Half Marathon Lessons Learned (and Advice Not Heeded)

I think my first half marathon a couple of weeks ago went pretty well.  It was a trail run, so I set a goal of 3 hours and ended up finishing in 2 hours, 47 minutes.  That put me 188th out of 208 runners.  Not an impressive showing, but it was a finish and it did meet my goal time. It was a ton of fun and definitely something I’ll do again.  As I look back, here are a few points that I’ll try to remember for the next time. Maybe they’ll help someone getting into their first organized run, whether it’s a 5k, a local group run, or whatever else.

Run your own run.  I think I did well at this.  I know I’m not a fast runner, so there was no way I could even begin to start the race at the winner’s pace.  But, even at the back of the pack, it would have been easy to get sucked into keeping someone else’s pace.  It’s easy to see someone that seems to be running at your pace and just try to keep near them.  But that could be disastrous if your approach to hills is a slow ascent and fairly quick descent, while their approach is steady-as-she-goes, both uphill and down.  I think it’s important to run enough to know your preferred pace (or heart rate, if you’d rather) and stick with it.  Run YOUR run, not someone else’s.  As for me, I did the first mile or so at slightly faster than my last 5k pace, which was probably a little too fast.  But, I told myself a couple of times to slow down and eventually settled into a long-term sustainable pace.  Which leads me to…

No one cares what your pace is.  This is good to know for anyone new to doing races.  Really, no one cares!  The aid station folks are just as welcoming to those of us at the tail end as they are to those in front.  The people cheering at the finish line are cheering for you because you finished, not because you finished fast.  And, after the race gets spread out across 13 miles of singletrack, not many people can even tell where you are in the placing, they just know you are one of those people out there running the race.

It’s really only a race for a few people.  Despite the name, these races aren’t really races for everyone.  I’m pretty sure that there aren’t many races, of any distance, where there are more than 10 people, or maybe 10 people of each gender, that are really in contention for winning.  Even if the organizers slice-and-dice the registrations into so many subgroups that everyone is contention for some sort of “winner” bling.  That leaves the other 198 of us just going out for a really big group run.  Maybe you’re trying for your own personal best, which is awesome.  Challenge yourself, set a goal and all that.  But, really, it’s still just a run.  Get out an enjoy the scenery.  Talk to someone on the trail.  Enjoy the company of like-minded folks.

Half marathons need training.  Now that I’m in better shape, I think that I could get off the couch and do a 10k any day.  But, the half-marathon is just enough of a stretch for me that I’ll need a little focused training for my next one.  I hope to keep up a 15-20 mile per week schedule, though, so hopefully it won’t be too much of an adjustment.  I think I just need to get more runs of that distance in during the training period.  I got a couple of longer runs in before the half this time around, each around 12 miles, but I think next time I need to get several more in.  I need to get my legs ready to take that a beating over that distance.  I think I can also improve on that by doing more strength training.  I should probably be doing that anyway!

Get a plan and stick to it.  I didn’t follow this advice too well.  I had a plan, but only partially stuck with it.  I did run, and most weeks I hit my mileage goal.  But, I think I could have ramped my mileage up a little slower, and I definitely would have benefited from the weekly mileage being broken up with even one more run per week, which is what my plan had in it.  I usually ended up running only twice per week.  I am a little torn on this one, though, because I still have the idea in my head that what really would help me is time on my feet doing the long runs.  But, there are a crap-ton of runners out there following plans, doing speed work and intervals and tempo runs, etc.  There must be something to it.

Volunteer at a race.  These races are fun and usually a good time.  I like the races that at a bare minimum have a “charity partner”, if not completely organized by the charity.  To get them done and retain as much money as possible for the charity, they need volunteers – aid stations, course marshalls, parking, etc.  I haven’t done as much race volunteering as I’d like, but I plan to do more.  It’s a great way to see the behind-the-scenes race scene, meet some new people and be inspired by all the people you’ll see running.

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