“I am the greatest runner ever! I could run like this all day!!” -Joel A.
The half marathon, or any race for that matter, is as much a battle of will as it is a physical test. Our bodies are capable of so much more than we realize or allow; there’s a reason C25K programs are effective. By breaking it down and building your endurance quickly, the plan teaches that you CAN do a 5K. It doesn’t make you capable of that in 9 weeks; you always were capable of it. What it does is teach your brain to accept the running and push to finish the race.
I did my first half on 4/21; later, I was talking to my friend Joel and he was explaining his experience. Every half he’s done, around mile 8 he thinks about how great he feels. Then around mile 12 he’s thinking, “Yeah, I could walk it in, I’m done.” When he finishes, exhausted, he thinks, “man, that’s only a HALF!!”
The story was funny and appropriate because I had the same thought process for my half. Just past halfway, I was in a groove, I was rolling, I was freaking invincible. By mile 12, going up the long hill towards the finish (JERKS!!!) I was seriously considering walking. Pushing through, I actually sprinted (as much as I could) up the final hill to the line; I spotted another runner and ran her down. In the end, I finished 98th out of 595 men, 120th overall, 10th in my age group. More importantly, I beat my time goal by over a minute.
Set a goal, but not really…
I read a lot of different advice leading up to the race. Mainly people said that, for your first half, you shouldn’t set a time goal – just try to finish it. I get the concept, but I had run the full distance in training. The work had been put in; I was going to finish the race barring some major injury. So I set a time goal for myself. It was achievable; I beat it by 12 seconds on my training run. Knocking another minute off that training time was a great feeling.
My plan, as far as that went, was to run a steady pace. In the corral, I found the pacer I was targeting and forced myself to run right behind him for the full first mile. If you’ve done a race, you know that is not an easy thing to do… the adrenaline is kicking, your heart is driving, you just want to go. However, the last thing I wanted was to fly out of the gate, “win” the first half of the race and then drag to the line. That’s exactly what I did in my last 10K – crazy fast first 3.1 miles, then fought it hard all the way to the line. Overall my time was good that day, but I struggled mightily.
After the first mile marker I went a little ahead of the pacer, but paid close attention to my splits. This is where I conceded a little to the “just finish it” theory. Could I have run overall faster? Sure, for stretches – but what would have happened at mile 12?
Looking back, I’m glad I set an actual time goal. We don’t always challenge ourselves to max out. In the spirit of 1DOS, I put a big hairy-ass goal out there, then went and got it. I got there by doing the work, having a plan, setting a pace – and then sticking to it. That last part can be tough. Pressures, real or imagined, internal or external, make us think we have to do more or different or… whatever. Guess what – no you don’t.
What you need to do is honor yourself and run your race. There were plenty of runners passing me on the course, especially early. Many of them I re-passed on the back half. Every time someone went by me, I was thinking, “Speed up! Go Go Go!” It’s a natural reaction, but they were running their race, and I was running mine. On our life journeys, we do it too. How many times have you decided to lose weight, get in shape, learn a language, master a skill, whatever it is. You tear out of the gate, sure of success – but if you don’t lay the groundwork, be patient, and do it right – running YOUR race – you risk burning out when the bumps come. And they will come!
What the hell is a Ragnar??
12 runners, about 200 miles, on a relay run from Boston to Cape Cod. Yep, sounds like Ragnar… It’s intimidating, I won’t lie. That is the next big hairy-ass goal – Ragnar Cape Cod, followed the next day by a Spartan Sprint. I’ve run the distances I will do, but I haven’t done them with sitting in a van in between, minimal sleep, 1500 miles from home. This will be challenging, but also a lot of fun to do it with a group of friends, old and new. Then the next day, four of us will be doing a Spartan Sprint because, well, it’s there.
We will finish the Ragnar by running our own race. Each of us has our own stride, our own pace, our own little races to run, and combined together we will complete the Ragnar as a team. I’ll see you guys in Provincetown!