Saturday, February 2, 2013

Half Marathon with almost no Training

I detest running. I only started running as a way to keep in shape while I was off the bike due to bike-specific knee pain.

To me, running is the most painful, boring, worst, and hardest form of exercise. But I do it to keep in shape for road riding, which I do to keep in shape for cross-country mountain biking. That's the hierarchy. Running is only a necessity; a means to support my off-road habit.

Biking is thrilling. And fun. It is fast. You can coast. You can jump. You can skid. Cycling is awesome. Running is horrible. Or so I thought.

Over time, I started getting some degree of satisfaction from running: I set PRs on Strava, saw new things that I'd miss while cycling, and even did okay in the running leg of a triathlon with my brother and a friend.

Then Strava came out with their February 2013 Half Marathon challenge. When I saw this I figured I should give it a try. Running may suck, but here's another reachable goal, another key accomplishment, another physical limit - that I knew I could conquer. So why not?

The challenge
On the 1st of February, 2013, I had only done two runs the whole year (okay, the past month). The second of those was 13 km, the longest I had ever run in my life. An accomplishment at the time, but nowhere near the level I needed to be for a half-marathon.

So I went into the Runners World forum and asked around. At my age, with my level of fitness, and very limited background running, could I do it? The unanimous response was NO. There wasn't enough training time left for me, and I didn't have the base. I wasn't ready.

So the night of 1st February, before going to sleep and after a few pints, I made up my mind: I was going to run a half marathon the next morning.

I searched my Strava routes and found one that was perfect: 21.7 km, starting at my house, and ending at my house. A half marathon is 21.2 km.

I looked at my times and paces, and set a goal: 2 hours and 30 minutes. No stopping allowed, except for red lights or to eat/drink/take a leak. Walking allowed.

I had been experiencing excruciating knee pain for the past year, but it seemed to have subsided. I was very aware that it could come back during this run - during this test. That's all this was - a test.

I've been known to be a bit foolish at times in attempts to push myself too hard (see a previous post of mine where I describe how I put myself in the hospital in only 7 km). I knew I was at some risk. Risk of aggravating my as-yet-untested-and-maybe-unhealed knees, risk of dehydration, risk of twisting my ankle alone - anything.

The only support I would have was my Nathan running belt with two 10 oz bottles, $20 for a taxi, my phone, my Road ID, Hammer Endurolytes (electrolyte tablets), and the most important one: stashed water and food at the halfway point.

I woke up at 5:30 am, no alarm, and drove to the gas station by my house. I bought a banana, a bottle of water, and a sports drink. I also put peanut butter and raisins on a piece of whole wheat bread, and put it all in a plastic bag.

I drove to the halfway point, and stashed the bag under a giant tropical leaf by the side of the road. This was going to be my lifeline.

The start of the run was unremarkable. I suppose most half-marathons begin with a lot of noise, celebration, and hype. Like a bike race, there would be hundreds of other athletes, rallied into a frenzy, all competing for the best starting place, racing against each other more-so than the clock.

There would be checkpoints along the way with water, nutrition, and even medical support. There would be fans and spectators, cheering and encouraging the runners, friends and strangers alike.

For my run there was none of this, no medal, no placing, no encouragement. Just me, my shoes, and the road.

I tried to pace myself. In mountain bike races I can't help but get overly-fast starts, trying to secure a leading position in the pack. Pacing is not something I'm good at. But after 3 km, 5 km, and soon 10 km, I felt fine.

Ecstatic, in fact.

Immediately after my first half-marathon
The dreaded labor I associated running with had not even reared its ugly head. I was not bored. I was not tired. I was not counting miles, or wishing it to end. I had reached a running nirvana I had never experienced before.

And my mind was clear. No gears to worry about, or drafting to try to get right. I wasn't glancing at my Garmin every 30 seconds like I do on the road bike. I wasn't burdened with the thought and worry of traffic behind me, being on the sidewalk. Running, all of a sudden, became fulfilling.

At the 11th km, halfway, I retrieved my food and drinks. I refilled my bottles, strapped the banana to my hip pack, and started eating the peanut butter and raisin sandwich. It took me a good two minutes to stop, unwrap the bag, transfer the drinks, and start eating.

As I set off, I felt a tightness and burning in my hamstrings. I had cooled down too much. You can see in the image of my splits below how fast I was running up until km 11, and then how I slowed down. I believe it was because of that [critical] food stop.

Look how much my pace suffered after a 2 min food stop (km 11)

At around the 17th km, I felt my pace slow and the running became a lot harder. But I was almost home and knew I had it in the bag.

The last 2 km were the hardest, as one would imagine, but not the torture I had perceived.

I finished in 2:09, well ahead of my goal. My pace was 5:58 / km.

My new goal now is to do this in under 2 hours.

The final result
Strava have more challenges coming up. The next one is in March, and is a 20 miler. April will be a full marathon. Is there enough time for me to train up for them? Probably not, but I'll probably do them anyway.


Anonymous said...

Pretty amazing. I think it helps a lot that you're light and fit from cycling, but this is still impressive. For me, it was swimming that I discovered can be so fun. --megadeath 916

Akmal Hizam Abd Hamid said...

Amazing pace, man!

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