What I learned from my first marathon

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:

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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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Six Months to Marathon

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!

What I learned from my Second Half-Marathon

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.

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Before the race and ready to run!

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.

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After the race and ready to sit!

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.

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My unofficial race results—ready to do even better next time!

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

Continue reading “7 things I learned from running my first half-marathon”