Finishing a half marathon with no training and living to blog about it

It (clearly) wasn’t pretty, but I got it done.

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.

I woke up 30 minutes before the race was supposed to start. My house is 25 minutes from Sauvie Island where the Foot Traffic Flat is held. Crap, right?

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.

My post-race reward. A crate of fresh fruit and an adorable finishers medal. To be honest, one reason I got up and out the door despite being late was that I really wanted this strawberry shaped medal.



Filed under Life, Running

29 responses to “Finishing a half marathon with no training and living to blog about it

  1. Great Job! Positive attitude and determination to finish a long, hard race should be an influence on everyone!

  2. Thanks for all the tips!! I’m sure they will come in handy when I run future races 🙂 And that box of fruit delicious!

  3. Great tips and pretty amazing! Thanks for sharing!

  4. leesa irwin

    : ) : )

  5. I don’t think i could run a half marathon with even years of training! This is mental – congrats 😀

  6. tina

    i’m about to tackle my 4th half marathon this weekend w/ NO training this time around but feel VERY re-assured after reading your tips!! thanks a bunch!!!!! i DONT care about my time…just want to finish injury free and enjoy my morning jog/walk!

  7. Pingback: Running a half marathon with half assed training | Sweat and Sweets

  8. Katie B

    i basically did the same thing yesterday, I went out for my normal 2.5 mile run and when i rounded a corner i saw that a half marathon race was going on so I thought it would be okay just to hop in. I ended up running a total of 15 miles in exactly 2 hours. The longest I ran (in my entire life) was 9 miles and that was over 4 months ago. I completely agree with your first bullet point. I believe that running is about 80% mental and 20% physical. That was my first half marathon ever and the feeling of crossing the finish line was amazing.

    • meganirwin

      that’s funny! But be careful “ghost running” a race – lots of race organizer get really upset about unregistered people running in their races.

  9. Belinda

    Thanks for this!! Have been debating to run half marathon next weekend as haven’t trained for it but after reading this have decided ‘what the heck’ and give it ago anyway. Ran a third of the course this morning straight with your tips about walking at water stations should see me complete it (I hope) 🙂

  10. I have never ran a half marathon and I was training the first month I signed in but then after the 4th mile it was reallly hard to continue… I have ran 5 miles that’s it!! And the half marathon is Saturday 5:30am… I was wondering how should I do it… Run the 5 miles and figure it out after or run walk alternating? Helppp ;(

    • meganirwin

      Hi there
      So, when I say “no training” that means no real training for this specific half marathon, but I have several years of running experience and a really solid base. I knew I could do the 13.1 miles in this race because I had done it before and, in fact, have run much further than 13.1. In your case it doesn’t sound to me like you’re ready to do this race without serious risk and pain. If you’ve honestly never run more than 5 miles and find it difficult, I would skip it. Is there a 5k or a 10k that you could drop down to? That way you can still have the fun of the race but you won’t be putting yourself at risk for injury.

      • Thank you so much for your reply! I paid 200 dollars for this half marathon and is in Disney.. I read the rules and I cannot have any refund or cancel to replace it for another… I think I want to give it a try and see what happens, but I don’t know of I should run and walk interval or run first all and walk the rest and do what I can… The maximum I have run is 5 miles, but I think I could do a little more… This was something I wanted to do once in my life and not for couple times… Any suggestions? Thank you!!!

      • meganirwin

        Well… what kind of shape are you in currently? If you’re an athlete from another sport (like biking) you might be ok. If you’re not I think a couple things:
        — Talk to your doctor first. You’re underestimating how far 13.1 miles is when you don’t have a strong mileage base heading in. You can really hurt yourself if you try to just run it.

        — If you do attempt the race, I would expect to walk most of it and pace yourself with walk/running from the very beginning. If you try to run it all out from the start and then walk when you get tired, you’re body will “bonk.” Basically your blood glucose levels will be so depleted that your muscles will completely run out of energy and you’ll feel like you can’t go on.

        You can avoid this by walking and jogging very, very conservatively and slowly. I’d recommend a slow jog for 25 minutes/walk for 5 minutes pattern for the race if you want to finish. Don’t worry about your time, just try to have fun enjoying the scenery.

        I still really recommend against this though – there’s such a huge difference between 4 miles and 13 miles… and if you haven’t run long EVER before in training your going to be in for a really tough time mentally as well as physically.

        Super curious how this turns out for you… sorry to sound so negative, but now I’m worried that this post is going to inspire people to go out and hurt themselves.

      • Thank you soooo much!!! For me is very important my health and I really appreciate your support and honesty. I am a golfer and have played professionally but I can say I’m not out of shape but also not to run a marathon off course. I will run 25 min and walk and do what I can… I just wish I could have prepared more but I don’t really want to give up and don’t show up because it is a lot of money… I’m scared that I will hurt but I do know my health comes first 🙂 thank you!!!

  11. marisaR

    dearojas , how did you do? I am fixing to run my first half marathon. I’m nervous. I live in Austin and there are some good hills to conquer! I’ve only done 5k and 10ks but I do find that when I run in them, I have more motivation and I am more into it and push harder. I havent trained too much, only short runs but I have time to get in some good 7 – 8 mile runs to see how I feel. My goal is to finish! Time will always linger in the back of my mind but I know finishing will feel great. 🙂

  12. Cultivate good habits and have good life goals are very good things.
    Progress always, never regress, should be the mean goal of all of us


  13. Alli Harmon

    I’m about to do this same thing tomorrow.. so I googled “ran a half marathon without training” and found your blog. Thanks for the laughs, and the courage to do this, even if I haven’t run in three weeks! :0 I will definitely be thinking of you tomorrow as I run, walk and hobble those loooong miles of road. Thank you. ~Alli

  14. Kalina

    So awesome to have found this blog. I am running a half on Sunday and have not trained. I was put at ease when you mentioned that you’d run the distance in the past. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” will be my mantra on Sunday. THANKS!

  15. Annie Cutler

    I am signed up for a half marathon this weekend – and I’ve been a ski bum and NOT trained AT ALL… (I’ve run 2 other half marathons and one full one before) but you’ve now motivated me! Thanks!

  16. Ha like the others I googled running a half marathon without training and I found your blog. I ran 4 half marathons last year, my last was in November. And on that high I signed up for one this Sunday. I havent really run at all since my last one. Maybe like 4 miles twice. Of course I have been active doing spinning and barre those types of things but not running. DO you think I should run this Sunday?? My thoughts are all over the place but this post gave me courage. I would love any thoughts!! Thanks in advance. LOVE THIS POST!

    • meganirwin

      I am not a doctor or a coach, so I don’t feel like I can give advice about whether or not you should do this race. It sounds like you’ve got a solid running base under your belt so you might be ok… but if you’ve only done 8 miles total since November, I think this sounds just really painful. I personally wouldn’t do it.

      The big difference here is that I was running much more consistently before running the half marathon I wrote about in this post. I wasn’t training at the level a person should to actually perform well, but I did have a consistent base. Is there a 10k or a 5k that you can drop down to?

  17. uh oh, i convinced my friend to run the half marathon THIS Sunday, that is 5 days from today.. he is confident he can do it, (i am not really) this is his very first time to run a race, with no training and experience AT ALL as against my 12 week training…. so i don’t know if i did the right thing or not.. i therefore do not claim any responsibility for whatever he may experience except the bragging which i’m sure is what’s gonna happen if he ever pulled this through.. hmmmm…

    • meganirwin

      I have to say I find this incredibly bad advice. Your friend has NO running experience? And you convinced him to try to run 13.1 miles? He is going to get hurt. I would never, ever give that advice to someone I dislike let alone a friend… honestly, I think you should let him know that this is a dangerous choice and that he should reconsider. When I said I ran this with “no” training, what I really meant was “how to complete a half marathon as an experienced runnner who didn’t train enough for this race.”

      You folks who are attempting to do this without any running experience are KILLING me.

      • yes, good advise, there’s no harm done yet, i just know he wants to do this (and maybe short cut it) that’s why i “invited” him to join. sorry, convinced was a wrong term i used.. so, will tell him now.. thank you…

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