DISCLAIMER: Since I wrote this post a year ago, an alarming number of inexperienced runners have taken this as “permission” to run a half marathon with NO experience running – let alone experience with the distance. This is a terrible idea. So, if you are an inexperienced runner this post is NOT FOR YOU. If you have a little bit of running experience, but you’ve never run more than 10 miles this post is NOT FOR YOU. If you have experience running, but you’ve only run like 4 miles total in the past 6 months, this post is also NOT FOR YOU. Note that the very first thing I say below is “AS LONG AS YOU’VE RUN THIS DISTANCE BEFORE…”
You guys, it’s really dangerous to attempt to run a long distance race when you have no experience with long distance running. Don’t do it! Stop asking me if you should. You know the answer is no.
Just getting to the starting line was a win for this one.
When I woke up I spent a few minutes debating with myself whether or not to even bother and then decided I’d feel like an ass the whole day if I didn’t at least try to make it. I jumped out of bed, got dressed and ran out the door eating an apple and chugging a coffee.
On top of my extreme lateness, traffic was a total nightmare. Quite a few people were just ditching their cars and running to the starting line. Not an option for me since I didn’t have a passenger to take over and go park.
I parked literally as the race officials were doing the 10-second count down to start the half. Ran the first mile while still getting my hair into a pony-tail. I spent the first three miles really wishing I’d taken an extra minute to brush my teeth. I had to pee the entire race. Ultimately I ran this race 18 minutes slower than I did last year when I actually trained and prepared and didn’t show up late and frantic.
Yet, somehow, it was a complete blast. Around mile 6, I just settled into the (slow) rhythm of the road. Instead of feeling bummed at how many old men were passing me, I decided just to enjoy running the race I was running. Around mile 9 – officially the longest distance I’d run in two months – I couldn’t stop grinning. It was one of those nice – and extremely rare for me – moments where I was happy to just meet myself where I was at and enjoy what I was doing.
I even had enough left in me at the end of the race to sprint past a super-fit young dude and beat him by 2 seconds. I think he was kind of pissed. Sorry dude that I beat while running a half marathon I didn’t train for.
In that spirit, I promised some tips for surviving a race you want to run, but didn’t train for and here they are:
- As long as you’ve run the distance before at some point in your life, stop worrying about whether you can do it. You’ve done it before, you’ll be able to do it again. That mantra definitely helped me through the first three, pretty rough, miles of yesterday’s race where I couldn’t get my body to calm down and couldn’t stop thinking about how un-ready I was to finish. This doesn’t really work if you’ve never gone the distance before, but since I’ve seen 13.1 miles (and 15 miles, and 18 miles) many times before in past training, I knew that crossing the finish line wasn’t a physical impossibility.
- Find someone running slower than you and force yourself to stay behind them. Even when I’m at my strongest and most trained, I am horrible at pacing myself. I knew for this race that my urge to push hard at the start would seriously undermine my ability to finish, so I found someone running quite slow and made myself stay behind her for 2.5 miles. When I got bored of her, I found someone else slow-ish and tailed him for a while. This probably turned me into a creepy/annoying person, but it did keep me from overdoing it, which was the goal.
- Don’t wear a watch. That way, you can’t obsess over time.
- Walk the water stations. If things get really bad, give yourself 30 second walk breaks every 3-5 minutes. I did this for a mile and it seemed to rejuvenate me enough so that I could sprint the home stretch.
- Even if you get a crappy time, allow yourself to feel smug about that fact that you ran more miles before breakfast than some of your friends and family members have run in years. (Possibly more than they’ve run in their lives!)
- Reward yourself when its all over. In my case, I bought a crate of fresh fruit, made a pie and felt zero guilt about eating it with ice cream.