“I’m never, ever doing this again…”
That was the thought going through my head for about 10 miles of the 13.1 miles I ran my first half marathon this last weekend. The bottom half of my body even now is reminding me of the grueling task I put it, though – it hurts to move, but it’s one of those good kinds of pain – the one where you know you’ve accomplished something.
You can read about my training tips for first time half marathon runners in this article here.
Looking at my new medal and reflecting over the day, there were a few things that I didn’t think of or expect before I ran my first marathon, and if you’re a newbie like I was, you may not know them either. If you’re getting ready for or even thinking about your first half marathon, here are 13.1 things that surprised me.
13.1 Tips For Your First Half Marathon: Before the Race
1. Don’t Over Caffeinate
I don’t drink caffeine much, and so I didn’t want to overdo it and crash midway through the race. I knew that along the race trail there would probably be someone with energy blocks and so before the race, I drank only half a 5-hour energy drink. I was extremely conservative regarding my caffeine intake, and rightly so judging by the number of runners on stretchers I saw post race with heart issues. Remember, you are putting a ton of stress on your body, running in the heat and your heart is already working overtime. Don’t freak it out by downing a bunch of energy supplements/drinks on top of that.
2. Pee First. And Then Again. And Again
I drank my water and went to the bathroom twice at home, just in case. I walked by all the porta potties and thought to myself, “Nah, there is no way I would need to go again.” I was wrong. By the time I was waiting at the start line and had 10,000+ people behind me, I realized I kinda needed to pee. And it was too late.
I knew I was not going to stop midrace to go to the bathroom. I’m too competitive for that. By mile 8, I was solely focused on not peeing my pants, and by mile 11, I almost peed my pants twice. It was either focus on that or focus on the fact that I still had lots of miles to go before finishing…
3. Set a Goal
Before the race, I was kind of bummed that I didn’t just “go for it all” and run the full marathon. 13 miles didn’t seem like a lot and didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I had a goal of 2 hours 20 minutes and in my head already had plans to run a full marathon ASAP. I mean, how tough could it be? At the start line, I decided that I was going to try to make it in at 2 hours and 10 minutes and of course, I was going to sign up for a full marathon right after I finished.
I made it in 2:12:37 (hours: minutes:seconds) and thank GOD I didn’t do a marathon. 13.1 miles is brutal.
4. Don’t Skip Cross Training
I’ll admit, for much of my training, I skipped the cross training days. I only got serious about them the last month or so before the event. I think the race would’ve been much easier had I strengthened my core muscles and also built up the leg muscles I don’t regularly use during running.
Using my Fitted App, I have lots of options when it comes to cross training – from kickboxing, rock climbing and CrossFit to the much-needed yoga to stretch out my very sore muscles. All under one membership fee. This next race, I’ll be utilizing a larger variety of workouts to keep my body guessing.
During the Race
5. Drinking While Running Is Much Harder Than You Think
All along the race trail, there are lovely volunteers who hand out cups of water, which is really great…except it’s really much harder than you think to run and drink water out of a cup. More often than not, I got about a sip of water in before just throwing it on my head and tossing the cup.
And then there are smashed cups all over the road, which is also wet from other people attempting running while drinking. Although, I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t drink while running, their spilled water and discarded cups were road hazards that I was hyperaware of trying to avoid.
6. It Hurts
The first four miles were great. I loved the energy of the crowd; I was mentally ready, excited, happy, totally focused on my goal which was slowly changing to coming in under 2 hours and 5 minutes. And then around mile 6, I got a twinge in my left ankle. My left leg is one I always have issues with – the knee, my shoulder, the ankle – always the left side. I mentally freaked out a little. I was dodging a sh*tload of people because I was doing intervals and the side-to-side movement was causing some strain in my leg. I began to overcompensate and around mile 9 my right knee began to hurt.
Then the rest of my body began to hurt, from my lungs (and personally, my bladder really wanted to explode), legs, back, thighs, calves, hips…every one of the official race photos they took of me mid-race looks like I’m dying. My running buddy would point out the cameras and tell me to smile. Smile? I was too focused on not peeing my pants and also NOT dying.
7. It’s All In Your Head
Everyone says running a half marathon is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I disagreed until mile 6 when all of a sudden, I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears. Wait a minute, why am I ready to start crying? The answer is, I really don’t know and in my mind as I was trying to understand it while running, trying not to aggravate my left ankle, and focusing on not peeing my pants, I decided it was probably because I was getting tired, it was getting difficult and I wasn’t even half way done yet!
In reality, I wasn’t crying because I was sad, or happy, or tired or anxious. In fact, I still don’t have a real reason for my mile 6 emotional roller coaster. After some google research, it turns out that it just happens to people for no reason. My theory is that my body and mind were just stressed at the same and all the hormones just decided to take charge instead.
By mile 8, I was feeling it and questioning if I was going to be able to finish on time. I knew I was gonna finish; I just didn’t want to finish any time under my goal. I’m too competitive for that. By mile 10, everything in me wanted me to stop. I knew the end was near, but it just was not near enough. I was on a 4 minute run/1 minute walk interval, and I kept telling myself that I only had to run 4 minutes, and I would get a break. My running partner, Angie, looked as bouncy as she did at mile 1 (and the race photos prove it – she’s smiling in every single image, while I look like I’m about to pass out). We had agreed that the last half minute or so, which ended up to being 6 minutes total, we would run, because, who wanted to walk across the finish line? Which leads me to…
8. The 0.1 Mile At The End Is The Longest Part of The Race
I could see it. The finish line, right there in front of me. Willing my feet to move just a tad bit longer, I wanted more than anything to stop running. I was ready to cry again. I turned to my running buddy and told her, “I can’t do it. I can’t!” She told me she’d drag me if she had to and grabbed my arm. I yanked my arm out and said, “Don’t touch me! I can’t do it!”
All around me, people were cheering and encouraging all the runners to the end. My ears were just ringing, and everything was pounding. I just wanted to stop. Who cares if I walked across the finish line? I had already seen the 2:10 pacer run by. There was no way I was going to make it by my 2:10 goal. The finish line just seemed too far.
I don’t really know how I made it across the finish line, but the second my shoes crossed I stopped. It was finished. I NEVER had to do it again, nor did I ever want to. I didn’t even smile for the picture. I had my resting b*itch face on the entire last 4 miles.
Crossing The Finish Line
9. You Get Food
Free food! Once you cross that finish line, there is a scramble of people handing you things – from water to chips, to granola bars to fruit cups and reflector blankets and of course, a banana. I realized I was ravenous for sugar. I ripped open the snack pack of peaches which I would usually never touch with a ten-foot pole and it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. I couldn’t get the food in me fast enough. My body was craving to be replenished of everything it had used up.
10. The Medal Makes It All Worth It
I had a client who ran marathons all the time and showed me her medal collection. Admittedly it was pretty cool to see the rows and rows of shiny medals hanging on her wall, but personally, I found it a bit cheesy. I mean, didn’t everyone get a medal? It’s like a participation ribbon that the hand out in school.
NO IT’S NOT.
No wonder why 19,000 people got up early yesterday, paid lots of money to run a long time. You get a medal at the end! And dang, it’s a nice looking medal. I wore it home and wished I could wear it around all day. I mean, what better accessory for any cute sundress, than a medal?
Now the real question is, how do I display the thing? And how do I get more?
11. It Feels Really Really Good To Be Done
This isn’t that surprising. But it’s not describable the feeling you get when you finish a race. The sense of accomplishment, the feeling of checking something off your bucket list, knowing that you pushed your body to its limit, is really overwhelming. It took a few hours to grasp the enormity of what I did having never run that long of a distance before (and never again).
P.S. Runners high is a myth. At least for me, it is.
12. From “Never Again” to “When’s The Next Race?”
From mile 5 to 2 hours after the finish, I told myself, “Never again.” I would never put myself through that torture or agony again. I accomplished my goal (two minutes off), but I did it. Nothing else to prove. I was 37, and I finished a half marathon. I’m set for life.
4 hours later, I was obsessing over my race time. I wanted to know how I compared to everyone else in the race – the winner of the half ran it in 1 hour and 17 minutes! – how I compared to everyone who ever ran a race. What was a good time for a half marathon??! When I found out it was sub 2 hours, my first thought was, “I could do that….” and somehow, by the end of the evening, Angie and I were planning our next race – 12 weeks from now, if you’re wondering (because we get another cool medal). And by today, somehow, I am planning for two more races this year.
13. Recovery Is a B*tch
Yup, it hurts still. I’m still eating everything in sight, and I am in serious need of a massage. Right after the race, I soaked my legs in a cold swimming pool for a few minutes and sat in a hot tub for a bit. That really helped. I also passed out for a long nap (given I hadn’t slept the night before from nervousness). By the end of the night, though, walking up and down stairs was really hurting my knee, so I rubbed lemongrass on it before bed. Aside from smelling like a Thai food entree, my knee pain was gone by morning, but now my muscles are just sore and stiff, esp my hip flexors.
I’m in the recovery phase, and so I am supposed to rest for a week, before starting again. I still want to do some cross training, but I’ll see what my body can handle later in the week.
13.1 Pamper Yourself
Book a massage for a few days after the race and perhaps a trip to the chiropractor! You deserve it!
Well, never again will I have a first half marathon. Maybe someday I’ll have a first full marathon, but I’m not sure about that. I once said I’d never, ever run a half marathon, and then I’d never, ever run one again. And here I am, back to thinking, “I could totally run a full marathon….”