Technically, my first half marathon was in 2017. I ran (and let's be real, I walked a lot!) with an athlete I was training at the time and my brother. It was a wonderful experience and I crossed the finish line smiling and in a lot of pain. I ran (again, lots of walking) my second half with my boyfriend, now husband, in 2019. Again, crossing the finish line smiling and overjoyed by the excitement of it all but in a lot of pain.
I've run numerous races for fun over the years. I've been a track athlete since I was 11 and I haven't stopped running in some form or fashion since. So jumping into a race with minimal training is something I've been doing for years.
However, I ran my first for real half marathon this past Sunday, and it has been by far the best race I've ever done. I say that this was my first real half because this was the first time I had an actual goal and followed a specific training plan.
My preparation for the half in 2017 and 2019 consisted of strength training and sprinting during the week, and a long run on the weekends. But the long run only happened when I was really feeling it. Which honestly... wasn't any different than my normal workout routine. I had other fitness competitions I was training for and I had no desires for the recreational races other than to do it.
I really think the difference for me with this half was the pandemic. I was watching coverage of the 2021 NYC Marathon when I caught a wave of inspiration. Seeing the athletes cross the finish line brought back a lot of the feelings of accomplishment I'd felt during my first two halfs and also a desire to challenge myself like I hadn't done in a really long time. Since lockdown, I hadn't done anything to challenge myself physically.
If you want to know the whole truth. The pandemic really rocked me. I worked out here and there, but without having a reason to push myself I gave minimal effort during my workouts. I'm the type of athlete who needs an external reason to challenge myself. Otherwise... well... what's the point of pushing?
So I signed up for the half right then and there after obsessively watching the NYC Marathon participants cross the finish line. I had this wild idea that by the time the NYC Marathon rolled around next year I would be running the streets of New York City. For those who don't know you can't just sign up for the NYC Half or Full willy nilly. You have to run a time of 1:32:00 or faster for my age group and gender to qualify.
I was going to use the Austin Half as a starting point for the journey. My goal for the Austin Half Marathon was to break 2 hours, which would be a nearly 14 minute PR, and to run the whole thing without stopping. Qualifying for the NYC Half is going to be a LOT of work.
So I bought some new shoes and started training. I was following the Delta Performance Program for half and full marthoners. Obviously. And things were going great! For about 4 weeks.
About 4 weeks into training I started getting pains in the tops of my feet, which I'd never experienced before. The coach that I am thought, "I've been putting more mileage on my body than I'm used to. I just need to roll and do some strength work for my feet."
That helped for all of about 2 weeks. The first day that I was supposed to hit a 6 mile long run I had to stop at 5 because the pain in my foot was so bad I couldn't take another step. I limped back to the car. When I got out of bed in the mornings my feet would scream the minute they touched the floor. I was beginning to worry that I had a stress fracture.
But how could that be? I was doing all the right things! Taking the training slow. Working up my mileage. Resting and recovering when I needed it. Something wasn't right. Then it hit me... I'd never worn the shoes I bought ever in my life. I bought them because they were pretty, which is the number one thing I always tell people not to do. Dummy.
My first run after New Years, I threw on a pair of extremely old running shoes that I mostly wear for house work or walking the dog and I hit the streets. This would be my first 6 mile run, which I'd been hoping to have gotten about 3 weeks earlier. I ran all 6 miles with negative splits and NO PAIN.
I was back baby! But at this point the race was just over a month out. During my training, I was only able to get up to 9 miles on a long run. One time. Finally, two weeks out I bought a new pair of shoes and began tapering off.
***Side note: I do NOT recommend getting a new pair of running shoes two weeks out from a race. Usually if you're going to do that you want it to be 4-6 weeks out.***
Cue the negative thoughts and self doubt.
I wasn't ready. I hadn't gotten in the miles I'd hoped for! The long runs I had completed weren't as fast as they needed to be for me to hit my goals...
I was DEAD after the 9 mile long run I did! How could I run 4 more miles?
I may not be ready for the race. I didn't know if I could even run the whole thing without stopping.
I don't think I'll be ready! 9 miles had been really tough!
I'M NOT READY!
My husband had been a distance runner in college. Sometimes their practice sessions were to run an easy half in the morning and then do speed work in the evening. He could tell I was panicking.
Ryan reminded me that this was the first race I was really doing.
"Eye's on the prize Sonya," he told me, "The goal is New York right? This is just a training run." He's so great.
The week before race day I took a breath and decided I had to focus on what I could control from here on out. Focusing on the missed training runs was a waste of energy and was just stressing me out! The only thing I could do now was make sure that my body was as ready as possible with the time I had left.
On Monday, I did Team Delta's VO2max workout at 60% effort, on Tuesday I did the strength workout without weights, took a rest day on Wednesday and Thursday, on Friday was a 4 mile recovery jog with one of my Delta Athletes and on Saturday I did 30 minutes of foam rolling and hip mobility followed by a 30 minute recovery interval of 3 minutes at 60% 1 minute walk.
I made sure to drink lots of water throughout the week and I started carb loading on Monday so my body could get my energy stores up. I'll have to write a whole different blog about carb loading for a race.
I went to bed on Saturday night feeling the subtle pang of anxiety in my gut. My mind was calm however. I kept repeating to myself, "You have done everything you could. You body couldn't be more ready."
I had trained consistently. I had trained intentionally. I had trained with a purpose. I could put faith in that.
To be continued...