Running a half-marathon: how NOT to do it
I don’t really like running. I don’t hate it, but unless it’s running after something, like a ball, then I find that I lose interest quite quickly.
Subsequently not a lot of my training time goes into it, and I find one of the only ways I can get any done is by signing up for an event every now and again.
Last year I got persuaded into doing my first half-marathon, a pretty well-known event in the South of France (where I live) called Marseille-Cassis: simply, you run from near the centre of Marseille to the port town of Cassis, 20km away.
Ok, so that’s actually 1.1 km short of a true half, but it is considered the same effort wise due to the fact that you have to tackle the ‘Col de la Gineste’, (the picture above was taken around a third of the way up) a fairly steep 5km climb where you rise around 330m in elevation (an average slope of 4.5%) at one point in the course.
I signed up around March last year, with the event taking place in late October.
Plenty of time to train and get a good time, right?
I found myself a half-marathon program. I noted the date to start training, and counted back the 12 weeks prior to the event where I was going to put in the miles to do myself justice.
Well, what actually happened reinforced to me the truths that:
a) bad planning and preparation leads to bad results,
b) motivating yourself to train is bloody hard when you don’t like doing it.
On this blog I’ve talked a lot about the ways in which to find motivation to train and how you need to enjoy the training lifestyle and the training method to succeed.
The reason I keep saying this is because I know how hard it is to get into a routine of doing something you don’t want to do. This half-marathon proved it to me.
The thing about a half-marathon is that for a non-practicing runner, it is actually quite long. What I mean is, unlike a 10 km, you can’t really just breeze in and tough it out: if you haven’t put time into it it is going to be quite hard to finish in a reasonable time.
I knew this, so it was my very real intention to put the training time into it: 3 sessions of running a week, with one long effort and two shorter sessions emphasising building speed endurance.
As the day to start training approached, I was confident I would get into the rhythm of it. I’ve got discipline, I told myself.
Week 1 and 2 went pretty well; I did my prescribed distance, easing myself into it. But I was already struggling with motivation.
I was forcing myself out the door, and pretty much trying to block out the negative thoughts in my mind the whole way round. Runner’s high, it definitely was not.
So what happened next? Summer holidays. When I got back, I couldn’t get back into it. The motivation was gone, and I let running slip down the priorities queue to the point where it just was never happening.
I was still lifting in the gym three times a week, no problem, it’s just that I couldn’t be bothered to get out on the runs. I had time, I just didn’t have the motivation.
In all, before the race I think I got 7 training sessions in, over a 3 month period, not one of them lasting more than 10 km!
So, obviously undercooked. But on top of this pathetic training performance, I had deliberately put another obstacle in the way.
Bad planning + over-confidence = stupid decision-making
Back in the summer, I had planned to go travelling for a couple of weeks with two friends sometime in the autumn. It eventually came about that the only two weeks that worked for us all were the two weeks immediately before the day of the race.
i.e. I would literally arrive back the night before the day of the race.
This might have been alright if that was two weeks of ‘recovering’ on a beach, but it was actually a fairly arduous week of motorbike touring and a week of SCUBA diving courses with around 30 hours of travelling each way.
Great holiday, but probably not the way to prepare for a race. At the time however, with the race so far in the distance, I thought it was fine. Over confident that I would have the discipline to get all my training done before we went.
In reality, it is planning like this that is going to lead to poor performance.
To cap it all off, I ended up destroying my trainers on the motorbike and so had to buy some new ones a couple of days before the race, while abroad. A custom shoe fitting with time to get used to them, it was not.
And so it was with all that behind me that I lined up on the start line early on the Sunday morning, new shoes on my feet, 30 hours of travelling behind me and 7 training sessions completed, the last one being over a month prior.
Let’s just say confidence wasn’t pouring through my veins.
It was a slog. At the end I couldn’t see properly for a few minutes. And I was cursing myself the whole way around for being such an underprepared, undisciplined idiot.
I originally wanted to run a 1:35 and ended up with a 1:49:50. Maybe not terrible, but miles away from my original goal. And the point is, if I end up that far from my original goals for anything, I’m not going to be too successful.
On the plus side, it did teach me two things.
It really did show me how hard it can be to train or do anything when you don’t enjoy it or have the habit. And why you must enjoy something in order to succeed for the long-term.
But it also showed me the importance of accepting a new challenge and seeing it through no matter what.
You should strive to plan and execute. That’s the best way to do things. But conditions are rarely perfect, either through fate or your own making, and it is just as important to get on with it and do it even if it is uncomfortable.
Accept new challenges, and it can give you a new perspective. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be a committed runner, but having to do something I’m not used to was a good lesson in seeing a different way of training and appreciating the diffculty of getting into a new routine.
Find a new challenge and give it a go. Just don’t copy my example.