7 things I learned from running my first half-marathon

For about a year, I’ve been talking about running a half-marathon. I thought about starting with a 5k or another shorter race since the last competitive running I did was in middle school, but a half felt like so much more of an accomplishment, and I prefer longer distances anyway.

After telling myself several times that I would begin training and then letting all my plans fall by the wayside when I got busy or hungover, I figured that once I actually shelled out for a registration fee I might feel more motivated, so I signed up for the BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon. On Sunday, after approximately three months and 200 miles of training, I ran 13.1 miles/21.1 kilometres in 2:08:12. Here’s what I learned:

  1. It’s easier than you think…

I started training with the belief I could finish a half-marathon with no training. I obviously wanted to do better than just “finish,” but without race experience I had no estimate for how fast I could go. A few weeks ago I ran the full 13.1 miles in 2:24:38, so my goal was to at least beat that time, and to do so I knew I would have to average 11:01 per mile or less. Well, I ran the first mile (always the hardest for me) in 10:20, and I figured if I could stay around that pace I’d be in good shape… then I ran mile 2 in 8:24. I was flying (it helped that the first few miles of the course were downhill), and it felt amazing. I only ran four miles out of the rest of the 11 in more than 10 minutes, and averaged a full minute and 26 seconds per mile faster than my first attempt.

All photos by Steven Mac Sweeney
All photos by Steven Mac Sweeney

2. … and harder

Being in good shape but not in great shape, I  knew that I wouldn’t be able to run the entire course. But I also knew that moment before the first time I let myself stop to walk would be the last time I could possibly achieve my peak speed for the race. So I soldiered on for as long as I could, unhindered by stop lights and crosswalks, and tried to keep from letting my feet slow down. I made it into the fourth mile, which wasn’t bad. The most difficult part came in the final mile, though. I was nearly in sight of the finish line and I was getting so tired. But there were more and more spectators with every step and I didn’t want to be the one walking to the end, so I had to keep pushing.

 

3. Adrenaline is real

Despite my previous assertion that it took the prospect of wasting a hundred bucks to convince me I needed to start training, I actually am a pretty self-motivated person. But there’s nothing as motivating as the rush of running with thousands of other people. Maybe it’s my competitive nature, but I found myself picking out runners at random, telling myself “run faster than them,” and trying to do it. Whenever I needed to slow down and someone I had previously run past passed me, I felt a rush of “Oh shit” adrenaline and sped up so I could get back ahead. Not knowing the route well also helped; each time I saw a new curve or turn, I felt a rush to surge forward and see what was ahead.

 

4. Support is everything

One of the best moments of the race was when my boyfriend texted me to tell me he had just reached the 7km mark to watch me run past and I had to slip my phone out of my arm band to text him back that I had already passed it. But even if I didn’t see him until I had reached the finish line, the fact that he had gotten up at 5am on a Sunday to support me meant so much. It also meant a lot to see all the people who had come out to support loved ones with signs and high-fives and cowbells; each time I passed a group of cheering friends, I pushed myself a little harder.

 

5. Energy is infectious

In some ways I already knew this. A lot of my friends in high school were, and still are seriously awesome track and/or cross-country runners. Seeing their posts about 5ks and 10ks and half-marathons and full marathons and even, in the case of one amazing lady I know, a 50k race, has always made me want to give it a try for myself. That feeling was only heightened listening to the other runners in my corral talking about their previous races, and I seriously hoped I would like the experience enough to do it again (I definitely did).

 

6. The full has to wait

I think I have a pretty good grasp on my own abilities. I know when I can push myself to go a little farther, a little faster, and I know when it’s time to slow down or stop. At the end of the half-marathon, I thought that if I had to run another two or three miles, I could have managed. But another 13.1 on top of the 13.1 I had just done? Not a chance. It’ll take a lot more training and probably a few more races before I feel ready to go the whole 26.2. But it’s a goal to work toward for sure.

 

7. But another half? Soon

Another half-marathon on the other hand, will be in the much nearer future. Just like when I got my first tattoo, as soon as I was finished I thought “When can I do another?” I’m eyeing the Victoria Half-Marathon on Vancouver Island in October and a couple shorter races before then as well. For now, after spending the last few days resting and relaxing with tired feet and legs, I’m so ready to get back on the run.

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