First 20 Miler + Santa Claus Shuffle 5k Recap

Today was quite the day! Today I completed my last race of 2013, my last race before my marathon, and my 3rd race where I ran to the start line. In even bigger news, I successfully completed my first 20-mile training run. That's 2-0, TWENTY, people!!!

The Santa Claus Shuffle 5k is a race that takes place right in my backyard, and most of the course covers my normal running route. My dad runs it with a group from work. I ran it for the first time last year, and at first when he asked me to join again, I was on the fence. I knew I had my first 20-miler scheduled for the same day, and didn't think I could do both. Then I realized I was going to be running this morning no matter what - I could either run all 20 miles alone, or run 17 alone and run the final 3 with friends. When I thought about it that way, the choice was obvious!

Generally speaking, the 20-mile run is the pinnacle of most marathon training plans. I was not comfortable only hitting this distance once before the big day, so I have actually modified my training plan to include a 22-miler as my longest before the race. Still, getting up to 20 miles is a pretty big deal. I knew I'd make it through, but I will admit I was pretty intimidated by the thought.

My morning was thankfully pretty seamless, and I was able to head out the door only a few minutes behind schedule. My plan was to run 17 miles, right up to the start line, leaving as little time as possible in between the two. I left the house at 5:50am to make a 9:00am start time.

Just about to head out on my first 20-miler, no big deal
It is still very dark at 5:50am! The first mile flew by, as it usually does, but I was surprised to see that I was only running an 11:00 minute mile. While I'm (mostly) fine with this, I did feel some pressure because I knew I had a deadline to make. At that pace, I would have just enough time to finish my miles before the race.

Since it was so dark out, I asked my husband to come along for the first few miles of run. I wasn't expecting him so soon, but he came pedaling up on his bike at just over a mile in. I was trying to be extra safe, so I didn't listen to my headphones for the first 2 miles of the run. Then I turned on a marathon training podcast, and that's what I listened to for the majority of the run.

It was so early and dark that the Christmas lights on the boardwalk were still lit up!
The first podcast was pretty short, so then I turned on one from a few months ago about Kona. I forgot what podcast it was, but the hosts were British so I enjoyed listening to their accents and their funny British terms for a while. I think that got me through 6 or 7 miles. At 6.67 miles I was 1/3 of the way through and I felt pretty good. I "only" had about 10 miles to go until the start of the race. I was monitoring my time, still running around 11:00 min/mi, putting me right on target to be at the race at 9.

At 7.5 miles in it was light enough and I was in a safe enough area that my husband went on home. I made it to mile 8, then 9, and by then I was heading back toward our little area of town. I had already mapped out my route the night before, so all I had to do was keep going on that route. There were a few times that I thought, "Well yeah, but I could go this way and get X miles..." but I made myself stick to the course.

I got to mile 10, halfway!!! Getting through the first half of any distance is so hard for me mentally, so crossing the halfway point always feels so good. My route has me zig zagging up and down a lot of the same streets, but in different directions, so I'm actually never really more than half a mile or so from my house at any given point. When I got to 10.8 I thought, "Okay, just a 10k left to the start line, then 5k to finish." Then I got through another 5k and it was, "Just 5k left to the start, and 5k to finish." Around that time I got a text from a friend asking where we were meeting up before the race, and not 20 seconds after I read the text, I saw him running toward the coffee shop I was about to pass. I said hi and told him I had to keep going and that I'd see him at the race. At that point I had 2/3 down, 1/3 to go!

The hardest part of the whole day was the last 5k before the actual 5k race, from miles 14-17. I was just ready to be done running at that point, I don't know how else to put it. I didn't quite hit a wall, but I came close. The only thing keeping me going was that I had come so far, it would be stupid to give up now. I could see people everywhere walking to the start of the race, and I just wanted to get to that part already. The distance was starting to overwhelm me. I got to mile 15 and 5 miles didn't seem too bad, until I realized I'd been running for almost 3 hours and still had over 50 minutes to go. I stopped focusing on how much I had left to get through 20, and just how much I had left to get to 17. I thought I'd figure out the last 5k once I got to that point.

I made it to mile 16, and with less than a mile left I could see the crowd lined up down the street waiting for the race to start. That definitely gave me a boost, knowing I was in the home stretch to make it there and that I'd be done soon. Before I knew it, I was turning a corner and running toward the start line. I watched the numbers on my GPS keep climbing, and then I was at 17 miles and saw my dad and our friend waiting for me as the race was about to start. I stopped for a couple minutes - long enough to take a picture and put on my race bib, which I had been carrying in my belt all morning. I'm not sure how long I was actually stopped, maybe 3-5 minutes at the most. I know that I got there right at 8:58ish so it couldn't have been too long.

Pretty soon I was off and running again! The start was pretty congested, but since I wasn't trying to break any records, it really didn't bother me. We started out running a pace I could quickly tell I wasn't going to be able to sustained, so I had to slow it down a little bit. My dad ran with me the whole way, even though he could have easily blown past me. It was nice having him there to talk to. I had my music on but barely listened to it the whole time. During those last 3 miles, I was SO glad I had chosen to run this race. It definitely gave me a boost of energy to be around other runners after running alone for 3 hours. Those last 3 miles could have easily been a miserable experience if I were still running alone, but instead I was able to run them with no problem. I was excited to be done, but I never got the feeling of "Ughhh is this over yet?!" like I had around mile 15. The second half of the course is part of my weekday running route, so I was really on autopilot by that point. Before I knew it I only had half a mile left to finish my first 20-mile run!

19.5 miles in, still smiling!
With a quarter mile left and the finish line in sight, I started to pick up the pace. I actually felt quite strong at that point - it was only for a few seconds, but I really dug in and ran strong to finish the last .1. I was actually surprised by how strong I felt! I felt pretty good passing people at the end, knowing I had been running nonstop since before 6am! I crossed the line (I took off ahead of my dad, haha!), stopped my watch, high-fived a friend, and then turned around to see my dad right behind me.

Some fun facts about the race...I knew the pace we were running was faster than I had been running alone (again, great decision to run this race...that wouldn't have happened otherwise, I'm sure of it), but I had no idea what that pace was. When I checked my results, it turns out I ran 31:18 for the race (10:06 pace). Last year I ran 31:40 (10:13 pace). How about that?! I wasn't trying to PR either year, but beating last year's time on fresh legs, by 22 seconds, with this year's tired legs? I'll take it! 

One of the biggest things that surprised me about today? No crying! I had a couple cry moments on my first 15-miler, and maybe one or two on my 17. But 18? 20? Nope, nada. I guess in some way I am more confident than I think I am that I will be able to accomplish these crazy runs. Not to diminish the accomplishment of running 20 freakin' miles (kind of a big deal), but I really think deep down in my heart, I knew I'd complete this goal today. So as crazy and unbelievable as it is, in some ways it's totally believable. Somewhere inside I was certain that this would happen for me today. And it did. And I've got the proof (from a new, correctly-functioning watch) to prove it!

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