I’ll save you the suspense. Yes, you can run a half-marathon without training for it.
A friend of mine is training for a marathon, and the two of us had agreed to run the E. Murray Todd Half-Marathon in Lincroft, New Jersey. Though my friend is significantly faster than I am even on my best day, I wanted to support his efforts, because he was a big supporter of mine when I was in marathon-training mode a year ago.
The problem was, I didn’t train for it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve maintained my fitness over the winter. But the weather has limited my outdoors time, and piriformis syndrome kept me from running for a while. In the first two months of 2015, I’d logged 65 miles total — that’s about 8 per week. Not optimal when you’re looking to go 13.1.
Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go. I managed three runs of more than eight miles each in the three weeks leading up to the race. And I set aside any notions of a PR. What I hoped for was to finish in better than 2:10. (My PR, which I set at E. Todd Murray last year, is 1:56.) My notion was, if that’s my base fitness level without any race-specific training, I have something to feel really good about.
As you’ve read on RunJersey, race day was cold and grey. The weatherman was threatening to make the conditions worse, but I was hoping that wouldn’t happen till I was done.
The first 10 miles of the course boasts a number of solid climbs, the first of which happens in mile four. I felt good at that point, and I got to the five-mile mark on a 9:30 pace — slow for me, but not ridiculous. The next five miles went about the same, with a 9:35 pace. The first signs of fatigue showed up in mile nine. I know I’m starting to tire when I begin wondering how far I am into a particular mile, rather than just checking my splits at the mile markers — and that’s where it happened.
The last big climb is in mile 10, and I was able to get up without too much trouble. But that’s about where things started getting really tough. The wind had picked up, and the fatigue was really starting to set in. Through those last three miles — and especially in the final mile — I kept thinking about stopping to walk for a bit. I was cold. My left middle finger had gone numb. My legs were rubber. But I kept myself going — mainly by reminding myself that walking would just mean I’d be out there longer.
Finally, I made the last 800-meter straight and gave it as much as I had left. And I got there! That last 3.1 was slower — a 9:43 pace — but my chip time for the race was 2:05:09! Almost five minutes better than what I was shooting for.
It wasn’t easy. I don’t know that I’d really recommend it. But yes, you can run a half-marathon without really training for it.
Here Are Some Pointers
- Focus on core strength. Having solid core strength helped me power through, especially on hills.
- Go slow. Have realistic expectations, but know that you’re not going to lose nearly as much time as you think. I was still less than 10 percent over my PR.
- Take race week seriously. Get as much rest as you can. Load up on the carbs. Get yourself hydrated. Stay away from alcohol. In short, feel as fresh and full of energy as you can.
- Don’t be stingy about fuel. Even if you’ve run races without it or with a minimal amount, two or three GU packets can really help you maintain your energy stores.
- Enlist support. Knowing you have family or friends waiting for you at certain spots on the course can be a real pick-me-up.
- Have fun! Take pictures. Chat with other runners. Give high fives to spectators. Enjoy the scenery. It’s all about the experience, so make it memorable.
- Celebrate! When you finish — and you will finish — know that you’ve earned it just as much as everyone else. Not following a plan doesn’t mean you didn’t work. You’ve accomplished something huge!