My Half Marathon Debut: How not to race it

Despite the misleading title, my half marathon debut actually went pretty well.

I’ve had a lot of issues with goal setting going into races in the past, particularly while I was still a swimmer. Recently, I’ve learned (aka been told several million times and finally got the message) that when I set one goal and fall short, even by a little bit, my mindset tends to go from “wow that was really close for a goal so far away, that was a great performance” to “wow that was a bit average at best, time to re-work everything” – which isn’t conducive for long-term goal setting, planning, training, or racing. To compensate for this, I’d set 3 ‘increasingly unrealistic’ goals going into the race – sub 1.30, sub 1.24 (4 minutes per kilometer) and sub 1.20. I’d also had a goal set for me by one of the athletics club coaches in the name of ‘bragging rights’ – his pb for a half marathon was 1.19, so if I could get close to or beat that I would be happy above and beyond my original goal setting!

But really, my main goal was not to die and to finish off a debut half that I could be proud of when I looked back on it a week post-race.

I’d had a good block of training going into the race. Managing uni, 2 jobs, family life and training can be bloody hard work a lot of fun at times, so I was really happy with the consistency I’d managed before the final week of training. I think I averaged 19.5 hours per week, with 8.5 hours of riding, 4.5 hours of swimming, and 6.5 hours of running volume over the course of a 4 week period. It’s not exactly a minimalist plan, but the swim and run currently focus more on quality over quantity (coming from a swimming background helps, but also hinders – my body isn’t quite ready for the large amounts of run volume some crazy people can fit in!) with a lot of riding thrown in in an effort in increase my aerobic capacity/not get injured.

This training was all well and good until the fifth and final week before the race. Uni assignments that I’d put off finally caught up with me and work wanted more than their pound of flesh – I’d bitten off more than I could chew and ended up choking a bit! I ended up with a grand total of 8 hours of training in the 5 days before the race on Sunday morning. This left me feeling mentally lacklustre, but I was determined to ensure that I ended up with a good taper so I followed what the coach had told me to do.

PSA: do what your coach tells you. Generally, athletes like us don’t see the big picture – which is why we hire a coach to do that for us. So naturally, when they say do something, feel free to ask why, but if your coach has a reason, then it’s probably a good one!

On race morning, I was determined not to let my week of slacking off struggling to balance everything interrupt how well I was hoping to do in the first ever half marathon I was going to race. I’d recently bought a pair of the Nike Zoomfly Flyknit shoes – the same mold, carbon plate, and upper as the Nike Vapourfly 4%’s, but not the same Zoom X foam underfoot. I’d resolved that if these worked well for me in my race (as they had in training runs thus far) I was going to splurge out and get a pair of the 4%’s for the next big race! This definitely helped with motivation on race morning (who doesn’t like new gear after all!)

Race morning was cold, wet, and very foggy. Not ideal conditions but certainly different, which can be a unique factor in keeping your mind off how much it’s hurting when you’re in the final stretch home. It was good to see a couple of my teammates from the local athletics club before the race briefing, as well as a couple of triathletes I know reasonably well (who could be competition for the 70.3 WC qualifier in Taupo later this year). After a good warm up and getting my head in the right space, I was lucky to line up next to Lachlan Haitana – a club teammate as well as the eventual winner!

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The Start line… everyone seemed pretty nervous!

The race started out at a solid pace, with the first kilometer being ticked off at 3.41. I was slightly concerned that I was going out a bit fast, but I thought I’d better stick with the group or I’d find myself in no-man’s land. The next kilometer ended up at 3.33 with the same group, which made me even more sure that I was going out too hard and was going to die coming back in on the course. But I still figured that being with the group would be better than not, so I stayed with the pace. The first 10k was done in 36.44, which I was happy about – technically a 10k pb which I was stoked about mid-race! The group I was running with was still together at the halfway point, which was a great sign about the pacing of the race. Coming back from halfway the pacing stayed somewhere between low and mid 3.40’s per l, which was great until I started to struggle! I ended up being dropped off the back of the group and being picked up by 2 more runners behind me. Despite this, my mindset was positive – at m current pace I was going to be under my most unrealistic goal of 1.20 for the race! I kept what felt like good technique and even breathing through until the final stretch of the race, where I nearly died running into sprinted for the line. With a final time of 1.18, I was ecstatic. Claiming both bragging rights with the coach as well as hitting all three goals of the day was a good feeling to have.

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Finally, the Finish line!

Now, a small note on recovery – I feel like I failed miserably in this. I did my standard warm down jog, which probably wasn’t enough. As a future note-to-self I need to go for a longer warm down, and it’s something I’d advise others to do as well.  I also drove back about 30 minutes after finishing the race – probably not the smartest thing to do, sitting down for an hour or so to get home. I ended up incredibly sore later that afternoon/the day after, and I’m still rolling myself out in an effort to recovery 2 days later!

Overall, it was definitely a good first half marathon experience. Hopefully next time is better!

#absolutelymad

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