Yesterday served as a breakthrough day for me and my training for Boston - I nailed my final long run. For those who have been grinding away through winter and the extended cold into early Spring, it feels like the monotony of bundling up, mustering enough excitement to go out there in the cold and run hard for an extended period of time has dragged on. Like any training cycle, you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel as it nears the end, but you just have to get those last few weeks of hard work done before you get there. And while that is where you find the "sexy" workouts, they are often the most difficult both mentally and physically.
I've written before about creating the confident athlete, how these big workouts play an important role, and this workout (which I'll describe below) certainly served its purpose. Depending on a runner's experience level, the last long run can be anywhere from the most miles you've ever run, to the duration of your goal time, to a run that simulates the marathon race. All of these runs are something you only do once in a marathon cycle, but a runner doesn't typically do all of them. Newer marathoners are more likely to go by time or distance, whereas more experienced runners focus on simulating the marathon race by running a significant portion of the run at marathon pace. However, it is important that a runner progress to this point before tackling such a workout. Consistently logging long runs throughout the training cycle is a requirement. If incorporating lots of marathon paced miles, its best to have done other shorter long runs where you've also done marathon paced miles. The reason is simple - you don't want this run to take so much out of you that you can't recover. If you are prepared and you run at appropriate paces, this run will be extremely challenging, but it should not leave you on the verge of collapse or not being able to function.
At the end of the day however, the final long run cannot determine how the actual race will go, either good or bad. It is simply another place to connect the dots toward peaking for your race. But with that said, I had a GREAT run and certainly one that I hope correlates to an amazing race day.
Sunday morning I set out with a crew of some speedy (faster than me) runners, all of whom are training for Boston as well. We had agreed on the basic structure of the workout, which was the 1st 10 miles out starting around 7:30/mi and running steady to around 7:00/mi, then sub 7 all the way back, with the last 5 around 6:45/mi. The course profile was 2 miles downhill, then 8 miles out on a slight uphill grade, before turning around and doing the reverse. This meant miles 19-20 would be all uphill pushing hard, kind of like how Boston will be. So how did it go?
1st 10 - 7:32, 7:11, 7:28, 7:25, 7:15, 7:10, 7:09, 7:05, 7:11, 7:09 (7:15/mi avg)
Last 10 - 6:56, 6:56, 6:47, 6:57, 6:49, 6:43, 6:42, 6:38, 6:50, 6:57 (6:49/mi avg)
Final Stats: 20 miles, 7:02/mi avg
We all ran together basically until about 12 miles in and then a few people started to throw in some surges. Being the conservative runner that I am, I just held it steady, because I wanted to save my legs for the final 2 miles uphill. Some would surge ahead, then float back, until we got to 16 miles and I pretty much got dropped. I was right on pace with the plan, but these people were more fit than me and pushed faster. They never got out of my sight, but I had no desire to try and close down the gap. Since this was a marathon simulator, I wanted to run these miles as though I still had another 6.2 to go at the end. And while I'm thankful Boston won't have a 2 mile grinding uphill (at least the Newton hills have some breaks in between them), I came out of this workout knowing that I can grind uphill at sub 7. It was a very solid day and without a doubt the best long run I've had.
So where does this leave me for Boston? Well, it leaves me knowing that I can shoot for a PR. I have the utmost respect for the course and the unique challenges it will bring, but I am hopeful that the work I've done will lead to the results I know I've worked hard for.
Do you have any favorite last long run workouts to share?