A half marathon, without even having run a 5k continuously before. I didn’t believe I would actually do it. A friend asked me to take up the challenge over mojitos and piña coladas, and since I was considering getting back into running, I said ‘yes’. At the time, the half marathon in Málaga was four months away, and my friend knew someone, who knew another someone, who said that would be enough time to train. So we high-fived and told everybody that night that we, badasses, girl bosses, FIT GIRLS, were gonna run a half marathon.
I have never been a runner. I have always been attracted to it, but I have never been good at it, never stuck with it, never enjoyed it as much as others seem to enjoy it. For as long as I can remember, I have had a sub-30-minutes 5k as my goal. But I’ve never managed to run 5k in one go, let alone in thirty minutes. To say I doubted my ability to run 21.1k is an understatement.
Before we officially started with the schedule of that someone who had said 4 months is enough, we decided to just ‘run’ 5k runs. That is, we alternated 3 minutes of running, with 2 minutes of walking (the first time, on August 23), building up to 10 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking (the fourth time, on August 29). Don’t confuse running with running though. It was more like jogging, at a slightly-faster-than-walking pace. We finished our fastest 5k that way in 37 minutes. A long way to go.
The schedule from that someone never came and when September came around, my friend I decided – randomly and without any research behind it – to train with Nike Run Club, Nike’s running app. When you tell the app your goal (a half marathon), the deadline for the goal (December 15), and how many times you want to train (3-4 times a week), this app creates a training schedule for you that updates itself weekly according to how you are doing. I found that to be incredibly useful, because with a fixed schedule I’m always worried about overtraining. To our surprise, NRC wanted us to start with 1k and 2k ‘runs’. Easy! We wanted to do much more, but looking back, this was the perfect way to start. It allowed us to train running in continuous stretches.
The schedule combined long runs with recovery runs, interval runs and benchmark runs. The benchmark runs were only 15 minutes long and consisted of a warming-up, a 5-minute sprint, and a cooling-down. With these benchmarks, we could clearly see our progress. The interval runs consisted of sprints between 200m and 1200m with a fixed amount of time to rest in between sprints. Recovery runs were meant to be done on a slower pace (which we never did – more on that another time), to not put too much strain on your body, while still making some kilometers. The long runs obviously were the cherry on the cake: they built up in distance and challenged us every week to go further than we had ever done before. It wasn’t long (September 8) before we ran our first 5k in one go, in 34 minutes.
I literally have no clue why it has never ‘clicked’ with me before, but from 5k, we went to 8k (September 19) almost effortlessly. And when I fell on my knee real bad one day, I still managed to finish 9k that same night (September 27), despite the intense hurt. That 9k was a reminder for me as to how important mind set is. During the run, I focused completely on not feeling the pain and telling myself positive things such as how much this run would make my legs and knees stronger. As soon as I crossed the imaginary finish line and stopped focusing on mind set, the pain returned in full force and I couldn’t put any weight on my knee anymore. Don’t try this at home though, I could have severely injured myself running through the pain, but luckily the knee healed in a couple of weeks.
We became overly confident from our successes and ran our first 10k full throttle (October 8). I ran faster than I had run my 8k and 9k, but it made me realize I had to become more professional. Up until that point, we didn’t even bring water during our runs. We were completely dehydrated when we finished our 10k after 01:06:30h – over an hour of running! From that point, we carried water bottles every time we ran more than 5k.
Shit just got real. We started to get more and more nervous for the long runs. The 12k (October 20) went fine, but the 13k (October 26) left me exhausted for the first time. We ran during midday, it was warm, and my 400ml water bottle wasn’t doing enough for me. I finished it half way and crossed the finish line completely dehydrated. The rest of the day, I felt awful, and even though I focused on drinking a lot during the next few days, I still had dry lips from dehydration a week (!) later. Luckily, 14k (October 30) and 15k (November 7) went better. But both runs were still a struggle against myself and my limiting beliefs. But hey, 15k! I tried to convince myself I was allowed to call myself a runner now?
Race day was getting closer. And the euphoria we felt about how easy it had been to build up the distance had waned. They say it gets easier after 15k. It doesn’t. They say you don’t even have to train more than 15k. Well, I definitely needed to. 16k flew by (November 15), but 18k (November 23) was a wake-up call. The run itself went incredibly well, I even finished with a ‘sprint’. But afterwards, I could barely walk, I almost threw up in the car twice on our way home, and spent an hour lying on the couch, in front of the heater, shivering.
I had taken an energy gel during the run, but I realized it could hardly have been enough. I had only eaten breakfast and a small lunch that day, and we started running only at eight at night. It turned out I burned a total of 3.000kcal that day, while I had maybe eaten a 1.000 when I started running.
It was a wake-up call to start taking food freaking seriously. I had already improved my sleeping-, eating-, and drinking habits A LOT during training, but this simply required another level of preparation. The aftermath of that 18k left me quite traumatized. What if the same thing happened on race day? I wouldn’t even be able to celebrate finishing. Someone would have to bring me home and put me in bed.
So, even though every runner will say this was completely unnecessary, I decided to train a 20k. I knew I should be able to run a half marathon, physically. But mentally I wasn’t there yet. I knew for sure that the fear of what had happened would haunt me during race day. And knowing the importance of mind set, I didn’t want to let that happen.
I leveled up my gear: I got a belt for my water bottle, compression socks, more energy gels. I basically ate my way through the day. And I did it, 20k (December 3). Admittedly, this race went worse than my 18k. I could barely put one foot in front of the other at the end. But afterwards, I was ok! My feet hurt, yes. But I didn’t feel sick, I just drank a lot of extra water at home, had a nice shower, and the next day, I was fine.
During this time, I also had another significant win. In between these long runs, I had to run a 5k recovery run (November 27). After the first 2k, I noticed I was running at a sub-30-minutes pace, and it went quite easily. Therefore, instead of ‘recovering’, I decided to push it and keep the pace all the way to the end, finishing in 29:21h. It may sound silly considering I could run four times that distance now, but this was an important one for me. Somehow, this finally made me feel like a Runner with a capital R. Like I made the team. The team of people who run 5k easily. It had been my goal for so long, and now I finally reached it.
The last 12 days, I didn’t do much, which felt very counterproductive. I did some light weight training, another interval run, and an easy 5k. My watch made me nervous. According to Garmin, my training was ‘insufficient to maintain my level of fitness’. But I knew I just had to rest to be as fit as I could possibly be on the starting line. And then race day finally arrived. And I just did it. I ran a half marathon. But more on that another time. ;)
If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it is that if I can run a half marathon with four months of training, you can do too. It took 65 training sessions in total, about 4 runs per week, but I made it happen. Even though I never expected myself to be able to. But it’s amazing what you can do once you put your mind to it. So if you have a goal that seems way too far out of reach, just go for it!
I actually implemented my half marathon goal in my 2019 Happiness Project. You can read my initial plan for it here. How cool it is to realize I did most of the things I outlined there!