What I learned from my fourth half-marathon

I guess these are a tradition now (although I never wrote one for the Wellington half-marathon, my third last year) and now that I’m just a few months out from running my first full marathon I think it’s even more important for me to take a look at my race and think about what I learned.

Yesterday I ran the half-marathon event at Run Melbourne in 1:54:21, beating my previous personal best by over two minutes. Apart from a shiny medal and tired quads, here’s what I took away from it:

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Don’t bolt out the gate

My first few races, I wanted to be as close to the front as possible. Obviously I didn’t want to get in the way of actually fast runners, but I wanted to inch up far enough that there wouldn’t be a huge difference between my gun time (when the race actually starts) and my chip time (when I actually cross the starting line). Why, past!Lauren? All that does is put you in a crunch of people trying to pass each other out through narrow gaps and slow down your pace until the crowd thins. Plus, if you start jogging before you actually cross the starting line in an effort to get ahead, all you’re doing is expending energy that means nothing to the actual race. Instead, this time, I chilled out, hung back, and walked among the stragglers of my wave until I was just about to step on the timing mat. As a result, my gun start time and chip start time were about 5 minutes apart, but as soon as I started the race I could actually start the race.

Steady as she goes

Similar to my desire to start the race early, I always go out too fast. My strategy for my first half-marathon in Vancouver was to push as hard as I could for as long as I could. This meant that while my first couple miles put me ahead (I was 2848 of 8717 after the first 5km) I burnt out quickly and ended up falling behind (finished 3620). I did the same at Wellington Round the Bays last year, going from 451 out of 1672 all the way down to 748. This time, I was determined to start so slowly that I felt like I was going too slow, and maintain my energy so I wouldn’t be exhausted by the second half. While I didn’t manage to run a negative split, I did keep consistent pacing throughout. Apart from one bad km in the 18th that I ran in 6:48 (and one fast downhill in km 3 I ran in 4:59), all the rest of my splits were steady between 5:09 and 5:38, which felt slow at first but so fast by the end.

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The power of a playlist

Although I thought Run Melbourne was a fantastic event overall, I think other races I’ve run have had better on-course support. I’m not talking about support from the workers and volunteers manning the hydration stations, first aid, etc. because they definitely did an amazing job, but I still remember how motivating the audience was during my first half-marathon, with their signs and cheering throughout the course. Luckily, the “Girl Power Anthems” playlist I downloaded on Spotify helped me keep up the momentum when I felt like I wanted to stop. Just as I was about to slow down, “9 to 5” came on as the next song and, well, I couldn’t let Dolly down by walking, could I?

Picking it up again

Eventually, of course, even Dolly, Beyonce, and Aretha couldn’t keep me moving and I had to walk a few steps. The course had more inclines than I expected, and on one of them I just couldn’t keep my feet moving at a jogging pace. As soon as I stopped running, I felt a hundred times more tired than I had just a moment before. It was so tempting just to let that be my speed for a while, trudging until I got up to the top of the hill and then hoping to regain pace as I went down the other side. But running is as much mental as physical, and I knew that if I let myself do that, I would do it on every incline, every tough spot, and so I pushed and only took a few walking steps before I started to jog again; not quickly, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I kept going, and before long I was back up around my 5:25 average pace and feeling good once more.

Enjoy the damn thing

My other races have been stressful affairs because of the pressure I’ve put on myself. The first one, to finish. The next one, to go sub-2, which I just missed, so the next one to go sub-2 again (nailed it that time). This one, well, two weeks ago I was considering dropping down to the 10k event because my foot was sore during my last long training run, so I told myself to stop pushing it, forget about sub-1:52 for now, even forget about sub-1:56:42, and que será, será. Not only did it lead me to that PB (although not the sub-1:52), but it also made this race the most relaxed and enjoyable I’ve done to date. I’m planning to carry this attitude into the rest of my full marathon training and hopefully onto race day in October, and I’m looking forward to the ride… well, run.

strava

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