My 1st Ever 20 Mile Run – The Ups & Downs

20 miler

Today I ran my first ever 20 mile run. I had been thinking about this run for awhile because getting into the 20s just sounds so far, so it is a bit of a mental barrier to cross on the way to my first marathon. What I was hoping to accomplish was not only completing the distance, but also overcoming the mental fear of running that far at once. I also hoped to come away with confidence that I really can do this marathon and that my running has greatly improved over the last few weeks of marathon training.


I was half nervous/half excited going into this run because it is a milestone that every first-time marathoner must complete. When I woke up this morning, it was still raining hard, as it had been quite a bit over previous 24 hours, and the sky was still lit up by lightning. I originally planned to leave by 9 am after eating just a banana for breakfast. Because of the rain, I waited, but I was leaving at 10 am whether it was raining or not. I had spare running shoes, socks and clothes in my garage in case it stormed on me the whole time and I needed to loop back and change halfway through my run. Luckily the rain stopped by 10:00 and held off for my entire run.

Perhaps the storms were a bad omen, but I was encouraged when the weather cleared up. On my 18 mile run two weeks ago, I started very slow, around 10:00/mile, eventually speeding up and bringing my overall pace 9:40/mile. My goal marathon time is under 4 hours, which means I need to run 26.2 miles at 9:09/mile pace or faster. I’ve been a little worried that my long runs have been at such a slower pace, so I got a little over-ambitious today. I hoped to start at about a 9:30 pace and speed that up throughout the run, basically just so I would know that a 9:09 pace is doable for a really long distance.

I have read a ton of articles on long run pacing, articles written by successful marathon runners and coaches, and the vast majority of them say to do your long runs at 45-90 seconds/mile slower than your marathon goal pace. Despite all their combined wisdom, I just needed to know that I could keep marathon pace for a significant distance. It was a confidence thing, but this line of thinking backfired today, proving that I should have listened to the people who have been there and done this hundreds or thousands of times.


I made a rookie mistake by going out too fast. It already would have been a mistake to start at a 9:30 pace in this training run, but I actually went out much faster. It felt like I started with a very slow jog, but I ran my first mile in 9:14. So I started thinking that I just had it today, like maybe my hard training schedule this month was starting to pay off. So I ran my 2nd mile in 8:58 and my 3rd mile in 8:57, and really the first 5 miles were a breeze. I was still holding strong at 10 miles and pushed myself hard on mile 13 because I wanted a sub-2:00 half-marathon. There was something about getting past the halfway point at marathon goal pace that was just really important to me. It is not like I have never run a sub 2-hour half marathon, as I’ve already done that a couple times lately, but I have never done it where I still had to continue running for several more miles.

I finished 13.1 miles in 1:59:00, right under goal marathon pace, and then my body suddenly did not want to run anymore. Every part of me was yelling “STOP!” even though my training schedule said I still had 7 miles left. My legs were tired, and I got some cramps at this point. I stopped and stretched my calves, which helped the cramps. I got to exploring today and misjudged how far I was from the water fountain to refill my water bottle at Jackson Morrow Park, so I had no water for about 4 miles right when I needed it most.


The worst thing was my stomach suddenly felt like it was constantly being stabbed. Several hours later, my stomach is still torn up. Perhaps it was the Gatorade Energy Chews I ate at miles 6 and 11? This was my first long run using these for fuel, and apparently my body rejected them. Also because my run started an hour later than originally planned, I ended up eating more at breakfast than I probably should have. So perhaps it was the 2 bowls of Lucky Charms (including drinking the milk in the bottom of the bowl), or maybe that combined with the Gatorade I drank and the energy chews I ate just left too much sugar in my stomach? All I know is that I have got to figure out what to eat before and during long runs soon!

After my body rebelled against me, I got my legs feeling well enough to continue with a little walking and stretching, but my stomach was in so much pain that I could not run more than 200 yards. I was still several miles from home, so quitting was not an option. Finally after I had suffered through this for 3 miles, I had to stop and sit down at a bus stop just for 1 minute. I had gone exactly 16.28 miles, and I closed my eyes and prayed, asking God to carry me through another 3.72 miles. When you run as many miles as I do, 3.72 miles sounds like such a short distance, but today when I was in so much pain, I really did not think I could make it that far, unless it was just a slow walk.


So I asked God to help me do what I could not do myself. I had just started a new playlist, and the Casting Crowns song “Praise You With the Dance” came on at this point. Here are the lyrics:

I will sing to the Lord
And I will lift my voice
For You have heard my cry

I will sing to the Lord
And I will lift my hands
For You have brought me out of the pit
For You have brought me out of the pit

And I’ll sing glory, hallelujah
I lift Your name on high
And I’ll sing holy, ’cause You’re worthy
I’ll praise You with the dance

Those words “You have brought me out of the pit” hit me hard, and I knew that God would lift me up and help me keep going when I felt like I could go no further. So I left the bus stop and started running again. Suddenly my stomach pain subsided, not completely, but enough so that I could keep pushing through. I felt noticeably different, and I finished the 20 miles. I had to run-walk-run my last 7 miles, but after my prayer, I was able to run most of the rest of the way.

My pace dropped from 9:05 at mile 13 to 10:07/mile for the whole run, finishing 20 miles in 3:22:17. I’m pretty disappointed in my time, but I will learn from this experience, both about pacing and about fueling. Ironically I finished my 20 mile long run at the exact pace the online experts told me to run, 60 seconds slower than my goal marathon pace. I have a long way to go to accomplish 26.2 miles in under 4 hours, and I only have 58 days to improve before the Indianapolis Marathon! One thing is for sure. I cannot accomplish this goal without a ton of help from God.