Half-Marathon Recap and Reflections

I’ve been running for a year. That’s really it, just one year.  My first run was in May of last year, 3.16 miles in 34:28. I regularly use RunKeeper, and I was surprised to see that I have only gone out on 53 runs in the last year. My races have been few: a handful of 5ks, two 10ks, and, as of May 25th, one half-marathon. I headed into this year’s Boston’s Run to Remember already pretty proud of myself: to go from a 5k to 13.1 miles in a year, a year which included no running between November and March at that, was something to celebrate. And the race was really just that: a celebration.

A very tough and at times painful celebration. This was not an easy race for me. I don’t expect anything of this distance to ever be “easy” for me, but I certainly learned some lessons this year that will hopefully make the next half-marathon easier.

1. Follow your training plan. I used this Hal Higdon half-marathon training plan, with a couple tweaks from my trainer. Most weeks, I shuffled runs around. Or had extra rest days. Or skipped my rest day. I ignored speed work almost completely. The only thing I did semi-faithfully was build up my distance by hitting my 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 mile runs.

After my 10 mile run, I was hurting. I was unsure if I was going to be able to run the half. My whole taper week was RICE-ing my (likely) tendinitis and extra yoga classes. I felt very pessimistic about how my body would hold up during the half-marathon and those worries were realized around mile 11 on race day. Indeed, it wasn’t even halfway through the race when my left knee began to bother me, and by the last few miles, my left ankle and right knee joined in.

I actually ran the last two miles more quickly than the previous six though — definitely because I knew the next time I stopped, I was not going to be able to start again. So I wouldn’t be stopping until the finish line!

Next time, I will do better. I will give myself more time to train more slowly for a longer-distance race. Training plans are there for a reason, and building up mileage slowly is a critical aspect of training for most of us. Be patient.

2. Nutrition matters. Every trainer and athlete has some version of this saying: you can’t out-train a poor diet. I completely believe this to be true now. I was perhaps skeptical before; I did not faithfully adhere to this tenet. I will never train for a long-distance race again without making this a visible part of my plan.

Reflecting on how hard this all was, training and the race both, has made diet considerations a matter of practicality actually. Eating for fuel has become more of a natural consideration in my life. Did I have ice cream on vacation in Bar Harbor? Of course. Is it a daily indulgence? No.

3. Go into the race with a goal and a plan. My goal and plan were the same for this first race, actually: to only walk through water stations. It’s pretty typical for a new runner’s goal to be to simply finish, especially when tackling new distances. However, this plan-goal’s specificity gave me something on which to focus my race. There were also ten water stations, fairly evenly spaced, in this race; this plan then guaranteed short bursts of intense focus followed by brief reprieves.

I also carried with me a super-secret pie-in-the-sky goal of running the race in 2:30:00. To do that, I would need to run with just under an 11:30 mile pace, which was about thirty seconds faster than my long runs had been in training. I used my RunKeeper app during the race, and according to that, ran 13.82 miles (wide race!) in 2:42:30, for an average pace of 11:46 per mile. My official time was 2:40:55 over 13.1 miles for an average pace of 12:17 per mile.

Look, honestly, I’m taking that RunKeeper data and sticking that in my brain.

I still consider myself a new runner and, as such, I am still figuring out how to both push myself and pace myself, trying to find that sweet spot of running a steady, “fast” race. I feel pretty good about my pacing in this race though; it seems to fall into a few chunks of steady running:

half-marathon splitsThis race was a success, a very important mark on my life’s timeline.

I set my goal to run this race late in 2013, when I hadn’t been running much and felt like I needed something to work towards. But I only signed up for the race after my job ended. Having this race to focus on, to train for, was an important part of my year. 2014 will always be the year I ran my first half-marathon.

Isn’t it wonderful to have something so grand be this year’s main memory? That’s what running gives me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.