m a r g i n a l i a

notes from a creative writing PhD candidate

awkward and painful things i learned from my first half marathon

1. You may never spot your friend or significant other along the course–so don’t entrust them with the necessary nutrition and gear you’ll need.  The race website said there would be two viewing areas for spectators at miles 6 and 8, but it turns out that police were not letting anyone out of the parking lot.  I gave my GUs (energy gels) to my fiance thinking I’d pick them up on the way; that didn’t happen. (You can imagine my disappointment.  Also, keep in mind that you might not want to run a race that doesn’t attract a lot of cheering, happy spectators.  It can get a little lonely out there.)  I went 13.1 miles without any kind of nutrition whatsoever.  Aside from water and Accelerade (bleh) I was burning through every last ounce of energy in my body, and it wasn’t fun.  I hit “the wall” at mile 10, which probably could have been avoided–or at least postponed–if I had some carbs in me.

2. Train on hills.  Big ones.  A lot.  The half I ran in May is a hilly course–I knew that before the race, and wasn’t deterred–but halfway through, panting heavily and struggling to stay upright on a steep gravel road, I felt extremely under trained.  If you’re running a course with lots of inclines, it’s obvious that your training should include some hills.  But even if you’re running a flat and fast course, hills develop endurance, strengthen your quads and glutes, and give you physical mental confidence (i.e. “This hill is my b—-!”).  Going down hills (controlled, not all-out flying) also makes your legs stronger, engaging different muscles in your thighs and calves.  You should try to keep your pace while running uphill–don’t slow down, maintain your breathing and focus on the (literal) goal in front of you.

3. Invest in a pair of really comfortable, quality running socks.  Blisters are kind-of inevitable in training or on race day.  A podiatrist once told me to (weirdly) put deodorant all over my feet to avoid blisters and chafing–I guess the antiperspirant helps wick away moisture–but I’m not sure if this is so effective.  Socks really can be the determining factor in having a miserable, painful run (and a miserable few days after the run) or not even thinking about your dry, comfy feet.  I learned this lesson the hard way, but now I never do a long run without my Thorlo Experia Ultra Lightweight Socks.  You can get them at REI or on Amazon.  They’re super padded in the toe and heel areas, and very tight in the arch.  One pair can vary between $10-$15, but it’s worth it.  No blisters, no heel-slipping, all good.


my shoe collection. just kidding! i wish.

4. Arrive at the race location at least an hour ahead of gun time–and anticipate parking issues, a long line of cars, and ridiculously long lines at the restrooms.  I arrived at the race location 30 minutes before the start, but due to heavy traffic turning into the parking lot and a super long porta-potty backup, I hadn’t even made it to the starting corral when the gun went off.  I will NEVER make this mistake again–get there an hour early!  So what if you have pre-race jitters for 40 minutes while standing around with a bunch of strangers?  It’s better than holding it for two hours.  I was pretty bummed I missed the excitement and camaraderie of the corral in my first half marathon.

5. Perk up for the photographer.  I was horrified when I received an email with my race photos.  Oh. My. God.  I looked miserable, angry, tired and very, very slow.  The photo from when I crossed the finish line is the worst: my arms are awkwardly at my sides, too tired to hold them up, hands pointed down, and I look like a tyrannosaurus rex.  Seriously, worst photos ever.  One good thing about the photos, though, is I could see a steady progression of how my form gradually became worse and worse throughout the race.  I never noticed that before, so I’ve been working on keeping my shoulders back and head strong even when I’m the most fatigued.  My feet look like they’re hitting the ground properly, but I’m doing the “marathon shuffle” at the end and it basically looks like I’m power walking.  I’ll make more of an effort to smile for the camera next time.

post-race photo: much better.

post-race photo: much better.

My first half marathon, 5/31The Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon in Middleburg, VA, 2:33

My next half marathon, 10/5: The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in Mt. Vernon, VA/Washington, DC/National Harbor, MD, going for 2:00!  😐


One comment on “awkward and painful things i learned from my first half marathon

  1. Lauren Keating
    July 7, 2014

    Great post with really REAL tips and advise. Good luck on your next half! My next one is in September and my goal is 2:25-2:30 range (Last time 2:45). We can do it!

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