20 Miles and a Rookie Mistake

It seems fitting that the day Theodora featured my rookie marathon story would be the day I would make my first major rookie mistake of this training cycle.

Actually, calling it a rookie mistake gives me an out. It implies that I didn’t know better. But I definitely knew better.

I ran when something hurt.

I woke up Saturday morning with this odd pain near my right Achilles. I’ve had problems with the left before, and feeling something there wouldn’t have fazed me, but the right? That was weird. Weirder was that it was showing up after a rest day. A delayed reaction from Thursday’s run on a new-to-me trail? Soreness from overeager Theraband exercises after a couple of beers? (<– Right? Seriously, this is where my brain was.) I had no idea, but not knowing didn't make it not real.

Still. Still. I've had Achilles issues before, and tossing on my calf sleeves and stretching a little more usually takes care of things. And I couldn't run 20 on Sunday because of prior commitments, and next week is a cutback because of a wedding weekend during which any miles will be welcome but not guaranteed, and at that moment — at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning when I really wanted to run and not screw up my other plans — I decided that if I was going to run at all, I might as well at least try to do the 20. At that particular moment, getting to the second weekend of September without having done it seemed worse. So I rolled on the sleeves, and I walked around the block, and I stretched, and I ran.

I ran 20 miles. And other than that, it was pretty awesome.

But I don't think I get to say "other than that," in this case, because of course it still hurts. There are some lessons that are, for some reason, extremely hard for me to learn.

Granted, I could have been dumber. I promised myself I'd stop if it ever felt worse than it did at the start — and it didn't. It did, actually, eventually feel better, though it took approximately 18 miles for that to happen. But this run? Still really dumb.

Maybe I got away with one. I can do single-leg calf raises and walk up hills and do all the other things I couldn't do when I had issues with my left Achilles a couple of years ago — and no, they're not the most fun things in the world to do right now, but I can do them. Walking around on Sunday felt so normal that if I'd been planning my run for that day instead, I'd never have had an inkling that anything was wrong, and I could have quite possibly ended up in exactly the same position I'm in now. (The position I'm in now being "On the couch with my foot in a bucket of ice water.") The area around my ankle bone is pretty swollen and nasty, and the idea of running on it now seems nothing short of ridiculous. But I did the "cutback week" calculus when I decided to run, and I have some time to let it rest. Not all the time in the world, obviously, but some time.

But ugh. If I did get away with one, I know it's just and only that — tempting fate and winning. Which doesn't mean fate should be tempted in the first place. If this passes quickly, I'll be glad I ran the 20 — glad because of the confidence boost it gave me, because of how strong I felt in every other respect. If it doesn't, I'll always know that I knew better. And there’s nothing more profound I can say than: That would really, really suck.

(And I’m also a little annoyed that I can’t celebrate my new longest run ever the way I want to — because seriously. It was so good. Other than that.)


  • San Francisco gave me the most ideal running weather for my first 20-miler: high 50s/low 60s and overcast the whole time. I bought a bigger handheld water bottle after my water-rationing issues on my 16- and 18-milers, but it really wasn’t necessary on such a cool day.
  • Pre-run hydration/nutrition: 20 oz. of water with Nuun, pumpkin bread. During-run hydration/nutrition: 20-oz bottle of water with a Nuun tab, topped off a few times but I’d be surprised if I drank more than 30-35 ounces total; Island Nectars Rocktane at 1:00; 3 black cherry Shot Bloks at 1:45; peanut butter Gu around 2:45. This run’s experiment was taking caffeine earlier in the run, in both the Island Nectars and the Shot Bloks. I’m not sure if there was a benefit, but I never had an energy crash and my stomach handled it fine, which was all I really needed to know.
  • My route went through the park and along the ocean, then around Lake Merced and back. Having now done all three, I can assert that running around Lake Merced > biking around Lake Merced > walking around Lake Merced. Running it is far less boring than walking it, and there’s no need to yell “on your left” every sixteen seconds.
  • So here’s what I would most love to celebrate but can’t, really, yet: my stats. 20.1 miles, 3:25, 10:13 average pace. That’s faster than I’ve been aiming for on these longest long runs, but I defend it in this case because my last two miles were the fastest, and I felt like I could have kept going. I don’t think it was a negative split — the whole downhill-out, uphill-back thing kind of kills that — but this was, by far, my strongest finish of any long-long run yet.
  • Dammit.
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10 thoughts on “20 Miles and a Rookie Mistake

  1. inaomi says:

    Congratulations on conquering 20-miles – around Lake Merced no less! I think you should celebrate it, no matter what the Achilles says.

  2. Kelly says:

    OH man. I know exactly how you feel. Nice run (yay!) and I am hoping your Achilles already feels better!

  3. Kristina says:

    I agree – celebrate the 20 miles, especially with the strong finish! And maybe some major resting this week?
    I am very stubborn and stupid, and I happen to think that a cortisone shot is a miracle cure for anything that happens to my knee. So, I obviously have no advice for anyone!

  4. Katie says:

    Hooray for a 20-miler! Nice job! Also: THEY MAKE PEANUT BUTTER GU? WHAT?

  5. Angela says:

    Congrats on the personal distance record! Hopefully your Achilles pain will go quietly & leave you alone. Also, I am totally fueling with pumpkin bread on my next long run, because HELLO, pumpkin break.

    • kimretta says:

      It’s sooooo good. Mine has chocolate chips. And I learned that pumpkin has potassium, so … it’s healthy? Har. (It’s the only thing I can eat that doesn’t make my stomach go insane before a long run, for some reason.)

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