My Experience Running a Half Marathon
I'm sharing my half marathon experience to hopefully show anyone who has thought about running one that it is 100% do able and is not nearly as terrifying as it sounds. If you have been thinking about signing up for a race I highly recommend it! If you are currently signed up and researching training programs, go you! Preparation is key, which is why I figured I would share my experience to hopefully help you prepare for your race. A little background on me....
I had been running short distances for a few years before signing up.
I picked up running in high school as a way to stay in shape when my soccer season was over. It quickly became something I loved, and I have been running ever since. Usually my runs are 3-4 miles at around a 9 minute pace. This isn't too impressive, but I generally run for the mental benefits and to de-stress.
Why I signed up for a race...
Then one weekend my sister texted me saying she was running the SF half marathon and I thought 'My sister is going to run a whopping 13.1 miles? Alone?'. It sounded like such an astronomical distance to me, I had to make the drive from LA to SF to watch her cross the finish line, and sure enough she did it! And I was inspired. I asked her if she wanted to sign up for another one in a few months, and after a few days of rest she was into it.
So we signed up and then reality hit - I needed to start training yesterday. My 3 mile/9 minute pace runs weren’t going to bring me to the level of fitness I would need to get through 13 miles. So I researched online and created a 3 month plan to train for a half marathon.
My Training Plan
This plan consisted of a few different workouts:
Distance runs at a slower pace where the distance built up over time.
- These runs were familiar to me because you can run at your comfortable pace, I just had to push myself on the distance part. The longest distance I ran during training was 10 miles 2 weeks before the race.
- My schedule had 1 distance run a week (on Sundays to give me plenty of time).
- Short distance ‘Race Pace’ runs
- These were super difficult because you have to push yourself to run the pace that you want to run during the race. I ran an 8 minute mile pace and the longest race pace run I completed was 4 miles 1.5 weeks before the race.
- My schedule had 1 race pace run a week (on Wednesdays to give me recovery time from the distance run).
- These are gym workouts keep your muscles strong, which will help you in those explosive moments at the beginning and near the finish line.
- I had 2 cross training sessions a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I used Nike Training Club App to target abs, legs, arms, and back during my workouts, and would only focus on two body groups for each workout sessions.
- Rest days
- Rest days are so important to prevent injury, let your muscles regenerate, and just to keep you sane.
- I had one rest day a week, usually on Mondays to recover from my distance run.
Before the Race
The last week of my plan (7 days before the race) I didn’t do anything. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but you have worked your body hard and need to let it build up the fuel for your race. Most of the advice I read preparing this plan said that the week before a race you won’t be able to change anything about your capabilities, so if you want to run make it short and sweet.
The night before the race my sister and I went to a vegan restaurant and had some amazing rice bowls and lots of bread (‘cause carbs the night before a race is great fuel and because bread is life).
The morning of the race we each woke up 2 hours before and had a coffee (TMI: to induce pooping) and a banana (good fuel with much needed potassium).
The starting line was absolutely buzzing. Everyone was smiling and excited, my sister and I looked at each other both knowing we were going to be competing to beat the other. I put my headphones on and started my meticulously curated playlist filled with lots of Beyonce (my finish line song was ‘Crazy In Love’).
The Race Experience
And BAM! The starting gun goes off and everyone starts finding their pace. The beginning of a race is a very crucial time where your muscles need to remember that race pace feeling, or RunKeeper can help you track your pace. You don’t want to explode into a sprint at the beginning out of excitement because you will exhaust yourself too early (even thought trust me- it feels right). Find your pace and get into your zone. Don’t focus on other runners, just let your mind go where it goes when you run.
Let me break down my mental/ physical experience mile by mile:
Mile 1 - A complete blur. I don’t remember much but I do remember feeling very nervous about not being able to finish. That’s the only goal I had for myself was to finish.
Mile 2 - I pass my sister because I am going WAY faster than race pace due to all my excitement. I am stupid.
Mile 3 - I feel good! My pace is quicker than it should be (7:30 minute mile) but I feel ok.
Mile 3.5 - I have to pee, per usual around this point in my runs. Thank god for the port-a-potty. I assume my sister passed me while I was in there, but I get out and just keep going.
Mile 4 through 7 - I am in the zone. I feel great, my pace is awesome, I am an eagle soaring through the sky, the wind at my back, the world below me.
Mile 8 - There is a water stop and energy gel being passed out, so I go for a water cup and grab 2 energy gels. I eat one now and stuff one in my sports bra for later.
Mile 8.5 - Stomach cramp! Probably from the energy shot. My muscles are starting to feel fatigued now but it’s not bad. Just focus on Beyonce, if she can be beyonce then you can do this.
Mile 9 - PAIN. I can’t believe I have 4 more miles of this! I can’t think about it though, just need to keep going. Don’t think about the 4 grueling miles ahead.
Mile 10 through 12 - These were the HARDEST miles of the race. Your are mentally and physically at your limit, there’s still so much distance to go. This is where you need to dig deep and find that fire in yourself to keep going. At mile 11 I ate my other energy gel because I was so physically tired, my legs were feeling pretty done. But I kept going. My pace around this time was an 8:30 minute mile. Don't let yourself give up here! These last few miles are why you prepared so much for this race. If you trained like I did, you can physically do this. At this point it just becomes a mental game.
Mile 13 - Joy! This part of the race was the most fun for me. I knew by the time I got past the Mile 13 marker I had done it, nothing could stop me now and I was going to finish my race. This is also when ‘Crazy In Love’ came on and I picked up my pace and sprinted through the finish line.
And that’s it! I felt amazing, I couldn’t believe I had finished. And not only did I finish, but I finished in great time, 1 hour and 47 minutes. That’s an 8:16 minute mile average, which is faster than the race pace I trained at. I had endorphins to thank for that one.
So now I want to ask - are you reading this because you are training for a half-marathon? If so I hope this post helped you believe it’s possible, and it’s not as terrifying as it sounds. Just remember, running is 80% mental, 20% physical. I could have easily stopped at mile 10 and said that was all I could do, but you need to find that fire and keep going. It’s a great feeling and definitely worth it!
Comment below to tell me about your race experience!