Lessons Learned From My First Half Marathon

first half marathon

I wish I could tell you that I had the most wonderful first half marathon and that it was exactly the cathartic physical experience I needed, and I had the runner’s high I’ve only ever fantasized about, but I can’t. I have to be honest. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to. In fact, I failed in almost every way. But I finished, and that was enough to make me proud. Finishing the race was an incredible accomplishment, especially after what I went through to get there.

I don’t have any excuses. I was completely unprepared. I had been overly confident. Even after the race, I had trouble accepting exactly how difficult it really is to run 13.1 miles. Because of my arrogance, I hadn’t trained well enough, even after learning from an expert. Not to mention, I let race-day adrenaline get the best of me.

I took some bad advice from my boyfriend: “Go as fast as you feel like you can go.” He had run a half marathon before, and his experience seemed to be pretty positive. I decided I’d try it. It made sense to me when he said it at 6:15 the morning of the race. So I started the race at a speed that was definitely too fast for me. I had practiced running about 9-minute miles to meet my goal of finishing in under two hours, and I should have held steady at that pace.

Instead, I ran my first mile in 8:21, which set me up for failure. I felt great for the first two miles — I looked down at my watch and was surprised at how far I had gone already — and then things took a serious turn for the worse. I started to slow down naturally after burning through my extra energy, though I didn’t feel tired. My heart rate was never out of control.

first half marathon

Somewhere before the three-mile mark, my right knee started to hurt in a way I had never experienced. It was a sharp pain that felt like someone was tapping a nail into the side of my joint, and it wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. I took a quick break to stretch and work out my joints. Nothing helped. My knee pain got worse and worse throughout the race. It spread up to my hip, with which I’ve had lifelong problems. I felt like I was about 40 years older than I actually am. I was irreversibly doomed by my too-fast start.

During and immediately after the race, as I was experiencing some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt; I was sure that this race would be the end of my love-hate relationship with running. I will never race again. I don’t even like running, I thought as I ran through my suffering. Why am I doing this anyway? What am I proving? I can do lower-impact activities for exercise instead.

By mile 10, I was practically dragging my right leg along with me. I had to walk all of the uphills because of the pain the different pressure put on my joints. I couldn’t take it.

My first goal had been to finish in less than two hours, and my backup goal was not to walk. I missed both of those by a long shot. Somewhere in the middle of the race, out of necessity, I created the new goal to simply finish the race. I was so disappointed in myself for getting to that point, but I was very pleased when I finally finished.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:26:57, and I was so relieved to be done. My body was so relieved. My boyfriend, cheering for me and taking photos on the sideline said immediately when he saw me, “Now you have to do another one so you can meet your goal.” I appreciated him saying that because I know he supports me, and I know he knows how much it means to me to meet my goals, but in that moment, I could not respond positively. I wasn’t ready.

first half marathon

Now that the pain has ceased and I’ve had some time to process and reflect on my experience, I’m sure I will run another half marathon. I’ll do better next time. I’ll know from experience how to train and how to race better. I know I can do better next time.

Here are the biggest lessons learned from my first half marathon — and how you can avoid making them!

5 Lessons Learned From My First Half Marathon

1. Just because your heart is in shape doesn’t mean your body is. Prepare your muscles along with your heart. Lift weights and run courses similar to your race course.

2. Practice running the full distance, or at least close to it. You can use willpower and mental strength and discipline to make up for some, but you’ll thank yourself for more training.

3. Know the course. Don’t let hills — the volume or size — surprise you.

4. Set realistic goals. But don’t be complacent. Adjust your goals and expectations accordingly.

5. Don’t go as fast as you can. Hold a steady, comfortable pace. After all, it’s your first half marathon, not a sprint.

What did you learn from your first half marathon? I sure know what to do different next time! Megan

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14 Comments
  1. Anna says:

    I really wanna run a marathon once in my life and this is very motivating!

    With Love,
    Anna || Curly Yorker

  2. Michelle says:

    I am sorry you had such a tough race. It seems like you came out of it with the right idea though- you learned what to do better next time. I have not run a half but did a 10K last year and came out of it resolving to stick to a training plan the next time I raced. It is all about the preparation!

    https://thedogtribe.com/2016/06/14/10_things_you_should_know/

  3. Andi Atari says:

    Hi Megan! Congratulations on finishing your first half-marathon, and great job picking up lessons from your mistakes! Never too late to try again. 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    I experienced that same pain last summer while training for my first marathon. Turned out that my IT band was stretched too tight due to muscular imbalances, and it was rubbing against the side of my knee. I’d be fine for the first two miles, but then the friction from all of the rubbing would make it inflamed, so that with each step it just got worse and worse. A few months of PT and a band worn just above the knee worked for me. Good luck on your next half!

  5. Samantha Bean says:

    I had a similar experience for my first half marathon. If got to the point where it hurt worse to walk than it did to keep it at a light shuffle. I asked myself why I was doing this to my body. Like you, I hate running! I finished…..and signed up for another. 😉
    My second half was much better. I knew the course had a few tough hills before I started. My plan was to walk those hills and save myself for the downhill and make up some time. When I finished I didn’t hurt as badly as I did after the first one.
    I have my third half scheduled in August. I’m hoping to get a pr at this one as it’ll probably be my last long race.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience! Although it’s a tough race, still I want to participate here once. It’s really inspirational.

  7. lauren says:

    I definitely had a similar experience as you. The biggest take away for me was that I should have focused more on cross-training and recovery. I spent all my time focused on my endurance and completely neglected strength training. Next time, (if there is a next time) I plan to not only focus on endurance, but definitely strength and flexibility training. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Lauren

  8. At least you learned from the experience! That’s all you can ask for! I think when it comes to running its so important to stay in a positive mindset especially for a half marathon! I’m sure you’ll train better and do great in your next race!!

  9. Congratulations, girl! Your lesson is so helpful to me. I’m having a plan to join a half marathon. I think we need to control our speed steadily when running so we will not feel exhausted after finishing the race.

  10. I want to run a marathon. But I’m still practicing more to participate marathon.

  11. jack says:

    Running is also a great stress reliever, so you’ll experience mental health benefits as well, and completing a half marathon is an incredible accomplishment, but it doesn’t involve as much pain or commitment as a full marathon. So that are the reasons why we love half marathons.

  12. Wow congratulations! It’s very amazing. Keep practicing, you’ll be much healthier. And wish you complete a marathon soon!

  13. Haha, those were my problems in my first half marathon last weekend too. Glad to know that i’m not the only one but hope to know you sooner.

  14. John says:

    Congratulations on finishing your first half-marathon. Thanks for sharing your experience.