My first half-marathon

The New York Marathon. There were no such crowds from my run. (Image from the New York Times Blog)

After seven weeks of running, I’ve hit my biggest milestone yet: the half-marathon. 21km. The road to this point has been fun, challenging and rather serendipitous. Today’s run, in many ways, was a microcosm of my whole running journey thus far.

First the story of today’s run.

Having been very busy with work commitments (this weekend was the leadership vote for the Alberta Liberals), I had been unable to run as much as I would normally like. I also had two dinners (sushi and Indian food) the preceding evening and had a Waffle Big Breakfast from Ricky’s this morning, which is likely around 900 cal, many of which come from fat. Never mind that I had been averaging four hours of sleep per night for the last several days, I was hell-bent on burning up excess glycogen and unnecessarily-ingested grease.

The original plan was to run 10km, with the possibility of adding an extra 5km, depending on how I felt. I had run 15km in a day before, but with a four hour break separating the last 5km and the first 10km. Accordingly, I thought a contiguous 15km run would be a worthwhile distance achievement for myself. To this end, I packed a PowerGel and a water bottle, in case I decided to continue. I was not to be disappointed.

The first 5km was effortless. I finished the first lap of my 5km loop in 29 minutes, which is slower than my usual 5km pace, but faster than my usual 10km pace.

At 10km, I started to feel a slight discomfort in my legs, though it wasn’t more than a slight annoyance. I was also able to maintained my pace up to this point. I drank some water and pressed on. I also consumed my PowerGel as assurance against bonking.

At 13km, the slight discomfort in my legs turned into soreness, but I was still feeling ambitious. Perhaps it was runner’s high. I neared a Mac’s store, stopped my stopwatch, ran in, bought a PowerBar and Gatorade, ran back out, re-started the clock and started eating and drinking like there was no tomorrow. The PowerBar and half the Gatorade were gone within two city blocks.

I passed my apartment for the third time (the 15km mark)  in a couple minutes short of an hour and a half. My pace had slowed down to my old 10km pace, and my legs were also quite tired. I resolved to continue, thinking I could simply stop whenever I had to stop and just walk the rest of the way home.

By the 17km mark, I was having serious doubts about my ability to finish. For the previous two kilometers, the only thing I could think about was how tired my legs were, and now, I started to feel pain in parts of my legs that I didn’t even know were capable of experiencing pain. Both my knees had also started to hurt, and my ankles were starting to act up.

I passed my apartment for the fourth time before my watch hit the two hour mark. Miraculously, I was able to maintain a decent pace. With only a kilometre left, I was feeling buoyant.

What actually followed was the most difficult and painful run I had ever done. Adding to the issues of pain, my pace was reduced to a slow jog. Still, when I saw the endpoint in sight, my pace quickened again and I ran in-between my self-established finish line with my hands in the air, yelling “yahoo” like Lando Calrisian exiting the second Death Star.

I sent out some messages and some status updates relishing in my achievement and I literally limped home.

How is this a microcosm of my running journey? It was planned, but unstructured.

I started running seven weeks ago with the goal of losing weight. Although, I wasn’t technically overweight (according to BMI measurement), I had noticed that some of my pants purchased last September had become noticeably snugger. (I’ll warn anyone taking a political aide position that weekly receptions with torpedo shrimp, quiche, and spanakopita wreck havoc on your waistline.) The catalyst, admittedly, was spending a weekend at my friend’s family’s cabin and being a little embarrassed to spend too much time in just my swimming trunks.

I did manage to shed some pounds, but running became more than just a means to an end–it became the end in and of itself.

I stared pushing myself harder. I would run at different times of the day. I would strive for more mileage or a faster pace. Gradually, I started chalking up the achievements.

I ran my first 5km two weeks after I first started running. This wasn’t actually my first ever 5km, but it was the first one since high school. I never actually set my mind on running 5km, but simply said to myself, “Let’s see how I make out after 3km.”

I ran my first 10km during week five. At the time, this was a new personal distance record for myself. I also was more than adequately prepared for it, and I still had enough energy left to run another 5km a few hours later. Like the 5km mark, this was also tinged with serendipity, as I simply asked my parents one evening, “Do you guys want to run 10km tomorrow?”

Today, at week seven, I wasn’t planning on running 21km. The plan was to run 10km with the possibility of extending it to 15km. I would have been perfectly satisfied with achieving the 15km distance mark, but I was able to continue, so I continued. Because I continued, I set two personal distance records today, and I was able to reach another major milestone distance in the running world.

When I wrote my first post about running, I could see what I was becoming, but I didn’t actually think I would get there. When I said that I wanted to run a half-marathon, I was thinking of next spring as a timeline, not the next month. What a pleasant surprise it is to arrive at this point in seven weeks.

Unfortunately for me, the next milestones–3/4 and full marathons–are considerably harder to train for than the transition from 10km to 21km. With the kind of job I have, I’m not in any position to commit to the training schedule that it would take to get to a full marathon. Obsessing about milestones can also be a dangerous road to travel, as it can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences from injuries to neglecting important personal relationships.

I likely won’t be able to train for a full marathon at this point in my life, but that’s something that doesn’t bother me. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve at this point, and there are other goals to accomplish besides setting personal distance records.

I’ll spend the next few months improving my technique, getting faster and becoming more comfortable with the distances that I am able to run. Who knows, perhaps I will be able to run–and finish!–a full marathon someday. Given the serendipity of my running achievements to date, I might just end up running one anyway, just to see if I can.

Vital stats:
Distance: 21.5km (according to Google Maps)
Time: 2:05:39 (clock stopped when stopped traffic signals)
Average pace: 10.27 km/h


About jbsantos
Polling, politics, PR and outdoor pursuits.

One Response to My first half-marathon

  1. Pingback: Pushing the limits « Santos Sez

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