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On running my first half marathon ever

IMG_2946.JPGBack in 2011 when I started running, I only ever wanted to be able to run 5kms comfortably. It took me two years of loving-hating-loving running to get to that 5 km point. But, nevertheless, I persevered, and running has come to be part of my identity. I run, therefore I am.

It was a visit to Stresa, Itay in 2012 that got me thinking about running longer distances. You see, that glorious location in the Lakes district in the north of Italy held a half marathon every March. If you haven’t been to Stresa, it is nestled along Lake Maggiore. Mountains—the Swiss Alps—frame the lake and line the horizon. The air is crystal-cold clear, the sky a shade of brilliant blue. Just breathing in the air made me feel invigorated, alive. I felt almost reborn—pure, even—during my stay there.

But it got me thinking about the possibility of coming back to Stresa and running their half marathon. It would arguably have to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

Of course, one does not simply run a half marathon. Well, some people can, but I’m not one of those people. Given how long it took me to be able to comfortably run 5 km, I wondered if it were at all possible to run 21.1 km, or whether it was simply a pipe dream.

Last year, though, I really started to see that this half marathon idea was a definite possibility. I started 2013 off being able to comfortably run 7 km, then progressed to 10 km, then 12 km. I competed in my longest ever event in May—the 14 km leg of The Pioneer Women’s Trail—and didn’t die. I did end the event with an ouchie ITB, though, which saw me sit out the running game for about a month. But I didn’t die.

So I slowly (pun intended) ramped up my long runs on Sunday. This was kind of easier than I thought it would be for one simple reason: I was a volunteer Start Running instructor with SA Road Runners.

And I thought: I reckon I can do this half marathon thing. But I need to get at least one half under my belt before I could even consider attempting it in Stresa.

So I slowly (pun intended) ramped up my long runs on Sunday. This was kind of easier than I thought it would be for one simple reason: I was a volunteer Start Running instructor with SA Road Runners. Each Sunday, I (and other instructors) would front up at the club rooms, and help a number of newbie runners to—you guessed it—learn to run. Each week, across a 10 week term, the run would increase by 10%, starting with a 3 km run, and culminating with a 10 km run in the last week.

And as luck would have it, my home is an easy 4 km run from the club rooms. It wasn’t a stretch, therefore, to run to Start Running, do the run, then run home. Each week, I’d build up my distance, until the last week when I would run 18 km (4+10+4 – another 3 km and that’s the half marathon distance nailed). And that’s what I did. For the first two terms of 2014.

Last term, I sat out Start Running. I did my long runs on my own—in one go—culminating with a long training run of 21 km two weeks before the half marathon I had signed up to do at the Adelaide Marathon Festival. About six weeks out, though, I developed a (slight) meniscal tear in my right knee, and had to modify my training (it’s still a bit iffy). Ten days out, I caught a nasty virus, and was sick for a week (luckily that coincided with my taper). The Friday night before the event, I went out with friends, and—against my better judgement—drank much too much red wine and vodka, and spent the day before my first half mildly hungover and slightly dehydrated. Oops.

I’m sure I would have come in under my goal time, if it weren’t for those godawful hills at the end!

And on the Sunday, 24 August, 2014 at 8.00 a.m., I lined up for my first ever half marathon. I was nervous and excited and thrilled to be there. I trusted my training and knew I could complete the 21.1 km course. I had a goal time in mind—02.30.00 hours—but never having run it before, I didn’t know what my finishing time would be. I literally did not know what to expect.

The morning was crisp and clear, the sun warm, but strangely, fog hung eerily over North Adelaide, enveloping runners in a fine, white mist. It was at the 10 km mark, when we turned back along the linear park at the North Adelaide Golf Course, that the mist faded and the sun reappeared.

The course itself was beautiful: up along North Terrace through Adelaide’s CBD, along the Torrens River, through North Adelaide, back up the Torrens to the Botanic Gardens, then up the Torrens again, finishing at Adelaide Oval. I had purchased a Garmin Forerunner 10 a few weeks earlier (as a reward for running a PB in this year’s Fitzy’s 5) so I could keep an eye on my pace. I knew from my training runs that if I kept to around the 7:30 per km, I would be comfortable and could finish strongly at maybe 7:00 or even 6:30 per km. I was aiming to run negative splits.

And I basked in the glorious knowledge that I had run my first half marathon at 50 years of age. And I didn’t die.

I finished my half in 02:41:06 – only 10 minutes outside my goal time. I died slightly (ok—a lot) at the 17 km mark, which I knew would happen from my training run. In my training run, I pushed through and was able to keep going, but the course was flat. On the day of the event, I got to 17 km and found that there were hills. Lots of them. And they were tough and horrible and relentless. So I walked most of them. (Note to race directors: please don’t put a steep hill at the end of a race. It’s just not fair, even if it means running across the brand, spanking new Adelaide Oval Footbridge to the brand, spanking new Adelaide Oval.) I’m sure I would have come in under my goal time, if it weren’t for those godawful hills at the end!

When I ran through the finish line and was handed my finisher’s medal, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I did neither because I realised I was STARVATIONING, and promptly wolfed down two bananas. I walked stiffly to my car and drove myself home. I was still hungry, so I drank a protein shake, and had an Epsom salts bath. Then I cooked a big bowl of my post-run fried rice* (it’s delicious and quick and filling and nutritious). And then I proceeded to flop on the couch for the rest of the day.

And I basked in the glorious knowledge that I had run my first half marathon at 50 years of age. And I didn’t die.

In fact, I am all kinds of awesome.

Last word

An event like the Adelaide Running Festival is not possible without all the volunteers who give of their time to make it a success. This includes pacers, drink stationers, course attendants, first aiders, and all those people who come to cheer on their loved ones, and end up cheering on other people as well. I signed up for SARRC’s Marathon Mentor program, and while I didn’t complete the group runs (I ran with Start Runners and then on my own) I was able to make sure I was on track building up my distance and tapering at the right time. I can highly recommend this program if you are even slightly considering running a half or a full.

At this stage, I am looking to run the Lake Maggiore Half Marathon in 2016. That will allow me to get another local half under my belt.

* My post-run fried rice consist of diced bacon, garlic, chilli flakes, pre-cooked basmati rice, an egg, lots of veggies, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce. It takes about five minutes to whip up. And it’s delicious!

8 thoughts on “On running my first half marathon ever

  1. I’ve been wIting for this post written in your wonderful style! Well done Diane you could have been describing my run except I started to struggle around 15k. I now have a goal to run the Vancouver Half. Adelaide Running Festival did a mighty fine job but who knew Adelaide was so mountainous? thefifthcygnet

    1. I know, right?! Those hills were killers – although hills are very subjective and one person’s mountain is another person’s molehill 😉

      You’ll have to let me know you go in the Vancouver half, Rebecca… when are you planning on running it?

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