Ran my second 20 miler today in preparation for the Shamrock Marathon on 16 Mar. With all the races that I have been competing in (six in the last six weeks), it has been hard to schedule my long runs with any consistency. I have been able to get some good quality racing long runs in with the Norfolk Half last week and the Striders Distance Series...with a 20K and a 25K the last month and next weeks final 30K...which has helped with my preparations for the upcoming marathon. I normally don't do two hard runs back to back but after yesterdays 6K race, I was still feeling good and was thinking about putting in another 10 or so miles in at the gym after the race...like the last time. But I felt that I really need to get another 20 miler in and didn't relish the idea of doing it on the treadmill. So...I decided today would be the day to hit the trail at the Dismal Swamp Trail...the long, flat 8.25 mile course...16.5 miles out and back. The weather was suppose to be nice but heavy winds were forecasted...12-15 mph building to 20-30 mph gusting to 40, but what's a little wind?
I stashed an extra bottle of water around the 6.5 mile mark and started my run at the main entrance with nothing but another bottle of water in hand...no gels, no beans...not even Gatorade...and again, no watch...I did note the time on the clock on my truck before starting. I liked the feel of the last 20 miler not worrying about time and pace and decided to just pace as I felt and see how it goes with the main objective of the run to get the 20 miler in with no stops and at a good pace.
I started out at a slow pace and found my legs were a bit tight and my right achilles was sore, but after about a half mile they were feeling fine. It was windy out on the course but the first four miles is protected by the trees that line the trail. Even further, there are trees on the canal side that shelters a bit as long as the wind is coming from the NW...which it was today. The wind also brought other dangers to be wary of while running this trail and it wasn't keeping a lookout for bears or bobcats. Since most of the trail is tree lined and with the heavy winds...I was constantly dodging falling pine cones and gumballs...gumballs are the seed pods of the gum tree and about the size of ping pong balls but have spikes...kind of reminds me of those floating exploding mines with spikes sticking out in all directions to sink ships. These gumballs weren't big and they didn't explode but stepping on them while running is very uncomfortable, so you try to avoid them. The road was littered with these little mines and you had to wind your way through these mine fields trying not to step on them. Then the biggest danger was falling branches...most were small but I saw a few that were quite large and could give you a good headache if hit with one...so I tried to stay in the middle of the trail. For the first three miles or so, I would see a few runners coming back and small groups of bikers going and coming. After around the five-mile mark, I hardly saw anyone. Seems like lots of people don't like going out further because...you got to get back too and the further you get out on the trail...the more distance you need to cover to get back to the entrance. So anyone you see this far is usually the hardcore runners or bikers getting their miles in. I kept myself hydrated by chugging on my water bottle about every mile and everything was good. At one point I could see way off into the distance with no one in sight except for the freeway that parallels the trail, off to my left about 500 yards out, and all I could think of was what these people in their cars were saying seeing me running down the trail with no one else in sight. What came to mind was: "Run Forrest Run"! I got to the end of the trail at the turn around and headed back, clicking off the quarter mile markers. It's great having quarter mile markers like this trail has because most of the time you can see the next marker ahead and the miles just seem to go by faster. At the 6.5 mile marker, I retrieved my second bottle of water. Getting back to around the five mile mark, I started seeing other people again, runners, walkers, bikers and even an inline skater. Now if I was having problems avoiding those gumballs...I wondered how the inline skater was fairing. I got back to the entrance/beginning of the trail and since the out and back only netted me 16.5 miles I kept on going out the park and down the road to the 1.5 mile turn around at the other end and back to the park entrance. This section did not have anything to shelter it from the wind. The out to the turn around was fine with a nice tailwind, but coming back into the strong headwind was quite hard especially when there was even stronger gusts. Finally got back to the trail entrance and ran another quarter mile out and back on the trail to complete my 20 miles. I checked the clock on my truck when I finished...total time was 2 hrs 38 minutes for a pace of 7:54 minute miles. I was happy with that, especially since I felt really good at the end...like I could do the whole thing over again...But that was only a fleeting thought as I walked and stretched a bit before heading home to a hot shower and a big lunch.
Next week is the final Strider's distance series...a 30K race on Saturday...which comes to about 18.6 miles, and with my usual 2 mile warm-up, I should be getting in another 20 miler too! Looking forward to next week's race.
Happy running everyone!