouth before swallowing. Chewed pieces that go down, don't necessarily stay down. It's like a personal science experiment!
Today's run started pretty much the same as any other. I had to hold my pace at a comfortable level to conserve energy and avoid slowing down in the second half. Somehow, knowing there is a big chunk of miles ahead helps with this somewhere in the subconscious mind.
I Felt Like a Pack Mule
I was slightly irritated with the extra stuff I had on me because I don't like to carry things or feel weighted down. It's a long time since I ran with a full water bottle and although the belt holds it securely to stop it from bouncing, the super slick material on my shorts allowed it to slip ever so slightly with the weight of the bottle and my phone (which is a larger phone than the one I used last time around).
It was a minor thing, but because it was so early and would stay dark for at least the first hour and change, I had my strobe flashlight hooked on the back of the belt. Tail lights.
The Knuckle Lights don't bug me at all because they sit on my hands and there's not need to hold them. They are very light and because I run with them every day I've probably just got so used to them I forget they are there. They don't restrict the use of my hands in any way so those were a non issue.
When I took a swing by the mailbox at about Mile 10 daylight was starting to show through the dark sky and I chugged some more from 12 ounce bottle of Heed and dumped it with the flashlight in the box as I grabbed the Perpetuem Solids.
I don't think I could run with one of those hydration vests!
My Body Felt Just Fine, But My Mind Went To Dark Places
This was something new for me. I am not prone to negative thoughts during a run. Sure, there are plenty of days I'm just not feeling it, but usually that's my body taking a back seat and my mind pulls me through. In some cases I'm just not in the mood, but I start feeling better the longer I run.
This run was weird. Once I hit mile 12 or 13 I started getting negative thoughts and I didn't know how to deal with them in the moment because the whole thing was unfamiliar.
It happened quite suddenly, too. Seemingly out of nowhere I suddenly felt a strong resentment for being on a schedule. I wanted to do this run just for me, not because I need it for a marathon. I wanted to not care if my fuel didn't work because on a run that's just for me I could just call my husband to pick me up. I've never had to do it, but it's always an option.
I hated the fact that I have a race and I got angry about races. I always (except once) have fun at races, but I rarely do them. The training does have a bigger appeal to me than a race because I get so much more out of it. But in that moment I didn't want to be training. It was weird.
Not The End of The World
I did finish my 20 miles and my body felt great. The last six miles gradually got faster until the final couple which were at goal (what was going to be the goal, anyway) marathon pace. The run was a success, in spite of my negative thoughts. It was my mind that was struggling and it was a foreign feeling to me and I felt a bit down in the dumps for the rest of the day.
I think my mind is just tired of thinking about training all the time. It sometimes feels like there is never a mental break from it, but that is the reality of a long training cycle. You can't put your life and responsibilities on hold for 16 or 20 weeks.
The Overview: What Went Right and What Didn't Go To Plan
There were some ups and downs on this run. Strangely, it's ideal to have a mix of both on a run like this. If the run doesn't present stuff to work on, there's no opportunity to troubleshoot potential hiccups before race day. Disasters can be a good thing.
While there were no serious calamities on this run, there are some areas that need attention. And, of course, there were things that went right.
Long run fuel testing went better than expected. I had no adverse reactions to the chews and I'm very confident with the Hammer Heed so all of that went extremely well.
Previously I would have had something light to eat about 90 minutes out from starting the long run. My standard go-to was half a banana and half a bagel, toasted, with some honey drizzled over the top. No butter, because that gives me heartburn.
This time I skipped the breakfast entirely, chugged a glass of Nuun electrolytes in water and took my first half chew at three miles instead of waiting for Mile 8 to take a gel. I took half a chew every three miles and sipped some of the Heed in between until Mile 10 or so, when I dumped the sports bottle. After that it was just sips of water every two miles or so.
Taking the Perpetuem slowly and gradually worked well for me. Maybe it gave my stomach more time to process it in the smaller quantities.
The total intake over the course of the 20 mile run consisted of three Hammer Perpetuem Solids, taken half at a time, every three miles, one scoop of Heed for the first half of the run and two small sips of water every 15 minutes or so after that.
My pace was pretty much bang on where I wanted it for this run. A conservative start and a harder finish or at least not slowing down at the end is the way I train so I expect it to be the strategy at races too. So far, it's worked every time.
Things That Need Attention
I need to work on a strategy to combat an exhausted mind. Although it hasn't happened to this degree in the past, it raised something that won't hurt to address. My consolation comes from realizing that the demands of life as a whole had an enormous impact and the taper period my be more for my mind than my body this time. I'll roll with that.
Carrying my own water bottle suddenly felt like a huge pain in the butt. I won't have the flashlight at the race, which will remove some of the weight, but I need to see how I do with a smaller water bottle with a more concentrated solution in it. That means taking more water from the water stations at the marathon, but that's why they are there. I either need to get used to it, or find a better plan.
Stopping at water stations is a nuisance and I would rather avoid it, but it may still be worth considering. Less is more with me and water. I noticed today that on the last water stop, that one sip sloshed around in my stomach and didn't go anywhere. It did however, make me feel nauseous. I always finish a bit dehydrated, but I'll suck it up because I'm done with being sick on a long run!
I need to rest more before my long runs. Even just an early night the evening before would be an improvement.
There Is Still Time. Don't Panic
Because there are still two more of these runs lined up, I'm not too worried about it. For me, stuff going wrong isn't the concern as long as I know what it is so I can look for solutions. Most of what went wrong here was failure to rest properly and going into the run mentally exhausted. That can be fixed.
I am not trained to the level I was last time around. There isn't the same free time at my disposal. It's the reality and it's what I have to work with so I'm going to make the best of what I can do, with what I have right now. Wishing for different circumstances just serves as a frustration and is likely to derail my attitude, which is otherwise pretty good.
This stage of training and a run like this is a good time to reassess goals for the race. My objectives have changed somewhat, but I knew they would when I started so I'm fine with that.
The time goal I had has been abandoned. It's not for me for now. Running for time like that will just take away from the experience. I'll finish the race and I'm darn well going to have fun doing it.
Getting to go through a four month training cycle is a blessing. It means I have the physical strength, the support and somehow, can make the time to do it. It's not all about ability. I want to enjoy this for what it is.
If you have comments, tips or suggestions, I'd love to hear from you. Just leave a note in the comments section. Please feel free to put any questions in there too.
I have my daily paper journal which has my notes in through training. That one is for me. I am sharing this here because I want to be helpful and if not, at least entertaining in my weirdness and chaotic approach to training for this race. Questions are always welcome, too.