My final 16-mile long run before Pittsburgh Marathon featured two radical experiments

The Pittsburgh Marathon is just three weeks away. According to some training schedules, today’s long run should be the last really long one, followed by two shorter taper runs in the next two weeks. However, because I had a late start in training, and my mileage is not all that high (I reached a lifetime peak weekly mileage of “only” 36 last week, before coming back down for this week), I have not yet decided whether to do another really long run next week.

But one thing was sure: today’s 16-mile run with the Steel City Road Runners was going to be important.

I used this run as an opportunity to perform two radical experiments, which succeeded beyond expectation!

Steel Valley Trail

The route

Today’s run started at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Waterfront and was an out-and-back on the Steel Valley Trail along the Monongahela River, crossing it to McKeesport before turning back.

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Experiment one: footwear

It was on the cold, cloudy side (temperature started off below 40F and probably never reached 50F), and rather windy, but I was dressed just enough for the conditions: a long-sleeve T-shirt, shorts, glove liners, and a hat. I felt it was particularly important to wear shorts on this long run, because I expect to be wearing (these) shorts in the Pittsburgh Marathon.

I’ve been running exclusively in Luna Sandals since last week’s long run. I am still breaking them in, but the chafing has decreased (although the scabs are old evidence of it), and the shoes are forming to my feet. I still have a problem with heel slippage on my right foot, but hope to figure that out eventually without lacing too tight.

My hope has always been that I will be able to wear the Luna Sandals in the marathon itself. I have rather enjoyed running in them instead of Vibram FiveFingers, but the Luna Sandals have their own drawbacks I’m working out.

Experiment two: fuel

I planned to do this run as a “long, steady run” rather than a “fast finish long run” as I did last week, but with a twist: deliberate depletion.

I ate no breakfast before the run. And I planned to drink no Gatorade and eat no GU gel during the run, if possible. I wanted to only drink water, and see if I experience glycogen depletion, and if so, try to run through it. The marathon is a hard event. To be ready, I want to at least partially simulate what it might feel like in the second half of a marathon.

The run

I had never run on the Steel Valley Trail before, so it was a new, interesting experience. Some of it is on dirt, but most of it is asphalt. I have to confess to not being a fan of smelling fumes from plants in operation, and seeing and hearing a lot of trains up close, but it was otherwise a peaceful, continuous path, and I do like running along a river.

According to plan, I started out slowly, paying no attention to the pace groups. (I am not going to follow any pace groups in the Pittsburgh Marathon either; all these group runs as well as the Just A Short Run half marathon have taught me that I should just follow my body’s own rhythm).


I was wearing Luna Sandals for the longest run ever in them; the longest run I had done up till now in them was 7.5 miles, less than half of 16! Embarrassingly, for the first mile or so, I kept on stopping to readjust the laces, because of heel slippage. I finally realized that because it was under 40F, and I had just hopped out of bed, my feet were smaller than in other runs I’d done (it’s been crazy warm recently until today).

After a couple of miles, I was fine in the sandals for the rest of the run!


There were two fluid stations, hence three stops (one of them being at the turnaround point). As planned, I took only water, no Gatorade. And although I carried one gel with me during the entire run, I ended up never using it.


My first observation was how “clean” I felt, mentally and physically, running without breakfast and with no fuel in my stomach. Of course, I believe that in the actual marathon I will need fuel, and I will need it regularly, in order to prepare for the final miles, but this was the first time in my entire life that I had run as far as 16 miles without any prior breakfast or fuel during the run! It was confidence-boosting to me that for at least 16 miles, I could run without external aid, and just rely mainly on fat-burning rather than pumping in carbs. I did start feeling hungry in the second half of the run, and when I finished the run realized I was quite hungry, of course.

Furthermore, my feet were just fine in the Luna Sandals. Apart from starting off pretty cold, and encountering surprisingly annoying particles that got between my feet and the soles during the dirt sections of the trail, I got no blisters, chafing was minimal, and my knees and toes and hips felt, after the run, better than they had ever felt after a run of this distance. I felt a bit tight, but not crampy yet. That was a pleasant surprise.

So I will keep on refining my use of the Luna Sandals, but I fully expect, after this experience, that I will run the Pittsburgh Marathon in these sandals!

The lack of cushioning is a virtue of these minimalist sandals, I believe: being less cushioned than the Bikila LS, I can better feel if my form is poor, because then I feel jarring impact. And I can also feel when I make subtle form adjustments, which the minimal sole enable me to make at all (in the Bikila LS shoes, I feel they induce too much lateral motion sometimes). The feedback cycle enables me to refine my form constantly.

Wearing Luna Sandals


I timed myself on this run, but without calculating any pace during the run itself: I only made note of the start time, turnaround time, and end time.

In the first half, when I started really slow (and had to stop to adjust my laces), but then picked it up naturally, I ran 8 miles in 1:15, or 9:23 pace. That’s actually faster than I thought I was going. I did not want to go too fast, since this was not supposed to be a fast run.

In the second half, I did pick it up, because I was feeling good, and decided to try to find a “natural” faster pace in order to see what I might comfortably do as actual marathon pace. I finished the last 8 miles in 1:12, which is exactly 9:00 pace.

That translates to a marathon finish time of 3:56, which I’d be completely happy with. So I think it may be realistic after all, despite my abbreviated training season (I really wish I had an additional month, actually, to doing a couple more 16 mile runs), to aim to go under 4:00. I will decide during my final tapering week what my actual plan is for marathon day.


I went home and immediately slurped down a planned snack, before eating more food. My first snack was potatoes I had boiled earlier, along with some garlic salt:

Boiled potatoes with garlic salt

Boiled potatoes go down really well for me. That gives me an idea: on marathon day I will carb-load with potatoes for breakfast, and maybe even bring a potato to the start line to eat before the gun goes off. Despite my fuel-less experiment succeeding for 16 miles, I have every intention of somehow packing in the fuel before marathon day. I need to figure out a plan to top off the fuel without upsetting my stomach.

This week I had lower total mileage than last week; I’m down from 36 to 31. I hope to ramp it back up for the coming training week.


My two experiments during the 16-mile run gave me increased confidence in my footwear and fueling plans and robustness. I will continue to do some fasting, fuel-less runs as well as wear the Luna Sandals.

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