The Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad, 20 Mile “Run”

So right off the bat I’ll tell you that I put “run” in quotes, because calling miles 16-20 a “run” (or anything like it) would be using that term pretty loosely.

I’m the first person to admit that my training for the New York City Marathon hasn’t exactly been what I was hoping for.

Coming off of a strong full marathon at the end of the Dopey Challenge in January, I had really been looking forward to a strong round of training for my next marathon and a shot at a PR.  My hope of that faded slightly when I realized how off track moving and starting a new job got me, but after a great 18 mile run a few weekends ago, I began thinking that while I may not be in reach of the original time goal I had in mind, I may still have a chance of walking away from NYCM with a small PR.

I spent last week preparing for my last long run – the 20 miler.

Have you ever had a run that from the first step you just knew wasn’t going to be the run you wanted it to be?

I know a HUGE part of this was probably in my head, me psyching myself out, but this run started off tough and went downhill from there.

At mile 2, my legs felt heavy and the thought of 18 more miles was borderline unbearable.  I tried to be optimistic and focus on how lucky I was to be doing this run on such a gorgeous path and take in the fall colors.

20 mile run path 2It was a gorgeous day and I couldn’t have asked for better weather for a long run…

20 mile pumpkins 1

Pumpkin Patch along the Shining Sea Bike Path

…and still, by mile 8, I was dragging.

I was exhausted.  My legs felt heavy.  My neck and shoulders hurt and I felt a headache coming on.

I stopped to take pictures occasionally because it would briefly take my mind off of how miserable I was…

Bike Path River…I kept trying to remind myself that I just needed to get to mile 15 and then Jason would be joining me for the last 5 miles.  The last 5 miles with his company would be much more bearable.

At mile 13 things continued to go downhill.  I felt like I was moving my legs through quicksand.

I thought back through my fueling to try to pinpoint what had gone so wrong.  Usually if I have a bad run I can at least determine why, but I was coming up blank.  I had toast and yogurt before my run, was carrying and using Powerade and Sports Beans and still I felt terrible.

I got a text from Jason saying he was at the parking lot ready to meet me.  I just had to drag myself the 1 mile to where he was and then I was hopeful I’d be re-energized by having someone to run with!

No such luck.

I met Jason at the car and just about started crying.  He asked how it was going and I’m pretty sure I said, “Terrible.  My everything hurts.”

And it did!

My right foot hurt, my left knee hurt, my quads were on fire, my lower back hurt, my shoulders hurt, my neck hurt and I could feel a major headache coming.  I felt like a complete mess and instead of being re-energized like I had hoped, I completely fell apart.

Jason was encouraging as we set off for the last 5 miles, but the actual running lasted only about a mile.

Totally defeated I stopped and walked.

We walked and I talked about how frustrated I was.  How this was not the long run I wanted to end with going into the New York City Marathon.  How I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this race and I wish I could defer it.  How I had no idea what went so wrong that I was struggling right from the start.

After about a half a mile I wanted to try to run again, so we did for a few minutes and then we walked again.

We continued this running and walking until about mile 19 when we were back near the car.

I wanted to at least make it to 20 miles, so I grabbed a sweatshirt and a bottle of water and we finished up with a leisurely (not very “training for a marathon” like) walk.

At least the view was nice, right??

20 mile run beach 3I still can’t pinpoint exactly what went wrong or why this run was so terrible.

I do know that I’ve just been overtired in general recently (I feel like no matter how much I sleep I’m exhausted!) and I was totally caked in salt by the end of this run…

20 mile run salt

See all that salt on the side of my face?!?

…even though I’m not sure that I did anything really differently than I’ve done in the past, it seems like I may not have been getting in enough electrolytes.

I took an ice bath once I got home…

Olaf Ice Bath…you know, with Olaf since I needed a little “Frozen for Runners” cheering up…and I spent the afternoon stretching and foam rolling…and yet my legs are still sore 2 days later which is very unusual for me, I usually recover very quickly.

I’m still incredibly frustrated by how badly this run went, and I’m not exactly sure what my next step is.

There’s a part of me that wishes I wasn’t running with a charity team so that I could defer my entry and just not run New York this year.

There’s a part of me that wants to try the 20 miler again this weekend and hope I get better results.

And there’s a part of me that knows how important it is to taper and rest your body in the weeks leading up to a marathon.

What I do know, is that in less than 3 weeks I’ll be run/walk/crawling 26.2 miles in honor of all the amazing pets at North Shore Animal League and I hope more than anything I can I can do this singlet justice and not have a repeat performance of last weekend!

20 mile run selfie

How do you bounce back from a terrible training run?

What do you think – try 20 miles again or focus on tapering?


40 thoughts on “The Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad, 20 Mile “Run”

  1. Aw, Danielle. I know what it’s like to feel so down and defeated after a rough long run. But you’ve got this and no matter what, you’ll do your best on race day. (And if I remember correctly, you had a pretty bad long run before another race – was it your first marathon? or first half? And then you had a successful race.) 🙂

  2. You’re amazing, sista! No one run will ever define that.. and you’ll run strong for the PUPPIES!!! I can’t wait to cheer you on at my first ever NYCM! But, I will also share my mimosa with you if you want to join me when you see me 😉 XO

  3. Seeing as how I currently reside in this neighborhood, I’m going to say that you’re going to bounce back and have a great run. I firmly believe this. If it makes you feel any better, I couldn’t even get my ass through a half marathon on Sunday so yeah.

    • Ok, if you expect me to take your advice you need to take it as well!

      Someone on twitter said if you crash & burn on your last long training run you’re going to crush race day – let’s hope that’s true!

      • My back up is I kind of want to dress as Anna for the race. When in doubt, dress like you thought it was a joke the whole time!

        • Oh, so a friend of mine is going to run with me (and another friend) and pace us, and I told him he has to carry an Olaf on a stick from WDW as his pacer “flag” for us to follow!!

        • My friend gave me a beanie baby olaf this morning and I’m trying to figure out how I can run with it…

  4. You got the miles in though, and that’s the main objective to training. If you’re feeling tired and your legs are tired, I’d go with taper and gear up for the race. Hopefully the race-day excitement helps.

  5. OK, confession time: I’ve never even made it to a 20-mile run before a marathon. My longest runs are usually between 16 and 18 miles, AND THEY ARE ALWAYS SLOW AND TERRIBLE. I know that’s not, you know, “ideal training,” but I have made it through three marathons this way, including the one where I got a 28-minute PR. You have a solid background in this, you got in your miles, you definitely know how to listen to your body. You will be awesome. Don’t get bummed! Great stuff is ahead!

  6. Everyone struggles with hard training runs and you are no different. One thing I have learned is that salting my food a few days before a long run is helpful. I never normally use a salt shaker and rarely cook with salt, so this is not very tasty to me, but I know it helps me out on my runs. I am sure taper will make you feel better and you know you can finish a strong marathon after MCM and Dopey. Stay positive!

    • Hmmm….that’s interesting…I don’t know why, but I’ve never really thought of just salting my food (duh, so obvious!). I’ve always looked to electrolyte beverages and stuff, but maybe a little extra salt the days leading up to a long run or race would help, I’m definitely going to try that…thanks Pam!

    • Thanks Theresa, it’s great to hear from others who’ve completed marathons with less than 20 mile runs under their belt. I’m doing my best to just chalk it up to a bad day!

  7. Honestly, this sounds like pretty much ALL of my long runs. It’s kind of rare that I DON’T have some sort of meltdown. I’m still working on my 20-miler recap, but honestly, it was the only long run of this entire training cycle that I thought went well, and I’m 99.9% sure it was due to the cooler temperatures. My 15, 16, 18, 19 milers…all pretty much disasters. My training didn’t turn out the way I hoped, either, but I know we’re both going to be fine. One bad run doesn’t mean you’re unprepared for race day, believe me! You will rock NYCM, I know it!

    • Thanks Jennifer! I think because the weather was great and it was cooler out I was expecting this run to go really well so it was just that much harder to sort of process when it didn’t! Looking forward to reading your recap of your 20 miler!

  8. Oh wow… you have had so much going on in your life this past few months that maybe you couldn’t devote as much time to marathon training. And you know what? That is okay. Depending on how you feel in the first miles, you might want to cut yourself some slack and take walk breaks early and run at a slower pace. You are so lucky to go to NY for this, and it needs to be about the experience of running it – not a time.

    • Thanks Andrea, you’re right, I need to remember that this is an amazing opportunity and I just need to enjoy the experience…thank you so much for putting that in perspective!

  9. You know how you get on me (in the nicest way 🙂 ) because I can motivate/give advice to other people but I can’t do it for myself? I think we have the same situation here. I’m about 95% positive that if I had posted this and asked the same question, you would tell me to taper. You hit the mileage, as horrible as it may have been (and I’m REALLY sorry it was so horrible), but you hit it and like you said, you know how important it is to rest. You’ve run 4 of these suckers…YOU GOT THIS! And did we already forget about the bagel?!?!

    • Haha, oh Kellie, you’re so right! I would totally tell you to keep moving forward and focus on the training you did and using the taper to recover so that you’re ready for race day. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Ugh, I’m sorry you had such a tough time. Having never run a marathon, I don’t feel qualified to give advice, other than trust your training and your gut. You know what you’re doing, and you’ve done this before. You will be great!

  11. I try to get a good cross training workout in. One of my teammates recommends, biking 3x the distance you were supposed to run…So a 20 mile run would be a 60 mile bike. You get the workout and the endurance but you’re doing something else.

    • Oh my goodness, a 60 mile bike ride sounds much scarier than running 20 miles again! Haha, I really need to get into biking more, it’s such great cross training but by 10 miles I’m just ready to get off! That’s great advice though, maybe this weekend I’ll run 10 and then bike 20 or something to get in a good workout without having to run the full 20!

  12. Bad runs are the pits because it makes you question everything. I know you’ll still do amazing despite this physical/mental set back. Begin taper and work on boosting your thoughts about this marathon.

  13. Oh gosh, we’ve all been there. Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon knows this feeling well. Honestly, I wouldn’t sweat it. Last year I had my best 20-miler ever, then my worst marathon 3 weeks later. Two other years I missed my last long run–going 16-19 miles tops, and then ran marathon PRs each time. I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between the two, unless it’s this: a bad dress rehearsal means a great opening night! Maybe it’s true for marathons too 🙂 Trust your taper and just try to enjoy the race!

  14. I know this was an older post, but I just wanted to say thanks. I just ran an awful, no good, very bad 21mile training run. I am training for an ultra. My run was supposed to be 22 but I felt awful, so I threw in the towel so to speak. Your post lifted my spirits, thanks again!

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