My First Half Marathon Experience
The Ventura Half Marathon in 2014 was my first experience participating in a distance race and boy was it something... I vividly remember how unsure I was in my ability to run an entire 13.1 miles! I did not consider myself a runner and had been pretty stationary for a few months prior to signing up. Was my fitness where it needed to be? Did I have it in me to make the full distance? I was about to find out.
Here is my full recap of this first half marathon experience for those who are considering signing up for their first half, those who have already signed up and are looking for tips, or for someone who just wants to be entertained by my n00b experience.
My motivations for the race were mostly from being inspired by my sister and her half marathon. She had texted me one random morning saying she was running the SF half marathon and I thought 'Wait... my sister is going to run a whopping 13.1 miles? Alone? ALL AT ONCE?!'. It sounded like such an astronomical distance to me, and I just had to make the drive from LA to SF to watch her cross the finish line. Sure enough (red faced, sweaty, and exhausted looking) she did it! So like any proud sister I was so happy for her and felt the contagious energy of the race. That day I was inspired to sign up for a half marathon myself. I asked her if she wanted to sign up for another one in a few months, and after a few days of rest she was into it.
So we signed up and then reality hit - I needed to start training ... yesterday. My 3 mile/9 minute pace runs weren’t going to bring me to the level of fitness I would need to get through 13 miles. So I researched online and created a 3 month plan to train for a half marathon.
Before signing up for this half marathon I had dabbled in running 3 milers here or there, so I had some shoes and some decent running clothes. If I remember correctly I had Asics Gel Cumulus 16 shoes. My biggest memory of these is feeling how HEAVY they were compared to my Nike gym shoes. But they made me feel like a legit runner so I rolled with it. I also had an arm band for my iPhone and Skull Candy headphones that I probably bought at an airport.
My Training Plan
This plan consisted of a few different workouts:
Distance runs at a slower pace where the distance built up over time.
- These runs were familiar to me because you can run at your comfortable pace, I just had to push myself on the distance part. The longest distance I ran during training was 10 miles 2 weeks before the race.
- My schedule had 1 distance run a week (on Sundays to give me plenty of time).
- Short distance ‘Race Pace’ runs
- These were super difficult because you have to push yourself to run the pace that you want to run during the race. I ran an 8 minute mile pace and the longest race pace run I completed was 4 miles 1.5 weeks before the race.
- My schedule had 1 race pace run a week (on Wednesdays to give me recovery time from the distance run).
- These were gym workouts that keep my muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong.
- I completed 2 cross training sessions a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I used Nike Training Club App to target abs, legs, arms, and back during my workouts, and would only focus on two body groups for each workout sessions.
- Rest days
- Rest days were great, and were so important to prevent injury, let my muscles regenerate, and just to keep me sane.
- I had one rest day a week, usually on Mondays to recover from my distance run.
Before the Race
The last week of my plan (7 days before the race) I didn’t do anything. Most of the advice I read preparing this plan said that the week before a race you won’t be able to change anything about your capabilities, so if you want to run make it short and sweet. So I took the initiative to do nothing and eat more.
The night before the race my sister and I went to a vegan restaurant and had some amazing rice bowls and lots of bread (‘cause carbs the night before a race is great fuel and because bread is life).
The morning of the race we woke up 2 hours before and had a coffee (TMI: to induce pooping) and a banana (good fuel with much needed potassium).
The starting line was absolutely buzzing. Everyone was smiling and excited, my sister and I looked at each other both knowing we were going to be competing to beat the other. I put my headphones on and started my meticulously curated playlist filled with lots of Beyonce (my finish line song was ‘Crazy In Love’).
The Race Experience
And BAM! The starting gun went off and everyone started finding their pace. I knew from reading advice that the beginning of a race is a very crucial time where your muscles need to remember that race pace feeling, or a tracking App or watch can help you track your pace. You don’t want to explode into a sprint at the beginning out of excitement because you will exhaust yourself too early (even though it feels right to go fast at this point). So I found my pace and got into the zone. I avoided thinking about the other runners around me and tried to just let my mind go wherever.
Let me break down my mental/ physical experience mile by mile:
Mile 1 - A complete blur. I don’t remember much but I do remember feeling very nervous about not being able to finish. That’s the only goal I had for myself was to finish.
Mile 2 - I pass my sister because I am going WAY faster than race pace due to all my excitement. I am stupid.
Mile 3 - I feel good! My pace is quicker than it should be (7:30 minute mile) but I feel ok.
Mile 3.5 - I have to pee, per usual around this point in my runs. Thank God for the port-a-potty. I assume my sister passed me while I was in there, but I get out and just keep going.
Mile 4 through 7 - I am in the zone. I feel great, my pace is awesome, I am an eagle soaring through the sky, the wind at my back, the world below me.
Mile 8 - There is a water stop and energy gel being passed out, so I go for a water cup and grab 2 energy gels. I eat one now and stuff one in my sports bra for later.
Mile 8.5 - Stomach cramp! Probably from the energy shot. My muscles are starting to feel fatigued now but it’s not bad. Just focus on Beyonce, if she can be Beyonce then you can do this.
Mile 9 - PAIN. I can’t believe I have 4 more miles of this! I can’t think about it though, just need to keep going. Don’t think about the 4 grueling miles ahead.
MILE 10 THROUGH 12 - These were by far the toughest miles of the race. I was mentally and physically at my limit and it felt like there were so many more miles to go. I dug deep and just kept going. At mile 11 I ate my other energy gel because I was so physically tired, my legs were feeling so done but I had to just keep going. My pace was slowing but I did not let go here and dug deep. It was 100% a mental game.
Mile 13 - Joy! This part of the race was the most fun for me. I knew by the time I got past the Mile 13 marker I had done it, nothing could stop me now and I was going to finish my race. This is also when ‘Crazy In Love’ came on and I picked up my pace and sprinted through the finish line.
And that’s it! I felt amazing, I couldn’t believe I had finished. And not only did I finish, but I finished in great time, 1 hour and 47 minutes. That’s an 8:16 minute mile average, which is faster than the race pace I trained at. I had endorphins to thank for that one.
So now I have to ask - are you reading this because you are training for a half-marathon? If so I hope this post helped you believe it’s possible, and it’s not as terrifying as it sounds. Just remember, running is 80% mental, 20% physical. I could have easily stopped at mile 10 and said that was all I could do, but you need to find that fire and keep going. It’s a great feeling and definitely worth it!
If you want help developing a training plan or want me as your running coach, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear from you and help you get across that finish line.