My First Half Marathon: 8 Lessons I Learned
Get to the Start Line Early
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I spent the minutes before the starting gun in line at a port-o-potty, doing the seemingly smart thing by emptying my bladder before running 13.1 miles. Well, my time management didn't work out. I was in the john when the national anthem played (sorry, America) and had to run to the start line and climb a makeshift fence into the correct corral, seconds before the gun went off. I didn't even get a minute to mentally prepare myself.
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Without experience, your adrenaline is your worst enemy. I was amped, feeling good and ready to break 2 hours in my first half marathon (about a 9:09 pace, close to my training times). Feeling stoked, I ran the first mile in 8:10. The second mile in 8:17. The third mile in 8:11. I started dreaming of a 1:55 half; I should've been bracing for a nightmare instead. As you might expect, the wheels eventually came off. Pacer after pacer started passing me, I was doing stretches of walking by mile 11, and I crossed the finish line in 2:01. Cruel—and a lesson learned. Trust your training, and pace yourself.
Don't Set a Time Goal
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To piggyback on the previous slide, perhaps your first half marathon shouldn't have a time goal attached to it at all. Make that first experience a chance to tackle the distance without an ambitious expectation. I've always wondered how much better the experience would've been had I not been chasing my goal so hard. For a first-timer, that shouldn't be the point.
Your GPS Watch is a Little Off
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Right away, I noticed that my GPS watch was not lining up with the mile markers on the course, and it was a source of mild frustration for me. How could the race directors screw that up? Well, in all likelihood, they didn't. For technical reasons explained here, your GPS watch is slightly off. Mine read 13.33 miles when I crossed the finish line of the USAT-certified race. This is normal, and not worth steaming over.
Don't Forget the Fuel
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Gu recommends having one of their gels 15 minutes before the event, then one every 45 minutes during the event. For my first half marathon, I had a gel at mile 6 (about 53 minutes in), and that was it for in-race nutrition. Big mistake. I bonked by mile 10 and endured the most agonizing 5K of my life to finish it off. For my second half marathon, I had a gel 15 minutes prior, one at mile 5 and another at mile 10, and cruised to the finish line feeling so much better.
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Gentlemen, put band-aids over your nipples. I don't know how to be anything but blunt with this advice. Don't learn the hard way, like I did. That was one painful post-race shower. (Photo: Flickr.)
Find Your Motivation
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While I struggled to the finish, bonked and desperate to find inner strength, I came across a lady holding a sign. It said, "If it Was Easy, Everybody Would Do it!" It was all I needed to see. The surge of adrenaline was immediate, and it carried me to the finish. I urge you to read every spectator sign. Thank the volunteers. Acknowledge the cheering crowd. High-five the kids who have their hands out. This whole journey is fun. Don't be so serious! (Photo: Jan Lichterman/Flickr)
Cross the Finish Line in Style
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Realize that the finish line is exactly what you did months' worth of training for, and also be aware that it will probably be photographed. I did the basic one-fist-in-the-air pose. Some people jokingly crawl across the finish, some cartwheel across (I don't know how) and some hold hands with their partner. Whatever you do, make it special. You earned it.