We did it!!! The big half marathon!
If you read either of my last two training diaries for Nike’s Go More Get More Challenge, you’ll know I started my running journey earlier this year from a humble baseline of “a complete meltdown at the thought of anything over a hundred meters and faster than a brisk powerwalk”. To say that I wasn’t the best candidate for Run Melbourne just 24 weeks later is a gross understatement, not least because my inner discomfort junkie opted for the 21km half marathon when clearly the 5km or 10km options would have been enough. I was such a “non-runner” that a half marathon wasn’t even on my wildest bucket list or a blip on my otherwise competitive and challenge-seeking radar. BUT, since I talk the you’ll-never-know-your-limits-until-you-push-yourself-to-them talk every day in business and on the podcast, I’ve gotta walk the do-something-everyday-that-scares-you walk and when Nike invited us to properly train with an incredible coach and fabulous team, I couldn’t resist.
When we last touched base for part two of these training diaries, I was at about the halfway mark and feeling comfortable enough to give it the title, “non-runner no more” (although I’ve since come around to the belief that there is no such thing – everyone can be a runner). By that time, I had gone from nil to 10km – if you want to read more about that initial progression, you can catch up here (LINK). I had experienced my first “runner’s high” that had once seemed so unattainable and elusive (I promise you, it’s a real thing when you give it time), and was finally coming to understand and sometimes even crave the freedom and joy of running. And yet there was still a part of me that was sure I couldn’t go any further than 10km, let alone over double that distance – I hadn’t completed my registration at that point, so found comfort in the possibility of falling back to the 10km run with anything further in the meantime being a bonus.
And that is exactly what helped me get through the rest of the way – the idea of having a big, exciting and often seemingly-impossible goal but focusing only on the immediate next step on your way there. While I am the ultimate supporter of dreaming big, I also believe in planning small – too often we scare ourselves off before we begin because the end goal seems too daunting but baby steps will get you there faster (and more reliably) than trying to do it all at once (and often ending up not doing it at all). If this process has reaffirmed anything for me, it’s that 90% of what we set out to do is about mental strength and not physical ability (in running but also in any of our endeavours). Shaping your goals in your mind in a way that lessens the overwhelm, fear and sense of impossibility is so impactful and, for me, keeping a very open-ended focus on just increasing my runs by one kilometre at a time meant that I didn’t really think of how far there still was to go until I got there.
So, I increased gradually from 10km to 12km and then 12km to 14km. The first time would always be a little harder, sweatier and longer to recover. I’d do each distance a couple of times until it started to feel more comfortable. We mixed in some shorter, lactate threshold sessions to help build speed and efficiency. Your training schedule also has to work around how you feel – some weeks, I was just exhausted or sore and would skip my runs altogether, while others I’d be in a great headspace for a new distance and find it easy. Through trial and error, you also figure out what helps you mentally get through the run – changing your route, keeping it the same, listening to podcasts vs music, running in rain vs sunshine, shorts vs leggings, etc. By my last long run a week before, I had figured most of that out and ran 15km relatively comfortably – I had aimed to get to 15km knowing that adrenaline on the day would get me through the rest. The day before, we had a short shake out run and pep talk with the Nike team then carb loaded ourselves into a very early sleep to get ready for the big day (much to my dismay, carb loading didn’t start weeks earlier – rude).
Long story not-so-short, I successfully completed my first half marathon without stopping once to walk and at the same pace of my very first run with Nike, which was only 3km long – SO STOKED! The first 15km felt like 5km once did – long but steady and comfortable enough to chat a bit and enjoy the beautiful route. While I started to get a little bit sore and tired from 15km onwards (being in uncharted territory, of course), as I suspected, I was totally swept up in the atmosphere and sheer beauty of seeing 20,000 people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds out on the streets of my favourite city as the sun rose. The big key for me was resisting the urge to go out hard and fast when I felt good knowing there was some serious ground to cover – I went out super slow and tried to stay the same pace most of the race (special thanks one of my besties who paced me the whole way). I also tried not to think too hard about how far there was left, distracting myself with a cracking playlist, some podcasts and regulating my breathing. I found having no expectations or rules for myself like “no walking” or “finish by X time” made those things more likely to happen than if I worried about them the whole time. My body held up so much better than expected and I even had a little steam left to sprint over the finish line!
Not surprisingly, I’ve been a little stiff and sore in the legs since but refuelled well and even braved an ice bath (like the professional I am) to help the body bounce back as quickly as possible. I have SO many feelings about the whole experience, but I’ve already rambled on more than enough so I’ll just say I am still in disbelief but also incredibly excited at how much I enjoyed it and how I have come away with what I expect will be a late blooming but life-long love for running. It is so democratic and accessible and can come with you everywhere you go at any stage of your life – I hope I am proof to you that even most reluctant of “non-runners” can build up to (and ENJOY) a long distance in the right circumstances. I can’t recommend more highly that you get out to pound the pavement and give yourself a chance to see how far you can really go.