In all honesty, I can’t say that the half marathon is my favorite race distance. I love a 10K (6.2 miles). An 8K (4.97 miles). Those are long enough to tax me and yet short enough that I can really race them. A 5K (3.1 miles) is nice too, but it’s over before I even start to get in my groove. I’m not that speedy, you see. Endurance is my strong suit. And yet, for me, 13.1 miles presents quite the challenge.
My quest to complete a half marathon started when I finished my first Olympic distance triathlon in December 2011. I felt competent on the swim and bike but felt there was significant room for improvement in running. The Olympic distance includes a 6.2-mile run. For that triathlon, I completed that 6.2 miles in 55:35, a decent 10K time after the swim and bike portions of the race (enough to earn me first out of those in my age group, no matter that there were only two of us 40-year-old females!) I later completed a stand-alone 10K in 51:29, again a decent time, especially considering I was recovering from a groin injury at the time. At any rate it was good enough for a spot on the podium for 2nd place in my 40-44 age group in the local race. Still, I wanted more. I wanted to be a runner. (What constitutes a runner is a whole ‘nother blog post. On the one hand I’d say anyone who puts one foot in front of the other at any pace faster than a walk is a runner. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like a runner until I started training for the half marathon and other runners started recognizing that I was training for something.)
In January 2012, I signed up for a half marathon training class with a local running shop. My goal was to work on my running form and speed. I knew from the start that I wanted to complete a half marathon in under two hours. I stated it out loud to anyone who would listen (not because I was overly confident, but because I wanted to hold myself to a training and racing goal). The 16-week program entailed five weekly runs, with three to four mile runs during the week and progressively longer runs on Saturdays. While I hit a bit of a speed bump with that groin injury, the training worked for me and on race day in May 2012, I came across the finish line at 1:55:10. I had blown away my sub-2 goal.
That’s not to say that any of it was easy. During the last weeks of training, I felt creaky. I acted like the Tin Woman, starting out slowly and gradually oiling up my joints on the long runs until I hit a 10-minute pace if I was lucky. Tapering helped rejuvenate me, and by race day I hit an 8:47 pace, for an average of 6.82 mph for the 13.1 miles. I was thrilled. I left it all out on the course. I wasn’t joyful for every mile. I was thankful I made it through. I was happy to hit my previous personal distance record of 12 miles, and push through that last 1.1 miles to hit 13.1. I was tired, I was spent, and I was completely thrilled that I’d done it. I thanked the girl who finished before me, the one in the neon yellow tank top who inspired me to keep up the pace and finish strong. She had no idea she was pacing me, but she did and I’m grateful, even if I couldn’t pass her at the end. I finished in the top 9% for my age group and gender, and 17th percentile overall. I was thrilled. I don’t care how you define a “runner,” that qualified in my book!
When I crossed the finish line, I was totally done. I hadn’t exactly enjoyed the race. At the 5-mile mark I had wondered what I had gotten myself into. At the half-way mark I was shocked how many people were still crowding the course. At the hill at 11 miles I truly questioned why I had ever wanted to run a half marathon in the first place. Then I hit 12 miles and knew I could push myself that last 1.1 miles. I finished and was utterly relieved. It was hard to keep moving and walk to grab some electrolyte water and bananas and oranges.
I met my husband and three girls at our designated spot, then met up with my coach Stephanie for some hugs and arnica gel. From there it was a long walk back to our car (the parking lot was full by the time my husband and girls arrived at the start of the race). I watched the marathoners at mile 24 and tried to shout encouragement to them. I am not sure I succeeded. What do marathoners want to hear at mile 24? My thought was, “Looking good! You’re doing it!” It’s not that you can do it, you ARE doing it. Then I made it back to our car, parked nearly a half-mile away at the local gas station, and saw this:
I almost cried. The enormity of the accomplishment hit me. The reward of the half marathon was knowing that all my training time and effort had paid off and I had earned that 13.1.
Nearly four months later, on my 41st birthday, I found the following surprise (and then had to wash my car because I was shamed into it by the loveliness of the gift from my husband):
Am I glad I ran a half marathon? Absolutely. I’m glad I trained hard and accomplished my goal. What advice do I have for others who want to tackle this distance? Set out your goal(s). Do you want to finish, meet a time goal, or blast away a personal record? Have you run other distances in preparation for 13.1 miles? Be realistic. Have a plan in place and follow it to the best of your ability.
Have you run a half marathon? What advice do you have for others who want to race 13.1 miles?