After completing my third half marathon this past weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about my half marathon experiences. Here’s a rambling (sorry!) look back at them plus some long (sorry, again) thoughts about what’s worked for me.
Seattle Rock n’ Roll Marathon (2011) 1:55:40
For my first half marathon, I was living in Salt Lake City and signed up with my best friend there, Meredith, to run the Rock n’ Roll half in Seattle. My sister’s best friend from HS, Lauren, met us there from San Francisco and Meredith’s boyfriend, Aaron also ran with us. It was my first race, having only ever run for fun and not even participating in any 5 or 10ks. My goal was pretty simple – run the whole thing. I had been jogging probably at a 10 minute mile but I never really tracked my time, nor did I follow a training schedule. My running was haphazard and I got glutened less than a week before the race. I ended up starting right behind a 2 hour pace team. My first thought was, “cool, I didn’t know these existed.” And thinking I’d probably finish around 2:10, my second thought, “Maybe I’ll see how long I could keep up with them and then drop back when I get tired.” It didn’t take long before the former athlete in me came out and all of a sudden I was thinking I could pass them and break the 2 hour mark. My mind was absorbed in the experience and my body felt great – training in Utah (elevation at 4,000 feet) and then running at sea level totally helped. I finished that race at 1:55:40, well below where I thought I would and pretty pumped about the whole half marathon experience.I also decided at that point that I wanted to run a full marathon, something I had never even considered before.
Washington DC Nike Women’s Half Marathon (2013) 1:59:52
My older sister, Courtney, ran her first half at the Long Island Diva Half Marathon in 2011. After neither of us ran one in 2012 and now that I was back in NY, we decided to run one together. We rallied a group of 6 of us – 3 college friends (Andrea, Hodge, Laura) and Christine (Court’s best friend from college and my roommate at that time) – entered the lottery as a team and got in. Andrea and Hodge had never run one before and Christine had run the Diva with Court as well. My training for this half was a little better than for Seattle, although not much. I ran a few times with Greatist co-worker, Laura (run idol!), during training which pushed me faster than I was used to (she’s super speedy). I also probably paid a little bit more attention to my actual times each run. My goal for this half marathon was again pretty simple – run the whole thing alongside my sister. She was probably about 30 seconds/min behind me based on training so I had her set the pace for the half. The first mile was so crowded that we we ran it in somewhere between 10:30-11:00 minutes. But in the next few miles after that, we were cruising (along with Laura and Andrea). I commented that Court was really pushing the pace and she looked back at us with a “That’s right, keep up bitches”…and then a minute later she looked at me and said “I actually don’t think I can keep this pace the whole time.” Haha. We slowed a bit and at mile 9, Laura and Andrea pulled ahead. I was struggling way more than I thought I would be and the last three miles were not fun. My legs were heavy and there wasn’t as many water stations as I probably needed (I drink a lot when I run). We pushed through and just squeezed out a sub-two time of 1:59:52, thanks in large part to a final quarter mile sprint. It was awesome to run with my sister the whole time and even better to see her push out a huge PR and a break the two hour mark!
Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon (2014) 1:50:40
I got Andrea to sign up for the DC half, she was barely running 3 miles and only to stay in shape. She argued that she could never run a half and I countered with “If you can run 3 miles, you can run 13.” Little did I know that those words created a run monster. Ang has been looking up races and emailing me to enter all year. She convinced me to do AC and got her friend, Stephanie, on board as well.
This past weekend we headed to AC (along with Andrea’s boyfriend, Brian) for some gambling, shopping and running. We spent Friday night at the black jack table, where we all got lucky and ended up at least winning enough to cover our race entry and travel expenses. We also threw back a few glasses of free wine/champagne/beer while hanging at the table. I woke up Saturday not feeling great because of the free flowing alcohol and from a bad night sleep as a result of it. We headed to the outlets to shop, then picked up our race packets, went to lunch on the boardwalk and enjoyed a round of drinks outside on the beach – probably more walking and drinking then anyone should do the two days before a race. But I downed water like a crazy person and we went to bed early that night so I woke up feeling good. The temperature was colder than I expected (in the low 30s) but the sun was strong and we started the race at Revel hotel where we got to use nice restrooms and stay in the warmth until 5 minutes before the race started. The weather ended up being perfect. I ran in shorts, compression calf sleeves, a t-shirt and arm warmers. Ang and I had a goal of 1:54 – her first half marathon time was 1:57 and I wanted to PR. My training was better than the past two races, although I was still terrible at sticking to any type of schedule. I had been using a Garmin watch for the first time, so I was much more aware of how fast/slow I was running. We knew we had to run at an 8:42 pace to hit 1:54. My watch actually died within 30 secs. I’m an idiot and forget to check it before getting to the race. I had charged it before I left, but it must have turned on in my bag and drained the battery. Ang read out our pace each mile and after the first we were at an 8:13. We looked at each other and said oops, that was fast, maybe we should dial it down. The next mile was at 8:14. Huh? We talked about slowing up so we didn’t cramp or hit a wall but at mile 6 we were still cruising around 8:19. We checked in on each other and both felt great, focused on our breathing. At mile 9 we made a friend who had come up behind us and said we were her inspiration and that she had been trying to keep up with us the whole time. It was her first half marathon and she was aiming for 2 hours. She stuck with us for the rest of the race, killing her 2 hour goal by nearly 10 minutes (awesome!). Ang and I slowed beyond 8:30 for two of the thirteen miles, but we never cramped or hit the wall. Our pace averaged out at 8:26 and we crossed the finish line at 1:50:40, 4 minutes below our goal time and 5 minutes below my Seattle time. When Steph crossed the finish line, also hitting a PR (by nearly 20 minutes, holy cow), we had a PR party and celebrated with some beers on the boardwalk.
So what was so different about this race than my first two that I was able to shave five minutes off my best half marathon time? Nothing major but just enough little things to add up. Here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about that have worked for me:
- Listening to my body: I realized recently that I’m really bad at sticking to a running training schedule mostly because I don’t have the patience or desire to do any type of work out if I don’t actually feel like doing it or feel up to doing it. I’ve gotten sick from gluten during every single training cycle, leaving me with nearly two weeks of no running and very little, if any, physical activity. I only wore my Garmin during training runs when I felt like pushing my pace. If I didn’t, I left it home and enjoyed the run for what it was and didn’t stress about it. My mind and body feel better when I listen to it.
- Staying loose: Okay, drinking and gambling probably aren’t the best way to spend your days before a big race. But doing whatever takes your mind off of the race to prevent nerves usually helps. Fortunately, nerves are never really an issue for me, so I don’t think this came into effect for any of the races. My approach may be different than more serious runners so for me it’s a different mindset. I had a goal for the first time this race but I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if I didn’t reach it and I wasn’t nervous about not hitting it. Mostly because I do this for fun and for the challenge and also because I know I didn’t train incredibly hard or follow a strict schedule where I may have been disappointed. My philosophy on running is to do it for the fun of it and to keep in mind that running 13.1 miles at any pace is an accomplishment.
- Picking a realistic goal: This was the first race where I had a concrete goal and although I wasn’t obsessed with it, it was fun to have a time to aim for. I knew the time of 1:54 was completely reachable given my Seattle time and training experience and keeping a laid back and no pressure attitude helped make it more fun than stressful to push for it.
- Moving more: In general, I probably moved more each day during training for this race. Being in school has kept me away from being chained to a desk. I take more breaks, go for walks with my family and was a probably a little bit more consistent with my running. Even though I didn’t run more than 3 times a week on average, any added movement helped. I spent more time this winter on my snowboard, building leg muscles in a different way, including a fundraising event that had me on the mountain for 15 hours in a 24 hour period. That plus some snowshoeing and yoga mixed in sporadically, helped build endurance in different ways.
- Finding a pace partner: While Ang and I only ran a few times together during training, keeping each other up to date on how we were doing and having her alongside me on race day was awesome. We were perfect running partners because were pretty much at the same pace, totally understood when someone had to slow down or take a breather and each pushed the other when someone was struggling. We checked in on each other throughout the race with “how are you feeling?”, “think we can push for the rest of this?”, “alright, we got this, only a 5k left” and having her there definitely helped me keep my pace up when I may have dropped a bit if I were on my own. She helped me, just as I had done with Court in DC. Plus, it’s always way more fun to cross the finish line with someone you love.
- Picking the right course: Seattle and DC weren’t too tough when it came to elevation and they were both cool cities to run through, but AC was a fast half marathon course. It was pretty much as flat as you can get and I really enjoyed the out and back feel, knowing when I got to the turnaround that we were half way through and I just had to get back to where I started (how I run a lot of my long runs). Plus, we ran along the ocean for a majority of the race and there’s nothing like watching the waves to calm you down and get in a rhythm. We lucked out that there was barely any ocean front wind (potentially could have been brutal) and that the weather that day was picture perfect for running. Learning from DC, I also checked the water stations beforehand and decided on running with a water bottle in hand for the first time. It definitely helped keep me more hydrated than usual and it was helpful not to break my rhythm by slowing down to grab water at the stations.
- Not obsessing over time: Okay, that was an oops on my part with my Garmin and I was lucky to have Ang with me and keeping me updated each mile. In a way, I was sort of glad I didn’t have my watch. I think I would have looked at it multiple times between each mile, making them drag on and on and making me stress about how fast or slow I felt I was running. Not having it allowed my mind to drift during each mile and for me to get lost in my thoughts – which for me, always helps me run best.
Everyone’s different, so what works for me, may not work for someone else. As I’ve completed each half marathon, I’ve learned little things that I can do or change to make each experience better. And maybe for half marathon #4, I’ll hit somewhere in the 1:40s. :)