The 20 Mile Marathon Training Run

I’m currently training for another marathon since getting my marathon mojo back last year. I’m running Grandma’s Marathon in just about a month from now and I’ve been posting my long run pictures on Instagram and Facebook and have received some great comments like “You’re crazy!” “Better you than me!” “Did you really start your run at 3:30am?” and “That’s 20 miles more than I will ever run. As in..I don’t run.”


I have to say that the most interesting and most difficult part of marathon training is getting to that 20 mile training run. For many – it’s the height of their mileage and there’s a lovely and enjoyable taper for the next few weeks before the marathon. And for some, the 20 miler is just the first of a few 20 milers that they’ve included in their training plans. There are about four gazillion marathon training plans out there – for the novice, the beginner, the intermediate, the experienced, the professional, the “I want to qualify for Boston” runner, and the “I just want to finish before the sag wagon makes me get in” runner.  Everyone finds a plan and then tweaks it for their personal time, goals, injuries, and condition.


But the 20 mile training run is the ultimate, the goal, the big run, the big kahuna of marathon training(and I’m doing three of them for this training program), and for non-marathon runners – it’s seemingly crazy and impossible.


So what I want to do for you here today is dissect my 20 mile marathon training run for you mile by mile, so you can better understand how this run is so easily accomplished.


I hope this is both informative and helpful to you if you’re embarking on your first marathon training program.

(Please note that this particular 20 mile run may not be the same for everyone. I am an early, early morning runner so my run does not interfere with any family plans that day, and because many times my husband leaves for work by 7:30am, so I want to be home with the kids before he leaves.)


3:15am – The alarm goes off.  Hit snooze and cover head with blankets. Ignore reality. Cat even looks at you like “What the fuck, dude, it’s like the middle of the night?”

3:25m – The alarm goes off again. Slowly rise and wonder why the hell you are doing this. Question sanity. Question humanity. Question the point of marathons. Question why the cat wants to be fed now because it’s really early for that crap.

3:28 – Eat 1/2 a banana. Try to not puke up the banana because no one should eat a banana at 3:30 in the morning. Look at the bagel you set-out and decide there is no way you can eat a bagel right now, so decide to just eat a few tablespoons of peanut butter right from the jar. Close eyes and try to think of something positive because eating at this hour is just not normal, okay, or enjoyable.

3:35 – Pee and grab extra toilet paper to pack in your fuel belt just in case you need to pee, or god forbid poop on your 20 mile run. Consider how ridiculous this whole running a marathon thing is because you are now packing toilet paper in case you have to poop in someone’s yard. Also bring a bag to pack-away poop and paper. OMG WTF are you doing?

3:37 – Get dressed and finish packing fuel belt – water, gel shot things, toilet paper, pepper spray, house keys, iPhone, and ear buds. Turn on playlist and arrange ear bud cord.

3:40 – Walk out of house and into the complete black of night. Question sanity again. Cry a little. It’s so dark, you’re so tired, you can’t believe you’re doing this. Start RunKeeper app.

3:41 – Start running. Reluctantly.

Mile 1 – Legs try to remember what to do. Legs thinking about the bed. And blankies. Head thinks – “Only 3 hours left!”

Mile 2-3 – Car is coming up behind you slowly so you convince yourself that these are bad guys and this is how your life will end. Grip pepper spray and run like a motherfucker. Have best pace/mile yet because you’re running for your life. Eventually car stops and someone gets out and throws a paper on someone’s porch. Turns out it was not an ax murderer driving slowly behind you, it was a paper boy. Decide that’s a really sucky job because it’s super early right now. Also think about how awesome your marathon time would be if bad-guys chased you the whole time. Consider planning a fake bad-guy marathon. Wonder if it’s a brilliant idea.

Miles 4-5 – Find a nice pace now that someone’s not trying to kill you. Start doing training run finish math in your head. “Okay I’m now 1/5 done with my run – or four more of those exact mile groups and I’m done! That’s not so bad, right?” Wrong – the first five miles are much easier than the last five miles. Consider how to do real marathon math as your legs get tired. Start hating math and anyone who does math.

Miles 6-7 – Your child has been fucking with your playlist and “Do you want to build a snowman” comes up on shuffle. “No, no you don’t want to build a snowman!” You yell. You make up your own lyrics. “Do you want to run a marathon, are you crazy and senile? Don’t you know it hurts like hell, you may shit yourself, you try to smile…” Decide you will break the Frozen DVD when you return home.

Mile 8 – Will the sun ever rise? Will it be dark forever? Will you step in a pothole? If people see you running this early in the morning do they A. Think you’re crazy, or B. Think you’ve just robbed a bank? or C. Think you’re the bad-guy.

Mile 9 – Step in a pothole – tumble forward and scrape hands, knees, and elbow on street. Consider tweeting to the City of St. Paul about the atrocious pothole situation and ask them what you’re really getting for the $6,000 property tax bill. Consider how crazy you’ll sound when you say “I fell into a pothole at 4am whilst out running in the dark without a headlamp!”

Mile 10-11 – A police car drives by, turns around and then drives slowly by again with his window down… You then wonder if maybe you DID rob a bank – because you have guilt because you were Catholic once. You also consider that sitting in the back of his squad car and getting a ride home would be kind of awesome because you’re starting to get tired. He just waves and smiles. You wave back and point to fuel belt and running shoes to like show him that you did NOT rob a bank but are just some crazy-lady taking a very early morning run.

Mile 12-15 – Wildlife miles! First a flock? A bunch? A gaggle? A school? Oh, A HERD! of deer is standing in the road in front of you. Just staring at you. Like not moving at all. You slow to a walk and have to move to the side to get around them because they DO NOT MOVE! You tell them that a deer standing in the road is like totally bad news. They continue to stare at you and do not move out of the road even after you warn them. You decide that you no longer like Bambi and cannot be responsible for accidental deer deaths if they can’t even listen to you. Then a crazy raccoon runs right in front of you and evidently you startle him because he gets up on his hind legs and starts making some crazy-ass sounds. So you cross to the other side. It’s like “Dude, I don’t want to be here right now either, but we need to be here together in peace!” But the wildlife story of the morning belongs to the Flock? Group? Gaggle? of turkeys at mile 15. They were all pissed off that you were on their road and spread their feathers out and started running at you while making some crazy, awful noises. Have second best pace running from turkeys as you did running from the paperboy at mile 3. Think about an actual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot race where actual turkeys run after and attack the competitors. Would people sign up for that?

Mile 16 – Encounter another runner for the first time this morning. They look really fresh and blow past you as you yell “I’m on mile 16 of a 20 mile run – so THAT’S why I look and smell the way that I do!!!”

Mile 17 – Tired. Oh so tired. Think about calling someone to rescue you because you’re not sure you have another three miles in you. Eat another goddamned gel block. Think about how much you hate these things now. Think how real food would taste super good. Like a donut. OMG A DONUT. Where are the donuts? And coffee. Why isn’t there coffee delivery.

Mile 18 – Still running. More slowly. But still running. Do you really have to run two more miles? You need a sag wagon? Where’s my sag wagon? You doubt everything in life because your body cannot take you two more miles. Your playlist runs out and now all you have is the sound of silence for company – and the voices in your head telling you to stop for donuts.

Mile 19 – You can do this. Only one mile left. You can run one mile in your sleep. You can run one mile with your arms behind your back. You can run one mile with your legs tied behind my back. You still want a donut – but you can run one mile. Remember this is what it’s like at mile 20 during the actual marathon and you don’t think you can make it those last six miles..but you’ve trained for this. You’ve got this.

Mile 20 – You DID THIS! Three hours and some odd minutes later YOU ARE DONE! It’s light out, your legs have carried you forward, YOU CAN DO THIS, YOU DID THIS, and now you will hobble into your house and drink coffee and eat a donut. BEST RUN EVER! You cannot wait to do this again next weekend. YOU ARE WOMAN HEAR YOU ROAR! Unless you’re a man. Or a deer. Or a turkey. You forget all about the bad guys, the paperboys, the potholes, the turkeys, and the awful gel shots. It’s like childbirth but you get to wear clothing. And shoes.

2pm Take nap. Let kids watch as much TV as they want.

End scene.


Do you love the long runs during marathon training? What do you do to pass the time?


About Tracy

My name is Tracy Morrison and I live in sunny Minnesota. I'm neither British nor a nun - I'm just a Midwesterner with a headache. This is mainly a humor and lifestyle blog that documents the lighter side of parenting. I am an ex-corporate ladder climber turned freelance writer, social media manager, world traveler, and marathon runner. I would love for you to contact me at

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  1. says

    I am in awe. And laughing so hard. Crazy running thoughts are the best.

    When. I used to do my early morning runs (never that early), I always fantasized about crawling back in bed when I got home. I’m sure you can imagine how many times that actually happened.
    Leigh Ann recently posted..set the goal. do the thing.

  2. says

    So while you were doing all that running, I was dreaming about setting up a donut and coffee stand on your mile 10, so I can throw them at you like confetti when you breeze past me.

    You be cray cray and I love that about you.
    Alison recently posted..I Do Love You

  3. says

    You are heroic.

    When I peed myself at the halfway mark of my one and only 10K my friends said, “It’s not a good run unless you pee yourself.”

    I said, “But oh my god I can’t stop.”

    She’s like, “Just go with it.”

    And so I ran another 5kilometers hoping my capris would stem the tide of urine flowing from my body.

    It was a really, really, really good run.
    Amanda recently posted..Low Reserves

  4. says

    I’ve no desire to run but you are the first person who has made it sound fun…in a weirdly masochistic way. I mean I like wildlife. I like music. I like the idea of three hours to myself. I even like jelly beans (which is what I choose to believe those gel packs taste like). I just can’t quite make the leap to running to get all that.

    I am in awe. And I am cheering you on.
    K.M. O’Sullivan recently posted..A Hunger for More

  5. says

    Yeah. This is FUNNY because it’s TRUE. Every word of it.
    I relate to all the parts except where you can’t eat a bagel at 3:30 because I promise you I could.

    And I also fantasize about the post-run shower an AWFUL lot.

    Would you believe this post made me WANT to do this again?
    Damn I wish we lived near each other.
    julie gardner recently posted..Goldilocks and the House Fire

  6. says

    I’m so glad it was just the paper boy! I agree, no one should eat bananas in the middle of the night. 😉

    My longest training run to date is 10 miles – HALF of this. I cannot imagine but I am in awe of you!!!
    Elaine A. recently posted..Believing

  7. says

    Marathons are for my playlist . . . marathon training is for audiobooks. I try to lose myself in the story to not think about the fact that it fucking blows that I’m out there running.

    I train up to a 22 mile long run – it’s on a BEAUTIFUL rails-to-trail that’s a good 6 mile drive away. I guess I could run there, run the route, run back & actually start convincing myself that I do have an ultra in me some day, but that would be fully revealing my crazy. The problem is that a rails-to-trail is, well, by definition, almost entirely flat. And marathon courses seldom are.

    And I’ve actually had the “am I the bad guy?” conversation with myself — usually, it’s around mile marker 15 and/or half an hour after the sun rises. For whatever reason, I fear that I was actually really tired after committing a murder, so I slept wherever . . . and now the police are going to catch me fleeing from the scene of the crime, on foot. Very slowly.
    John (Daddy Runs a Lot) recently posted..Where I share my weight loss “tips”

  8. says

    I loved this post! I don’t know how you manage the running in the dark thing… I got a treadmill for runs that aren’t compatible with daylight, and I love it. Most of my long runs consist of me repeating a stupid song in my head. I like doing a long run as a specific workout, especially if I am alone, because it helps to pass the time if I can break it into smaller chunks. Grandma’s is on my bucket list. Can’t wait for a race report!
    Pam recently posted..No, I’m not pregnant with triplets but thanks for asking.

  9. says

    OMG… this is great! My sister is also training for Grandma’s Marathon and I’ll be running my first full in January. I’m a little nervous about the long long runs like this, but I know that with training I’ll be able to do it!
    Kathleen recently posted..Weekly Recap – Lauren

  10. says

    I’ll be thinking of this post during my final 20 this weekend. Actually I think of you every weekend because I am so jealous you are done before I start. Not jealous enough to get up at 3:15…….

  11. says

    Reading this is exhausting:) I will be there to cheer you on! I am happy to hear police are out during that time. Deer in the city???

  12. says

    I have a friend who wants to run a marathon. She’s starting with 5Ks and is encouraging me to do them with her. Trying to entertain myself for 3.1 miles is hard enough. I would go crazy with 3 hours of running. Even with music. You? Are amazing.
    Roxanne recently posted..I love you. My people.