Six months ago, I registered for my first marathon. On Sunday, I laced up my running shoes, tucked a couple gels into my pocket, queued up a playlist beginning with Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” and started my race at the Melbourne Marathon festival. Four hours, 25 minutes, 49 seconds, and 42.195 kilometres later I crossed the finish line in the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Here’s what I learned in the last six months about running my first 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:
When I finished my first half-marathon, I thought “I’ll definitely do that again, but I’ll probably never run more than a half.” When I ran my second, I thought, “I could probably tack on a few more kms, but I’ll probably never run a full marathon.” After the third, when I had finally reached my sub-two-hour half-marathon goal (1:56:42), I found myself immediately thinking ahead to the next goal. But this time my goal isn’t just time (although I’m hoping to run <1:55 in my next half-marathon in a few months), but distance. I finally felt ready to take the plunge and sign up for a full marathon.
The first thing I had to decide was: which one? My first, obvious thought was the Melbourne marathon in October, as I knew that we would be moving over here after our time in Wellington had finished. However, we originally weren’t certain that we were going to stay in Australia for a full year, and I didn’t want to train for a marathon and then not run it (barring circumstances like injury that could obviously crop up wherever I am).
I started looking at the Gold Coast marathon in July, hearing that it was a flat course and figuring that the dead of winter would hopefully cool things down. After moving to Australia I quickly reassessed; the heat and humidity of summer in Melbourne has both made it very hard to run much, meaning I’d be very behind on my training if I was to run a marathon three months from now, and it showed me that I have no interest in going up to the notoriously-humid Gold Coast for a race. Luckily, by this point we had decided that we were going to see out our year in Australia, so Melbourne was back on the table.
The Melbourne marathon is on Sunday, 13 October, exactly six months from now, and I officially registered last night. I’ve decided to use a Hal Higdon plan based on the recommendation of… pretty much everybody, and I’m going with the Novice 2 plan because I want to push myself a little (I’ll drop back to the Novice 1 plan if needed but looking at the prerequisites I think I should be okay. It will be slightly modified as the plan has you running a half-marathon at the end of the ninth week and I am going to do Run Melbourne’s half-marathon event on 28 July, which is only seven weeks in, but for the most part I’m aiming to stick to the plan as closely as possible. It’s definitely going to be tough to stick to in points—namely just two weeks before the race, when we’re planning to be in Japan for the Rugby World Cup—but I’ll make the time to run and will luckily be tapering then anyway.
The plan runs for 18 weeks up until the marathon which means that I won’t actually be starting it officially until the second week of June, but in the meantime I’m taking advantage of the cooler weather (finally) and building mileage, strength, and endurance by running as much as I can in preparation. Running a full marathon six months from today is going to be the biggest fitness goal I have ever, and maybe will ever, achieve, and I’m planning to do it right. I’ll check in with updates on my training and progress as I go, for support and accountability, and on 13 October I’ll see you at the far side of 26.2.
Follow me on Strava if you want to keep up with my training!
Think of the main tourist attraction in your city or town. When was the last time you visited it? Maybe you actively avoid it (cough, Times Square), maybe you checked it out when you first moved but you have’t been back, maybe it’s “on your list” but you haven’t quite gotten around to it.
Sometimes its nice to play tourist in your own town and hit all of those sites that “locals never bother with,” but one of the great things about Wellington is that the main tourist attraction also happens to be a lovely nature walk with the best views of the city. Hiking up Mount Vic was one of the first things we did when we first moved here, and I’ve been up four or five times since then.
Earlier this week Steve and I headed a few hours north of Wellington to Tongariro to do the Tongariro alpine crossing. One of the highlights of the North Island, this 19-kilometre hike is known for some pretty epic natural formations including turquoise-tinted geothermal pools and the intimidating Mount Ngauruhoe—or as you might know it, Mount Doom. It’s also known for its changeable weather, especially this late in the season. When we arrived at our hostel, we were told by the owner that the shuttle hadn’t run for a few days, but that the forecast was good for the following day and she was optimistic we would be able to do the hike. The next morning, under an overcast sky, the shuttle operator told us that he would take us up but that he recommended we wait for a less ominous day. We decided to go anyway and luckily—after two hours of rain—the skies miraculously cleared up and we were rewarded with incredible views.
Going on a holiday often means stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it means trying new cuisine that kinda grosses you out, sometimes it means navigating a country where you don’t know a word of the language, and sometimes it means venturing into the great outdoors when you’d normally rather be at the mall. There were definitely a few people we saw doing the crossing who weren’t particularly well prepared—like the folks on the shuttle with us who had to be driven to a local gear shop so they could rent rain jackets! While Steve and I only did our first overnight hike a few months ago, we’re experienced trampers and were ready for anything. If you’re thinking of exploring New Zealand or anywhere else known for its hiking, here are a few tips to help your tramping experience:
About a year and a half ago I ran my first half-marathon. Then I all but stopped running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running, because I obviously do or I wouldn’t have run a half to begin with, but first I was taking a break after all that training; then the weather was too hot; then too cold; then we were living in a van. Next thing I knew it was a year and a half later and I hadn’t run in ages. When I moved to Wellington I decided to sign up for the Round the Bays half, convinced Steve to do the same, and started running again. I learned a lot from the Vancouver Half-Marathon, my first-ever race, but I still picked up a few new insights this time around.
The first thing I learned is that in some ways, it is like that old adage about riding a bicycle. Obviously you’re not going to jump back into running after not training for ages and immediately be able to run that whole 13.1mi/21.1km, but running a race requires mental training as well as physical. Before training for my first half-marathon I had never run 13.1 miles before. The longest run I could find in my Runkeeper records was 10 miles, way back in 2012. Usually I topped out around 5 or 6.
Training for my second half-marathon was different because I knew I could finish it. I had a good suspicion that I could back in Vancouver, but for this one I already knew because I had done it before. Getting over that mental hurdle (running pun, ha ha) made it much easier to jump into training and push myself toward that 13.1 mile goal.
While the first thing I learned came at the very start of my training for Round the Bays, the second arrived at the very end, as I crossed the finish line. I ran my first half-marathon in 2:08:12. That time around, I didn’t have a goal time because I had no benchmark for how fast I was and I just wanted to finish. This race, my goal was to finish in two hours or less. And… I didn’t. According to the official race results, my final time was 2:00:42. Just 42 seconds longer than my goal: close, but not quite there.
I’m a perfectionist, and I hate not meeting my own expectations. There are a lot of excuses that can be made– a serious head wind for most of the course, a rumour that the track is just a bit longer than a half-marathon (and the GPS on my phone would seem to back that up)–but at the end of the day, I just didn’t quite get there. Usually I’m pretty hard on myself when I “fail” at something, so I expected to feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal.
Instead I felt proud and excited. I cut seven-and-a-half minutes off my previous time, with half as much training as I did for the last race. I also felt energized–after my last half-marathon I felt like there was no way I could see myself running a full marathon in the future. Now? It seems like a definite possibility (with a good bit more training first, of course). I’m happy to celebrate my victories instead of dwelling on my “failure,” and now I have a goal to work toward in my next half.
My main goal is to not stop running for over a year like I did after the Vancouver half. I’m enjoying a week off from running this week to rest and recharge, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it next week and breaking that sub-2 hour barrier in my next race for sure! And maybe then I’ll be ready to turn 13.1 into 26.2! Or not, but I’ll be glad to succeed or fail at whatever comes next.