I set out to run my first half marathon the other day. It’s something I wanted to do since around April but didn’t try until just a couple days ago. I wanted to make sure I healed up to see how the recovery process was before posting this.
A little back story. In the summer months I get a pretty decent cardio workout in by playing ultimate frisbee two days a week. I would say I probably run somewhere around 4-5 miles per frisbee session. If I don’t make it to frisbee then I generally will try to get a run in the 2 to 3.1 mile range. When ultimate frisbee is not in session I generally will continue cardio with two or three of these runs per week when I’m being diligent.
I’ve tried to keep in shape over the years but I am far from a good runner. I’ve used the Endomondo app to track my running since August of 2011. I generally like the 5k distance and in the last four years my fastest 5k has been 24:15 in November of 2015, where I averaged 7:48 per mile. Using a calculator like this one from Runbayou says that time is right about in the middle of all male runner’s of my age. I’m better than 53.5% of runners. Although I typically don’t try to run the mile, my fastest mile was in December 2013 at 6:42. That mile time puts me in the top 55.7% of mile runners. My point here is that I’m a certified average runner.
In preparation I did some reading on what is necessary to run a half marathon and tried to follow the advice. Increase the mileage over time. Rest as appropriate. Eat well, etc. In June I ran 4 miles. In July I ran 8 miles. Five days after that I ran another 5 miles. I was doing alright at increasing my times and I was playing a bunch of frisbee when I wasn’t running.
Then things got pretty quiet. I didn’t track any running times on Endomondo for about four months. Frisbee games became less frequent as the night came earlier and weather became less optimal. The last day of the frisbee season ended in late October. I still didn’t track anything on Endomondo until November 16, a day when I somehow ran my personal best for the 5k. Over the next forty days I ran only three more 5k’s. My body wasn’t in an ideal shape to run a half marathon.
As the year started to wrap up I started asking people about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make any grand resolutions or plans but I tend to use the New Year as a time to reset and refocus. All of the obvious things are realigned. I had made a comment about some of the good things that happened this year and some of the bad things, and how the half marathon was one of the few failures of the year for me.
Then December 26 came along. I woke up feeling a little down. I had had a couple beers the night before. I was not overly dehydrated but I certainly wasn’t hydrated. I didn’t eat the right meal the night before. I didn’t eat the right food that morning. I messaged someone on Tinder asking what her New Year’s resolution was. She said it was to run a half marathon. She ran six to eight miles before but couldn’t run the half marathon. So here’s the universe being weird, reintroducing the theme of the half marathon to me.
I’m not sure if it was this message but I decide that I’m going to run this half marathon this day. I am not stopping until I finish the 13.1. I drink some water. I have a Kind bar. I give myself time to digest it. I look up advice for running the half marathon. It seems like water is pretty important so I make sure I’ll take a 12-ounce bottle of water with me. I start to think about how this is kind of a serious run. I grab a Chobani. I grab a banana. I drink a little more water. I look up the weather. It’s windy and cold but I could care less. I’m starting to dial in focus. The problem is I don’t know what to wear. Short sleeve? Long sleeve? Shorts? Under armor pants under the shorts? I settle on shorts and a long sleeve under armor. I get to stretching. I take a little more time than usual because the distance is a little more than usual. I blow my nose. Rinse my mouth out. Use the bathroom. I’m as ready as I could possibly be.
I head out of the house and venture off to bridge over Wesley Lake, suspended between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. The bridge where I start and end most of my runs. I get to it. Normally I like to run on the boardwalk, but the wind is way too strong. It’s fast. It’s cold. I decide to stick to a street about three blocks off of the boardwalk and head south. I want the option to head towards the water if I need to cool down and to head towards the land if I want to warm up. I run down streets close to people’s houses that I know. I think about times that we have had. I swing out to Main Street and notice stores that I have never noticed before. The world looks very different when you are on foot.
I keep running down Main Street, through all of the shore towns. The plan is to run at least 6.5 miles south, so that I have no choice but to finish the half marathon. But I know I’m finishing this run. I keep thinking over and over 13.1, 13.1, 13.1. Do not stop until you hit 13.1. While this half marathon was supposed to be a test of my physical self, it has become a test of my mental self. Can I run this half marathon that I have not been able to run? Is Tinder girl right? Can she really not run this thing? Or have we both chosen not to run it. Have we both chosen to failure?
Further south I run. I started on the border of Asbury Park. I’ve ran across Ocean Grove. I’ve ran across Bradley Beach. Through Avon by the Sea. I ran past Bar A and past Belmar. Bar A looks different and feels different from this perspective. Past Lake Como. Into Spring Lake. Over Spring Lake. I’m checking Endomondo to see if I should turn around. It’s dark and it’s getting colder. I’m only at 5.5 miles. I refuse to turn around. Stick to the plan. 13.1, 13.1, 13.1. I have to get to at least half of it before I spin around.
I cut inward towards land thinking I’ll make a loop to put another mile or two on the run. I swing over to Route 71 and run right up until the edge of Sea Girt. It’s been about 6.75. More than half but I know the return will be more of a straight shot home. It seems like a good point to spin around.
My body feels pretty good. My knee was bothering me on one of the 5k’s I was recently out on. That’s been fine. I’ve only just cracked open my water. Most of it was used to get spit out of my throat. I drank a little but I’m not trying to cramp. I’m not hungry. My muscles aren’t cramping. Everything seems pretty good. Now I just have to retrace my steps and I’ll be done.
This time I want to mostly stick to Main Street. There are more cars but there are also more lights. I’m wearing black on black. Almost nothing reflects. This all black outfit is really stupid, but I kind of forgot how long of a run this was supposed to be. It’s been completely dark out for about a half hour.
I start the run back. I try to retrace my step and mostly do a good job. I thought I took 5th Ave in Spring Lake on the way over, but really I took 3rd. I know I’m running in the general direction but I want to get to streetlights. I don’t want any cars to hit me. And surprisingly some of the worst sidewalks I saw running were in Spring Lake. I don’t want to roll an ankle. I bring up the GPS and throw a route in that will get me back to Main Street. Mile 8 passes. Each step I take now is uncharted land. This is the furthest I have ever run in my life. Kind of cool, but nothing to get too carried away with. Focus. 13.1.
Mile 9 comes around the Lake Como area. I’m back on Main. I’m only about two-thirds of the way done, but I’m still feeling alright. Muscles are starting to burn a little. Ligaments are tendons are starting to feel a little on fire. At this point various pains are starting to be felt and I’m hoping none of them develop into anything serious. This is all to be expected. Another rinsing of my mouth and another couple sips of water.
Mile 10 and I’m back in Belmar. Alright, now all I need to do is run a 5k. I certainly don’t want to but I certainly don’t care about what I think. I’m finishing this race. This isn’t a physical limitation. This is a mental limitation. I know I can do this. I will do this. I have to see 13.1 tonight. I have to.
Back in Avon. At this point I’m starting to notice how smells from restaurants are amplified. I guess I’m hungry. I pass some restaurant and it starts to smell delicious. I pass billboards with terrible looking Quick Chek sandwiches and I think how they look amazing right now. I pass a Chinese food place. It smells actually pretty terrible. I start to think about what I’ll eat for dinner. I didn’t eat anything today and I will have a huge calorie deficit. I can pretty much eat whatever I want. I run past a Pizza Hut billboard and see a special for two or three pies and think I might order that and eat the whole order myself.
Mile 11 is up and I’m back in Bradley. I feel the pace has slowed down more and more over the last several miles and I’m just trying to keep it moving and finish out. My legs are starting to feel pretty worn but I’m not giving up. About halfway through this mile and halfway through Bradley I smell one of the most amazing smells I have ever smelled in my life. Del Ponte’s Bakery. I don’t know if that place normally smells good, but it is insane how delicious the smell of baked goods and sugar smell in the air on this cold and windy night. My sense of smell is heightened to an extremely high level. I don’t even like eating baked goods, but for some reason this smell will probably stick with me for many years as one of the best things I have ever smelled before. I have to visit there one of these days just to try whatever it is that I smelled that night.
Bradley comes to an end and with it mile 12. At this point I know I should be able to finish. I’m back along Main in OG. Water has just finally run out but I’m close enough to finish. When it’s over I’ll drink all that I need. I was planning on finishing at least a half mile or a mile away from home and then walking to keep the legs moving and stretch but I change my plan. I’m thirsty. I’m hungry. My body is really started to tighten up. I want to be close to home in case of some random injury occurring. I make it to Main Ave in OG. I check Endomondo. 12.5. I’m close. I’m also close to home. It’s slightly tempting to just head home but at this point that just seems absurd.
I quickly refocus as I think of 13.1. Back over the Wesley bridge. Past Moonstruck. I turn around. I’m at 12.9. Back to the Wesley bridge. 13.0. I’m so close. I just have to finish this thing. Close it out. I feel fine. I pick up the pace just ever so slightly. 13.05. Yes. 13.07. I’m going to do it. 13.08. 13.09 13.10. 13.11. Just for good measure. I have just finished the first half marathon of my life. I finished what I thought I couldn’t do. And in time for the New Year’s too.
I slow down to a walk. I feel good enough. Nothing hurts too much. Everything is pretty tense and some things are on fire. But nothing out of the ordinary.
And then something happens. I get to the doorstep and I kind of start to feel weird. In addition to the physical cramping and burning and hunger and thirst and heightened senses and the desire to shower I feel a sense of tiredness come over me. My body seems to enter some sort of crisis mode. I feel like my body has had enough and it start prioritizing every individual action. I’ve never felt anything like this before. Everything is ultra focused and precise. There is a priority of actions that my body wants to complete but I can only focus on one at a time. Unlock the first lock. Unlock the second lock. Go inside. Drink a dozen gulps of water. Eat a banana. Eat a Kind bar. Eat a Chobani. Have a couple more sips of water. Send a Snapchat. Eat another banana. Shoes off. Stretch a little. Clothes off. Shower. Dry off. Another sip or two of water. Bottoms on. Hop into bed. Take a nap. Try to keep the legs stretching throughout the nap.
I’ve never felt anything like that before. Where your body goes into this miniature survival mode and it just prioritizes everything and you think about only one thing at a time. It was a pretty cool feeling.
After a couple hours nap I head out for a dinner of steak, potato, and Brussels sprouts with a couple beers to celebrate. It’s probably a good idea to stretch the legs again on the walk over. Sure I ate a little at the house but I’ve burned off about 1,930 calories. I need to fuel back up.
I ended up finishing the half marathon in 2:08:45. Although I wasn’t shooting for time on this day I was aiming for around the 2 hour mark. For not trying for time I’m happy enough with the results. My individual mile times for the run were as follows. I started too fast and faded at the end. Pretty predictable.
A map of the run is as follows.
The 27th and 28th I was predictably a little sore. However I was surprisingly much less sore than I thought I would be. By the 29th I felt pretty much back to normal. Today I feel completely fine as well. During the recovery I tried to get a little extra walking in and ate and drank smartly. But there wasn’t too much to it. There’s probably a million articles and stories and pieces of advice you could read that would be more helpful than what I’ve said here, so I’m not going to list any running advice. I’m far from an expert in this field.
Another surprising thing about completing this half marathon was how unsatisfying it was to complete it. I set out to run a half marathon one time. I had and still have no ambition to run it again or to run a longer distance like a marathon. At a certain point running distances is just detrimental to the health of your legs. It was a one-time challenge that I set out to do, and ended up completing it on a completely unexpected day. I had always planned to run this on my own but can see the argument for running a half marathon as part of an event. You probably want access to water stations and emergency personnel, but a 12-ounce bottle of water probably will be enough to last.
So that’s my experience running a half marathon. 2:08:45 puts me at 46.3%, close to but below the average for the distance. I’m still not a good runner. But on that day I was the best runner that I have ever been.
I set out to do something that I thought I could not do and focused solely on the outcome to achieve what I wanted. Was I really not able to run it? I never got close to running it before. I wasn’t in the shape to run it at all. And I did. I did because I mentally focused and got there. Can Tinder girl really not run it? She has not run it before either. She might be in a similar shape that I’m in. But I think she can. I think if she sets out today or tomorrow that she can certainly finish. I messaged her the next day saying I finished it and she never responded back to me. Fair enough. The half marathon is her New Year’s resolution and I hope she will finish it.
Whether you make resolutions or not, I hope you all have the best of New Year’s. I don’t really think there are many takeaways from this story but if I have to try to find some I’ll present these. You can wake up feeling like a bum and still do something really amazing that day. You can do something very average and still do something that you consider a success. Something may seem very physical, but it may be a lot more mental than you think. Sometimes when you complete something you don’t feel a satisfaction that you thought you would.