Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 20 Mile Run

There is something to be said about The 20 Mile Run. Like the arbitrary 26.2, it has become more than itself. It has become the benchmark of training, the standard by which a single run is measured. The 20 Mile Run is the gateway to all which lies beyond it. And there is much that lies beyond it.

Epic trail runs, excursions that are told and re-told 38 miles into a race and on the back of an open Subaru, lie beyond The 20 Mile Run. Hands-on-knees climbs and scree-covered descents also inhabit the spaces for which completion of The 20 Mile Run grants access.

The 20 Mile Run is never conquered, only tamed. It cannot be faked, or done half-heartedly. It is too formidable for such trivialities. When it is completed, it tells you what and where you are.

It is for this reason that I do several 20 Mile Runs prior to an ultra. Consistent efforts, each closing in on three-plus hours (for 20 miles on  road), tell me what whether I have any business running in so-and-so ultramarathon currently scheduled for so-and-so weeks off. (That is, if I listen hard enough. My DNFs at each of my first two attempts at 50 miles were the result of not listening closely or knowing thy self.)

That said, The 20 Mile Run is only partially about the 20-mile distance. At 20 miles, most marathon runners run out of glycogen in their livers and hit the proverbial wall, or bonk. That lack of glycogen makes the last 10K of a marathon a grueling experience. The worry of bonking post-20 miles makes The 20 Mile Run more that it self.

Of course, what The 20 Mile Run is to a runner is relative to his or her peak race. In ultras, The 20 Mile Run more about time on your feet and less about speed or distance. For example, marathoners will find a 20 mile run to be their The 20 Mile Run because of The Wall. Ultrarunners shouldn’t necessarily hit that wall because they are burning fat and protein instead of carbs and stored glycogen. This makes their 20 Mile Runs longer with an emphasis on time. Last year, I did 38 miles at Afton State Park a few weeks prior to Sawtooth. That run, a jaunt of 7.5 or so hours of running, was my way of finding out whether I had any business running 100 miles three weeks time.

So get out there. Find The 20 Mile Run for you.

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