It was my first 3 hour long run, the kind which are essential according to traditional marathon training plans, and just my third run over 30 kilometres. For background, even though the marathon is over 42 kilometres, it is unusual for runners to try to run that distance in training, mainly because it's a huge demand on the body to run so far that the body would need a long time recovering, which would compromise other forms of training. It would also have a greater chance of injury. So bizarrely it is an event where no-one does a dress rehearsal. You just do all the required phases and then on the day it should be possible. A stride into the unknown. Though there are people who now discourage 3 hour runs, after today's effort I can relate to one of the many reasons it's recommended: it toughens you up and gives you a taste of what you're really in for in the last phase of the event, namely, the mental challenge of pushing yourself onward in spite of your body's increasingly strident recommendations otherwise.
There is an enemy in this event mostly unknown to non-runners: the wall. Hitting the wall refers to when a runner has expended all their immediately available energy and are hit with sudden fatigue. This often happens in the 30s. A 3 hour run is almost certainly going to give you an introduction to The Wall, and give you a taste of its bitter flavour.
Another important, perhaps more important, part of training is the increase in mileage. Aside from a few periods where mechanical issues with my body kept me still, I've been running on a weekly basis since April last year, but very rarely on consecutive days. Only in August last year did I exceed 20km on any single run. And work was always an obstacle. This year since April I've been sustaining an average of 40km a week but recently I've been cranking it up in the lead up, trying to stay between 60-80km a week. This requires running on 2-3 work days and I've been managing with some early wake-ups and the occasional evening run at Nike running or Adidas running clubs. The chief purpose of mileage is to strengthen the joints, ligaments, tendons and the energy systems required for running. Also by spreading runs over the week you can introduce a lot of variety from normal runs, to speedwork, to hills, to recovery.
I have five weeks to go to my first marathon, and I'm feeling like I've on track. But go back exactly 7 days I felt that it was almost off. I'd gotten myself thinking that I had a stress fracture. I had reason - ever since I recovered from a calf tear at the start of the year, I'd been bothered by pain in the mid-shin. Usually this was during the warm-up and often went away but it could linger for portions of the run and even resurface at a later time. My first fear was that it was shinsplints, which can be a precursor to a stress fracture. But there were reasons against the hypothesis. Both conditions should be evident in all runs. But even though I had it in the Coatesville Classic in March (in both shins!), I didn't feel anything in the Rotorua Half-Marathon. But it was recurring a lot in my recent runs, often in the beginning and fading. The Monday before last I felt it and, like usual, ignored it. I did interval runs which are a kind of speed work. Even running back I still felt the pain in my left shin. I got ready for work and felt pain again as I descended stairs and as I walked around. I gave it a rest but the following morning it was the same. And then the next morning. And the next morning, too. I could feel it even in normal walking around the office. This was the week before the Millwater Half Marathon last Sunday, and here I was not being able to walk without discomfort. I wasn't training at all and feeling bad for it. I was planning to give myself a "fitness test" on Friday morning to see if I could run at all, but felt it so bad on Thursday that I didn't bother.
Saturday rolled around, the day before the event, and I felt the full weight of it. My marathon plan would be out the window for sure. But I couldn't do it on a presumption. So I put my shoes on and went for a 4 km run around the block. And didn't feel a thing wrong with my shins. I was apoplectic.I got my gear together and ran the Millwater event just a scratch under 1:40 for the half, which though nothing to stick on the wall, was OK. (I paced it foolhardily and probably would have done better with at least a little bit of running this week.) Since then I've run over 70km in 6 days and still barely a whimper from my shins. I'd almost thrown it all away for a fickle sensation in my shins.
It is possible that my increase in mileage triggered something and my shin really did need a break. My caution might have been the best approach possible. It's just funny the way things happen and today I put myself through a challenge that my legs, including my shins, have never undergone and still they are same-as-they-ever-was.