Diary of a Half Marathon Virgin
On Sunday May 20 I completed my first ever half marathon. Having not done many fun runs in the last 8 years, and never one at any pace over 10km in distance, it was something that I certainly thought would never be part of my “to do” list at age 42. Apparently it’s the modern version of the mid-life crisis for Australians. No convertible and hot 20 year old blonde for me, I’m going to run long distances instead!
Having come from a field sports background I’m not a great fan of distance running. Not only for the catabolic effects on the body, but mentally it is much more challenging. Give me a lung busting sprint session any day, where each effort lasts 30 seconds max, and you can fully recover before your next one.
I was asked to do this by a client of mine who has lost 50kg over an 18 month period, and had listed it as one of her performance goals for 2012. It was a fantastic role reversal, where the client suddenly became the motivator. How could I say no? I’m not disabled or carrying any chronic condition or injuries. If she’s planning to do it, then I have no excuse not to. Lock it in Eddie!
Having trained since February, I have had two main goals in mind. 1. Don’t run more than 15km in training, and 2. Don’t drop under 80kg. Being an ectomorph somatotype, I can be left looking like I have the Ebola virus if I overdo the endurance cardio work. This made training both varied and not a huge imposition on my time, both of which I enjoyed.
I’d been unwell with a sinus and throat infection for the 4 days leading up to the race, and I thought I may not make it to the starting line. It’s quite common for this to happens when you peak for an event, as your depressed immune system is much more susceptible to letting an unwanted bug in. In hindsight, the enforced taper was a positive thing, as I had 4 days of rest which left me not only fully recovered, but with no nerves of expectation given I didn’t think I’d make it to the start line right up until I woke up the morning of the race to see how I felt.
I had told Mel, my client, that she should prepare to run by herself in case I didn’t come up on the day. I felt terribly guilty about this, as we had come this far, and I was potentially bailing out on here at the death. But I knew it was important for Mel to realise that she had done the work, was ready for the run, and that I wouldn’t make her any fitter or faster on the day. She was ready.
Here is my recollection of the the mental roller coaster I went through over the 21km through Sydney’s CBD and surrounds, kilometre by kilometre.
Pre-race. The forecast is around 10 degrees and overcast, which is perfect running conditions, but the least likely to make you want to get out of bed at 5.30am on a Sunday morning.
As is my habit, I am running late and catch a cab with nothing but my car key and $50 in my pocket, and a bottle of water to sip before the race. I made it into the city with about 15 minutes to spare, just enough time for a warm up run and to get rid of the litre of water I had drunk in the past half hour. I had left my phone in my car so had no way to let Mel know I was in there, and part of me didn’t want to upset her preparation anyway, she would not want a distraction at this late stage.
Hyde Park is like a scene from a zombie horror movie with shadows of bodies running in all directions either trying to warm up or get to their group before start time.
There must be 50 Port-a-loos stationed all around the park, with lines 6 deep in front of all of them, which does nothing for the pre event anxiousness when you already have a bursting bladder. I keep running in the hope there’ll be a smaller line elsewhere, but soon realise if I don’t line up now I’ll either miss my race or have an accident. Thankfully both incidents were averted.
Start Line. We have 5 minutes until race time, and the thousands of people bunched together jog on the spot to try and get or stay warm in the heavy cool air. Most have their fingers in their ears to block out the announcer who feels the need to scream into a microphone in order to pump us up.
We cross the starting line and are away. I feel good. Clothes and shoes are comfortable which was a concern coming into the event. Would I be too hot, too cold, have i got the right shoes and socks? Only my body will stop me doing this now.
Here’s a great resource from Runners World to make sure you’re in the right gear for the conditions. http://www.runnersworld.com/cda/whattowear/0,7152,s6-240-325-330-0,00.html
1. I wonder if there are km markers, it would be good to tick them off km by km so I can just focus on the next one, but I haven’t seen one yet, and if we haven’t gone a km by now I’ll be devastated! A guy in full body skins on roller-skates cruises past taking photos. Maybe I’m doing this all wrong.
2. The weather is perfect. Cloudy, cool, not a breath of wind. It’s quite surreal hearing nothing but the patter of hundreds of sets of feet, all heading for the same destination, but not competing with anyone but themselves. There can be 12,000 people in a running event, but you’re still running it yourself and inside your own head. Having people around does make it easier to occupy your mind though.
3. Don’t go too hard too early. Given the length of the race, there is no pressure to run fast, merely completing it will be a great result. There are the usual “weekend warriors” who take off at full tilt, and the inexperienced can get caught up in the adrenaline, or question whether they are going too slow. You usually see them around this point doubled over or walking with their hands on their heads. “Go on feel” is my mantra as I listen to my breathing and realise I’m on the right pace.
4. First drink station. Having nearly choked on water in previous races by trying to keep pace and drinking, I decide to walk and sip. It also gave my legs a bit of relief for the next phase. Now I can chunk the race into 4km sections between drink stations. I like that.
5. 2XU seems to be the preferred compression clothing of the fun runner. It is everywhere. I wonder if we’ll all find out it does nothing to help one day and realise we’ve spend hundreds of dollars on snake oil. Oh well, placebo is still an effect!
6. I see a client of ours cruise past me. He tells me he hasn’t trained for a month and is still doing it easy. Some people are built to run.
7. We have run downhill a fair bit. Given we finish where we start, there is clearly going to be a sting in this at some point. My calves and achilles are starting to yap. This could get ugly.
8. There are a lot of people on the side of the road and standing on overhead foot bridges cheering runners on. I admire their dedication to loved ones and friends to be in the city on a cold morning in the hope of catching a glimpse of them running past. The Cantoo runners get the loudest cheers, and rightly so.
9. The 5 minute/km pace seems to be a popular one. I’ve been in traffic the whole way and no sign up ahead of it clearing. We have caught the stragglers from the group in front. The drink stations now have Gatorade, which I haven’t sampled for a decade at least. After a few sips it became obvious why. They could have picked any flavor but orange!
10. We run past the casino. There’s revelers out the front with beers in hand offering encouragement that only someone who’s been up drinking all night can. “Come on, you’ve gotta dig deep now”. By the state of one guy he knows a bit about endurance. I hear one turn to his friend and say “this is surreal”. 10,000 people running past while you’re still out drinking must have made him question his life choice for that moment.
11. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I’m running around it with no real idea where I am or where I’ve been. My total focus is on the 5m in front of me to make sure I don’t run into someone, or trip over something, and to make sure I keep my running shape as I fatigue. 21km has been brought into a 5m cocoon of concentration.
12. People are still clearly buying shoes that look good rather than the pair most suited to them. In the space of 5 minutes I’ve seen a guy in Newton forefoot strike shoes running on his heels, and a stocky, muscled up guy in toe shoes, also running with a heel strike. I’d love to know how their legs and backs were feeling the day after.
13. Drink stations now have Goo Gel packets at them. Having never had one, I grab one and run with it while I contemplate the wisdom of trying something new mid race for fear of a violent gut reaction. My Achilles and quads are biting a fair bit now, so if it helps I’m in! I get Vanilla flavour and use the next 2km to slowly take it in. Far more palatable than orange Gatorade, and would probably taste pretty good on ice cream. I have no idea where I am or where I have been for the last km.
14. My biceps tendons are burning from being stuck at 90 degrees for an hour. There should be a warning on grey tights that they are not to be worn without shorts over them. Clearly I’m looking for distractions now.
15. We are now on the Harbour Bridge onramp and heading into the Cahill Expressway tunnel. Somewhere I never thought I’d be running through. Fun runners are vey respectful, and there’s a lot of “thank you‘s” as courteous strugglers let faster runners by when the road thins out.
16. The first kilometre marker I’ve seen all race. So much for counting down! I check my watch and am relieved I am right on the pace I had hoped for. The beauty of running by feel and breathing. The old “2 in 2 out” breathing rate is still the best for sub-threshold running. It’s a bittersweet moment, as “there’s 5km to go” could be taken either way at this point. I see it as all relative, and thankfully it only seems like a short run to me now.
17. The last drink station provides a cruel teaser, as we can see the finish line but there is still 4km to go. It’s funny how 4km can seem so little in comparison to the whole race, but so much when your legs are asking you rather impolitely to stop. There’s a lady with a megaphone on the side of the road yelling “come on, if you run a bit faster it’ll be over before you know it.” It’s an easy game from the side of the road.
18. We head downhill to Mrs Macquaries Chair, a long, winding descent that means only one thing – we are going to have to come back up. The downhill provides a nice relief at this point. I have been changing my foot strike point with the undulations to give my calves a break from the constant pounding. Downhill on the toes, uphill on the heel, mid foot on the flat. Funny how you adapt to alleviate pain.
19. A lady lies on the footpath as if she fallen off a building, paramedics around her, with an oxygen mask on her face. When you know your body is under duress, this is not what you want to see.
20. We make the slooooow ascent back up towards the point where relief will be found. It was around this time that I thought “imagine if this was a full marathon and we were only half way there!”. I don’t think I’ll be upgrading anytime soon. With a big Body Language logo on my back, there is no way I will be stopping now for fear of the brand damage it may bring, let alone my own pride.
21. Now the real finish line is in sight, and I know I’m going to be able to say I have done a half marathon. I check my watch at 1:46 as I cross the line, and as I have told myself for the past 7 or so km’s, the hurt stops as soon as you do. The relief is enormous. I have around an hour to stretch, watch my clients hopefully make it across the line, and then head off to play baseball. I don’t think I’ll be stealing many bases today somehow.
Booking into events is such an important part of goal setting for anyone who wants to get fitter, stronger, leaner, or more muscular. Not only do they give you a definite end date to your goal, it allows us as trainers to plan specifically around that event, and the energy requirements to complete it.
Performance goals allow you to forget about the scales, and make your training about the event, and this is crucial for a lot of people so they are not obsessing over numbers that don’t always tell the complete story. Besides, losing weight doesn’t always make you healthy, but being fitter and stronger will, every single time.
The power of doing something you either never considered, or never thought possible, can be life changing. And once you have completed your chosen event, nobody can ever take that accomplishment away from you.
Check out our events page on the articles page of our website and see if there’s something there for you. If not, talk to your trainer and we’ll find one that is. They don’t have to be BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) to start with, but once you get the first one under your belt, then you can look at something a bit bigger to work towards. Believe it or not, they can be very addictive. I’m already looking forward to my next one, the Tough Mudder in September. Might have a light week this week though.