17 minute read

This month, on Sunday, April 21st, I participated in my first half marathon race.

There’s a lot to unpack there and talk about, and not sure if I’ll have the time or dedication to do it. But sometimes you gotta start somewhere, so here I go.

I signed up for the race on March 27th, about a whole month before the race. I paid about $100 for the registration, which certainly feels like I’m getting milked for all I’m worth.

The flyer for the race was being displayed at my gym for the longest time, and I figured, why not, it’s close to home and I’ve been thinking about when and if I’ll ever do a marathon lately, wouldn’t it be easier to train for and start with a half marathon first?

So anyway, that’s the story of how I signed up for my first half marathon.

A large impetus for signing up for my first half, was the passion for running that’s been rekindled in me recently. Ever since I started going back to gym, since I started Orangetheory, a little over a year ago now, the joy (and spark) of running has been alive in me again. It’s like re-learning how to use an extraneous muscle. Like riding a bike again. You never forget how that used to be. You just learn more about it, dive deeper into the sport, and introspect further and learn how your body handles it, and adapts to it.

Anyway, consistency is key, and I would give credit where credit is due - the gym I go, Orangetheory Fitness, has especially been inspiring me to helping me to stay consistent and motivated. Further, they have motivational work outs and benchmark challenges every now and then. For example, the 1 mile run, a 12-minute timed tread for distance, and a longer 22-minute run. More recently, they have something called Tread 50 workouts, which is just a 45-minute block where you have access to the treadmill. Which is great to try out something new, or to prep for an upcoming work out or challenge. It’s all up to you, but the idea here is that motivation is never lacking.

If anything, the benchmark challenges for running are fun, and well — challenging — and they inspire me to put my best foot forward.

They also re-kindle in me once again, the joy for running. This is actually a large part of the reason why I signed up for my first half marathon. To fully embrace my newfound (or re-discovered?) joy of running, and share that with others. I do love running, and I hope to continue it going forward.

One other thing. Running on the treadmill, believe it or not, is sub-optimal to preparing for a half marathon. For training purposes, it is indeed sub-optimal. So while I have been signing up for Tread 50 and challenging myself to run at base or base-push the whole 45-minute block, without stopping, it is lacking in something. Don’t get me wrong, it keeps me on my toes, keeps me active and in shape. It builds endurance and willpower.

What the treadmill does not build, is leg strength, or real-world experience. Experience with hills and just the feel of the stones and rough asphalt under your feet. That you’ll only ever get with outdoor running. Freed from the metaphorical chains, without the treadmill running belt to help you, you are effectively at the mercy of Mother Nature and the elements. The biting cold. Rain pouring down. Wind gusts battering you at over 10 MPH, slowing down your progress and grinding it to a near halt. Making your very bones shake. Causing your mind to falter in its resolution and drive. This is the sort of thing that one would only ever get exposed to by choosing to embrace the elements, and run outdoors.

So slowly, I have been building a routine in order to prepare myself and train for my first race. At the end of March, I ran roughly a 10K with a running group. An average pace around 8:30/mile. Cadence of 167 SPM.

Between March and April, I have been running at least a 10K outdoors, every week — and I hope to continue this routine, and this consistency, moving forward. Because if there’s anything that Orangetheory and working out has taught me, it’s that consistency is key.

Anyway — the next week, start of April, I knocked out another 10K outdoors, and averaged an 8:00/mile pace. Cadence of around 172 SPM. So overall, slightly improved from last time.

The following day, for the very first time, I did a longer run outdoors. I am talking over 10 miles. Prior to this, I had never run this sort of distance before, in my entire life.

I ran outside at the WO & D trail, which is close to me and was recommended to me by friends and family both. While I did 16 miles total, it looks like I only ran about 12 miles of that. I remember the reason why that was. I had got my new waist pack which was a gift from the fam. It had holders for mini- plastic bottles with little plastic sippy-heads (microplastics, yay!) and pockets which I could put my keys and phone in.

There were only two annoying things with my first long run outdoors:

  • I had no idea how to use Strava, and I wanted to stream the run to Strava, which is some new app for runners. It took me too long to figure out.
  • The strap for the waist pack was too loose. I tried to tighten it but it kept falling off and it was mighty frustrating.

Regarding the first point, I walked the first 2 miles because I was fiddling around with Strava and trying to record the exercise from within that app. I also started the outdoor activity on my Apple Watch. In hindsight, one thing I learned — Strava can auto-import workouts from the Apple Watch, so you only realistically need to record it on there, don’t need to do it twice as I did.

Regarding the second point, adjusting the waist pack was an eternal struggle, and I don’t know if I ever got it fully correct that whole 16 mile walk-run effort. After the first ten minutes, I wanted to just remove my waist pack and toss it to the ground, and stamp on it. I was that frustrated. But thankfully, after I did some last-minute adjusting, it stayed on, and didn’t fall off at least, even if it was kind of loose. So shrug, better than nothing, so I shrugged it off and started the run.

Plus, I needed the waist pack. For my AirPods case, and keys. Phone so that I could listen to music, since my watch didn’t have 3G or cellular. So given that my phone was bulky, it wouldn’t be possible to fit everything in my pants pocket and run with it. At least, it would be uncomfortable to run like that. So, in that sense the waist pack really delivered and came through. That’s not even considering the water. Water really helps to stay hydrated on a longer (over 10 miles) run outdoors.

So anyway, that first long run outdoors, my average pace was 10:57/mile, which was bad because I walked about 4 miles of that. Looks like I burned almost 2000 calories from that (1600 active calories), so there is a silver lining with that. All in all, I was out of breath near the end, and my legs were essentially destroyed after a run of 12 miles. This is why I had to walk the last 2 or 3 miles. Well, the reason I was forced to walk the last distance, actually is that I overshot when I was back-tracking or looping back. Went too far, guess you could say. So I needed to back-track yet again to get to where I had parked my car. In order to do that, my legs and knee was totaled, so literally I could not run, I could only walk (or limp) back. I contemplated more than once on taking an Uber back, but ultimately I just walked the half hour or so back. It wasn’t the end of the world. At least, mission accomplished there with that long run. Longest run I’ve run in my entire life leading up to that, was on that day.

Roughly 10 days after that, because I was having a hard time finding time, I went for a run at 7AM on a weekday. Yeah, that’s right. I wanted to wrap up around 9AM. So I ran pretty fast due to that. Here are the results in the screenshot below.

Half Marathon Training Results

Looks like my best half-marathon time was 1:31:08, as Apple Watch claims. I don’t know if this is accurate or not. If so, it would be my fastest half marathon time ever, which is great.

Anyway, very tired after that, so I went back, drank electrolytes, whey protein to recover, and iced my knees.

On Sunday, April 21st, I had my first half marathon race, so here’s how that went.

First Half Marathon

On Sunday, April 21st, I had my first race ever, a half marathon.

The day before, I had the carbo-load meal at Davio’s in Reston. Portions were small, but it tasted great. They charged me close to $50 for that. But there was pasta, and there was carbs abounding. So not much to complain.

That day I went to sleep early like around 11am.

The day of the race, I woke up about 5:30am. Got ready, drank some matcha, had early morning banana, apple, and oatmeal with berries. Also had a honey protein bar. Then I got dressed, laced up my bright orange Hoka Mach 5 shoes, which a subreddit on Reddit had convinced me to wear, and off to the race I went.

It was less than a 15 minute drive for me to the race’s gathering point.

One thing I had desired in my first race, my first half for that matter, is a good distance for commute purposes. I didn’t want to fly, didn’t want to drive 4 hours for a race. So having a first half marathon so close to home, was a godsend for this reason. I didn’t have to worry about commute. I honestly could eliminate that issue as otherwise it would be another stress point for me.

Fast forward to the start of the race. If I remember, I joined the middle of the pack. I wanted to take it somewhat easy, but not too easy. I still wanted to challenge myself. So I tried to stay with some folks who seems like they were maintaining a 7:30-8:00/mile pace, which is a pretty respectable, but easy enough, pace to be running at.

Here is a photo of me on that race:

RMR Half Marathon - On Race #1

Most of what I remember from that race, my very first, is that I probably had ate a bit much, and also I seemed to lack energy, since potentially I had not carb-loaded properly. It’s always hard to estimate these things, especially for one’s first race. Also, I was for some reason thirsty, all the time. I didn’t carry my waist pack with me on this run, in an attempt to slash on unnecessary weight, and potentially gain speed and pick up the pace as a result.

That reminds me, it was about 45 degrees out that morning, but I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and I saw lot of others wearing similar attire, so thankfully I was not alone. Some folks were even wearing sleeveless. Then again I saw lot of others in long-sleeved and even pants. Because 45 degrees is understandably chilly for some.

Anyway, going back to hydration. At around mile 3 or 5, some volunteers were on the sidelines offering water and gatorade, so I snagged one quick. I tried to drink while jogging, a mistake, as I spilled some on my shirt. I tossed it after I’d drunk most of it, but the damage was done. My shirt was soaked and I wasn’t too well hydrated. On top of that I had lost on pacing slightly, since I had slowed down. So turns out, bad idea overall.

Most of what I remember on that run, on my first half marathon, basically boils down to five things. One, it was a scenic run, as promised, lot of green grass and vegetation, and trees, and overall just a pleasant run. Two, the weather was perfect and it was a little bit chilly but that’s much preferred over humid any day of the week. Three, so many hills, and I was not prepared for them. Four, did I mention dehydration, as it always seemed as my throat was parched. Five, my lungs and mind were fighting me constantly, but my legs only after mile 10.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper into some points. Starting with the hills. The uphills were especially brutal, and even though there were hills on the WO&D trail, they were nothing like these. The uphill jog efforts really snuck up on you, and took their toll on me. The downhills were much better.

In the words of a volunteer on the sidelines —

Gravity is your friend!

That basically is a nod to the fact that downhill, running is so much easier. Actually gravity carries your legs faster and further than you could normally run unaided. This is actually the reason why some world records for the mile run were discounted — because the track in those cases were downhill, which is not fair since other competitors didn’t have that edge. Make no doubt, running downhill certainly gives you an edge, at least compared to running on flat ground, and most certainly when compared to running uphill. Long story short, running uphill sucks, running downhill is a godsend.

More on the dehydration aspect. I felt thirsty, like my throat was parched, constantly. At mile 3, I drank water. I drank gatorade again at mile 6, and same as last time I tried to drink while running, and spilled the fluids on myself again. At mile 11, I snagged gatorade, and gave in to my mind telling me to take a break, also because my legs were completely beat, and I just stood still and finished that cup of gatorade. Wasting a lot of time and crashing my pace, since I was immobile in one spot, but what can you do, when both your legs and mind are fighting you over your sustained efforts. Anyway, I estimate a total of 3-4 water or gatorade stops on my part. Too many frequent breaks I suppose, but for a first half marathon I suppose it can be forgiven.

Lastly, about my lungs and mind fighting me. I did try to keep up with the group, in order to pace myself better, and mostly I stuck with this one dude until about mile 7. He was a pretty good pacer, and we were both averaging about 7:20/mile. Certainly under 7:30/mile. It felt good to have someone to pace with, to run with, so I just decided to have a relaxed run in that manner, us alternating taking the lead, and the lungs issue was tabled for a while.

At around mile 7, I broke up and sped off in an (unrealistic) effort to catch up with the frontrunners, and also to challenge myself to push the pace, and get a decent finish time.

Another photo, ostensibly taken when I decided to “fly solo” at around mile 7-8:

RMR Half Marathon - On Race #2

This is more or less where I started having a “consistent” pacing issue, and at the same time started having a breakdown of my lungs and mind unanimously. The hard part was not starting at the distance readout on my Apple Watch every few minutes. Seeing those mile plaques or posters or whatever, on the race, pop up every mile as a benchmark, was actually more disheartening than reassuring. It felt like how much distance I’d achieved, and how much my lungs were burning and screaming at me, were totally at odds.

At around mile 9, my lungs were almost at my limit and I just wanted to throw in the towel. At mile 10, it felt like an eternity in coming, but at the same time, that’s when you’re supposed to realize that it’s only a 5K distance left. That is, 3.1 miles remaining. So I was supposed to speed up, because it’s only a 5K race now, but in reality I couldn’t. My lungs had been fighting me every mile of the way, and apparently now it was my legs’ turn to take over the battle.

It seemed unfair, for the legs to refuse to move at the same pace, to slacken and grow tired, but that’s exactly what ended up happening. Rather than speeding up for the last 5K distance, I struggled even with maintaining what I assumed was my 7:30/mile pace that I had going on. Maintaining that pace was the hardest part. Shouting down my mind that told me to walk it out, and punishing my lungs for fighting me by continuing the battle with them, seemed especially cruel but necessary.

Anyway, near the end, I almost got lost twice. Once when I didn’t know if I should take a right or go straight. Some volunteer sitting in a pickup truck told me to go straight after I asked. But again, that questioning wasted no small amount of time.

Finally, at last leg of the race, once I got on the track again, where the race was supposed to start and end, I again got lost. I saw “Finish” and supposed I should go left. I was shooed by volunteers and told to go right. Then I stopped prematurely, assuming I was done, only to be told to keep going, I have to go all the way to the “Finish” line.

If you’d ask me, this last part was not coordinated or handled well. Why is it so easy to get lost on that last home stretch, while on the track and you see the words reading “Finish”? I don’t know. It seems like it shouldn’t be so easy to get lost, but it was, for me at least.

Running the whole length of that track to the Finish line seemed like it took an eternity by itself.

You can see how tired and out of breath I was, and must have been, by seeing how I looked right before I punched through the finish line:

RMR Half Marathon - Finish #1

By getting lost twice and stopping for breaks to hydrate, I must have wasted about 2 or 3 minutes easily by that itself. But again, sometimes it’s the journey that matters more than the destination. Given that it was my first race ever, and first half marathon, I really was not expecting to break a PR or get first place overall — that would have been unrealistic at any rate.

You can see the joy etched on my face, of having finally finished that dreadful half marathon, and returning power back to – and releasing the noose around – my lungs and my blessed legs, that carried me so far. 13.1 miles, all the way to the finish line.

RMR Half Marathon - Finish #2

RMR Half Marathon - Finish #3

Anyway, I finished first in my age group, and fifth overall in the race.

I got a finish time of 1:36:41 for my first half marathon.

Here’s a splendid, dashing photo of me basking in my glory and victory, after the conclusion of the race:

RMR Half Marathon - After Race

Can I say it was worth it?

Absolutely, for the experience along. Even though that first half marathon, felt like a full marathon to me, it taught me some valuable lessons on endurance and leg strength especially, which I hope to fully utilize and learn from going forward.

Going forward, I will plan to incorporate some amount of long runs (at least 10 miles) outdoors, at a frequency of 2-3 weeks. This is just so that I maintain the endurance and leg strength that my first half marathon race has imparted to me.

One thing I enjoyed about my first half marathon is it enabled me to display and embrace my passion of running, and even after finishing it, the passion and respect for running has only increased, it has not reduced or stayed the same.

Going to cut it short here. I am proud of my achievement of my first half marathon, and hope to continue incorporating lessons I have gained from it, such as improved endurance and fitness. I aim to shoot for running at least a 10K distance outdoors once a week, and a 10+ miles outdoor run at least 1-2 times a month.

Participating in my first half marathon has imparted to me much-needed endurance and leg strength, and I hope to continue running, pushing myself, and next time around I hope to improve on my half marathon finish time. Also, here’s to hoping I don’t get lost or get frazzled by those hydration breaks in my next half marathon 😜.