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  • Writer's pictureMaren Hunsberger

I Ran a Half-Marathon?! How?!

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

As you may have read over on my most recent recap post, I've been trying to live life as fully as I can as I approach the end of my time here in London. I've challenged myself to say 'yes' to as many new experiences as I can in the short time I have left! So when a friend from my course asked me if I would sign up to run a half-marathon with her, what could I say but...yes!

Here's me looking a little bedraggled at the finish--how did I get here? How did I prep? How did it feel? Read on!

I ran cross-country and track in high-school, and as unpleasant as some of those long workouts were, I've never lost my love for running. Sure, we've had our ups and downs and our loves and hates, but me and running go way back and I think we're in a stable place in our relationship now. Going out for a run always makes me feel better, more confident and clear of mind, and I know my adult body well enough now to make sure I don't injure myself or push too hard while still being able to challenge my fitness.

Having said that, I have been struggling with shin splints for the past few months--I started taking High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT) classes back in January, and I've really been enjoying it. This method of exercise is very demanding, and I feel that it's really increased my cardio fitness and has helped me on my journey to keep getting healthier and more physically fit--I want to be able to climb mountains for hours, to ask my body to take me amazing places and do exciting things, I want to be able to lift heavy things when moving house--and this new regimen has really helped me make progress toward these goals. However, I think I pushed it a little too hard at the beginning of my training and started to develop some overuse-induced pain in my shins and ankles. Because of this, I was a little leery of training for 13.1 miles, but I decided to get creative...

After resting my shins over Easter break and doing more low-impact exercise like weight-lifting, swimming, and yoga, the shin pain receded. Since coming back to London for my last term, I've gone back to HIIT and been very aware of how my body is responding. So far, no return of the shin splints! But the catch: there were only 5 weeks between signing up for the half-marathon and the actual day of the race--this meant no long-winded training plan to slowly work up to the distance, but I decided that this way, I was less likely to re-injure myself! So I continued to push myself in my HIIT classes, and combined this with shorter runs (3-5 miles), swimming sessions, and hour and a half hour hot yoga classes on days off from the gym. I decided on these choices because they would still challenge my cardio fitness, providing me with more endurance training than HIIT typically gives me, and would keep me limber and flexible and therefore less likely to overstrain or induce an injury during the race.

I was feeling confident about my fitness up until I started feeling under the weather with a cold about a week before the race. I tried to rest my body while still doing light cardio and walking as much as possible, sleeping a ton and downing a BUNCH of liquids--tea, juice, and water, water, water. I started to feel better a few days before, although I definitely wasn't at peak health on the day of.

The night before the big day, my flatmate, her boyfriend, and I went to a Gavin DeGraw concert--it was a pretty low key, seated affair, so it was a great way to have fun, unwind, and keep my mind off the race the next day.

I spent the day before resting as much as possible to try and encourage my body to feel better, and had a great time putting together my race day playlist. Top tracks included those by Florence + The Machine, Francis and the Lights, Alma, Alex Clare, the 1975, and the new Paramore album (if anyone's interested in the full playlist, let me know!)

In terms of nutrition, I hydrated as much as possible the day before the race and had a carb-heavy menu of oatmeal and peanut-butter for breakfast, with salmon, brown rice, and veggies for lunch and dinner. I slept really well two nights before the race--apparently the night before the big day doesn't count as much toward your rested-ness as the night before the night before--and woke up bright and early to make the journey to Wimbledon! I had a bowl of high-fiber cereal with berries and almond milk before I left, and knew that I would have time to digest it in the hour and a half it would take me to get to the race venue.

I got to the Wimbledon playing fields with about 20 minutes to spare before the start time, so I ate a banana, did some dynamic stretching, checked my bag at the table and said hi to my friend before we all got serious a few minutes before the start. The longest distance I'd ever run before this day was 8 miles, and I knew I could do that comfortably and easily--but I had never really timed myself or ran that distance for speed, so I really had no idea how long it would take me to run the half-marathon, or how fast I could go.

I told myself as long as I finished it in under 3 hours, I would be happy--so I started with the last wave of people and off we went! I know how long all the songs on my playlist are, so I could tell roughly how much time was passing between each mile, which was nice--it helped me pace myself without having to look at a watch or take my phone out of my running pouch. I took it quite easy and slow for the first 4 miles--I heard from friends and from the reading I'd done beforehand that many people start off too fast, and I really wanted to make sure I wasn't struggling at the end because I like to finish strong. I picked a group of people who I wanted to challenge myself to stay with, and kept pace with them for the first 5 miles.

The route was absolutely beautiful: the trail took us through woods and fields and the race took place on one of the first truly warm and sunny spring days. It wasn't too hot, but it was warm enough to keep our muscles from tensing up too much and the scenery was so gorgeous that it served as a welcome distraction from thinking about 'oh this hurts' or 'that's tired'. My sister ran the San Francisco marathon a while back and something she said after her race was definitely true for me--'as soon as one body part starts to hurt too much, another part starts to hurt and takes your mind off it'. I definitely felt some discomfort in my ankles and achilles, and some uncomfortable tightness in my hips, shoulders, and back, but--as I soon discovered--you just literally run through it. It hurts, it's uncomfortable, you're unhappy, and you keep running, and it fades into the background. The race trail was a loop, which I actually really enjoyed. The first loop felt like I was letting my body warm up and sink deeper into my stride, and then on the second loop, for the second half of the race, I knew where we were going, was more familiar with the trail, and felt like I could push myself a little more.

In addition to my phone and my ID, I brought a little handful of gummy bears in cling film in my running pouch. A friend had told me it would be a good idea to have a glucose boost at certain points throughout the race, so I had a few gummy bears at mile 6 and then the rest at mile 10--it really did put a little extra energy into those miles and helped me push through the fatigue.

The park was open to non-racers all day, so there were people out on walks and there were so many cute doggos! I wish I could have taken some pictures, but I wanted to stay focused on keeping my upper body relaxed and not faff about with getting my phone out. All the dogs running around and non-racers enjoying the day made the whole thing feel more casual and fun.

Looking a little less enthused at mile 11

As I approached the final 4 miles, I could tell that I wasn't as far through my playlist as I thought I'd be at this point, which meant that I was going faster that I thought I'd be. Feeling really confident about having so many miles behind me, I started to really push it in the final stretch. Instead of trying to stay with a group, I tried to pass as many clumps of people in front of me as possible. I felt really strong and fast, and I know that my last three miles were my fastest, with the last mile being the fastest of all--I'm really happy with that, because it made me feel like I raced smart!

I ended up finishing the half-marathon in 2 hours and 14 minutes, but it really didn't feel like it took that long! I had such a great time in the beautiful woods, looking at the old trees and creeks, and having an amazing time with all the dogs running around, just focusing on the next mile. I think for a potential future race, I could try and even out my pace and run faster mile splits the whole way through, and could really cut my time that way.

It was really fun to celebrate this event with my friend Liz from school, and two of her friends who I met through the race--we all headed back to her place after the race and bought supplies for a seriously epic brunch which we enjoyed outside in the sunshine, picnic style, after making it back into London.

Overall, the whole experience was so empowering. I went into this feeling unsure of whether my my body could do this and in trying it, I discovered that my body is more than capable of running 13.1 miles. I felt strong and powerful and like I could have done even more, and I would be willing to try it again to see if I could do it even better! This was a bit of a turning point for me--feeling confident in my body, not only in its appearance but also in its capabilities, has been a journey for me. It's certainly not a linear one, and there will continue to be ups and downs and new discoveries, but I think I'm in a really healthy place with it right now and I'm excited to see what other cool things I'm capable of. And that's really exciting.

If you have any more questions about training or nutrition details, or any of your own experiences with training for an event or half-marathons in particular, I'd love to chat about it with you in the comments below!

P.S. Pro-tip-->don't try to run a half-marathon while you still have a little bit of a cold. Because I've now had sinusitis for three weeks and I'm not saying it's because I ran a half-marathon with a head cold but it might be because I ran a half-marathon with a head cold ;)

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