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.
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.
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