In my experience, the 20-mile long run is far more difficult than a 26.2-mile race. For while the marathon requires an extra 45 minutes to an hour (at my pace) or more of running, here’s what the 20-miler doesn’t have:
- Family and friends cheering you on along the way or waiting for you at the finish line
- Spectators cheering for those around you (but pretending they are cheering for you)
- Good Samaritans holding signs that read “We don’t know each other, but I’m proud of you” at the point when you want nothing more than to quit but know you can’t. And won’t.
- Bands/cheerleaders, even bad bands and girls half my age wearing WAY too much makeup — you know they’ll be there and you’re glad they are
- Little kids giving high-fives to everyone they can
- Moments that remind you how lucky you are
- Regularly spaced aid stations
- And if you train alone like I do, the camaraderie of others, spoken or unspoken, who are pushing themselves towards a similar goal
- A medal, T-shirt, medical staff and general overall pampering at the finish line
- The pride that goes along with walking (or limping if your prefer) around the rest of the day with your medal hanging around your neck for all to see
The 20-miler early on a Saturday morning is a lonely, grueling experience but it must be done. Multiple times even, depending on your particular training schedule. It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. No one that sees you knows if you’re in mile 2 or mile 18. But it’s necessary. It’s the run when your mental toughness is put to the test. 26.2 miles will be more physically demanding due to the number of miles, but if you can mentally will yourself through your 20-milers you’ll be more than prepared for the physical challenge that awaits on race day.
Prepare for your victory lap.