When I was a freshman in high school, I went out for track. I hadn't actually run at all before I did it. It was sort of a lark. The first day of practice, the coach told us to run an easy mile. All the other girls headed out, talking to each other as they went. I followed along as best as I could, but never having run a mile before except for the Presidential Physical Fitness Tests, I thought I might die and ended up back at the track gasping for air, my lungs on fire. Then, as I would almost every single practice until the weather warmed up, I coughed until phlegm came up, thoroughly embarrassing myself. So I quite shocked myself on Saturday when I ran my first half-marathon.
I decided to run a half-marathon back in July, when two of my close friends in Kansas City told me they were running one in October. Since the farthest I'd run in years was four miles at that point, I was pretty sure there was no way in hell I would ever be trained enough not to kill myself by October. The seed was planted, though—was it possible that I, the woman who hadn't run a 5k since her ten-year-old was in a stroller, work my way up to 13.1? I had to know.
I started talking about it, and I was shocked at the number of people I knew who had run at least that far. A few of the moms in my local mom's group. The woman I traded kids back and forth with during the Great Week of Snow Days of 2014. The guy whose mom used to live next door who sold artificial limbs for a living. One night at a book club meeting, my friend confided that she'd used the Galloway Method to get through her first half-marathon and swore by it. This is the basic premise: If you take walk breaks (even really short ones) while you run, you're less likely to hurt yourself and will actually net a faster time than you would by running continuously. I thought: Fabulous. I like to walk way more than I like to run. So I downloaded the training app and started doing officially what I had been doing naturally—walking for a half-block or so about once during every mile that I ran. (This is slightly bastardized version of the Galloway Method. You'd need the app to be truly doing it correctly.)
When I started, the farthest I'd run in recent history was four miles. Before I picked up the Galloway Method, I'd been increasing my distance by running a block or two farther each time I ran. A city block is usually around 1/10th of a mile, so in adding two blocks and then turning around and doubling back, I was adding almost a half mile each time without really feeling like I did. The Galloway app had a more structured training plan, so when I bought the app, I switched to that. Everything was all unicorn droppings and rainbows until two months ago, when I slipped on black ice during a three-mile run and wiped out. I thought I was fine until my next run, which I decided to do inside on a treadmill. I had eight miles to go and on that glorious flat surface I was feeling awesome and just killing it. I decided to go for some speed on the last few miles. The next day, I could barely walk, my feet hurt so bad. OH, NOES. PLANTAR FASCIITIS. I didn't even realize that's what it was for a while, because all the websites were talking about heel pain, and I had pain in my arch on my right foot (I have flat feet) and on the ball of my foot on my left.
After complaining to Coach Jenna and having her tell me if I wanted to run my race at all, I'd better get off those feet for a week, I was terrified. I researched (read: googled) all that night and decided to try the ice/golf ball rolling/foam rolling/cross training route. The first time I used a foam roller, I could barely stand the pain. Apparently my calves were so tight it's a wonder I got as far as I did without injuring myself. Rolling a golf ball across my feet was (and sometimes still is) equisite agony. Icing is a pain. But I did it, all of it, every night for the past two months because I was so worried about not being able to finish my race. (By the way, it worked. But I had to roll the golf ball for a full half hour on each foot every night in addition to the foam rolling and icing my feet for at least twenty minutes.) After a week of not running and doing the elliptical and bike at the gym instead, Coach Jenna redid my training plan and I abandoned the official Galloway schedule. At that point, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to run the five miles Jenna told me to run the weekend Jeff Galloway would've had me running ten. It was pretty depressing.
I did run the five, though, and I got back on schedule, though I never did feel as fit as I had on that glorious treadmill eight-mile day again. Because my feet were so tender, I stopped doing any form of speed training. I focused on landing correctly on my feet. I kept up my Galloway run/walk/run pattern, but other than that my training became completely my own. I still wonder what would've happened if I'd never injured myself, but that's sort of pointless, isn't it?
On Saturday, I lined up for Rock the Parkway in Kansas City. In my mind, the race was a gradual uphill until the turnaround point, then straight downhill from there. I don't know why I thought this, because I used to live about six blocks from the race road. I think it's called "magical thinking." My plan was to run miles 1-7 in the middle of my comfort zone (read: slow), then run miles 8-12 at the high end (read: about a ten-minute mile) and then hit the last stretch like winged lightning. That ... didn't happen.
Everything was really great until I got to mile eight. I was passing people from the very beginning, because I lined up in the slowest heat (2:40+). I was also feeling really good about my legs and my lungs. The lead-up to mile eight was a long hill, and as I went up the hill, the wind started blowing hard enough to knock my hat off. Psychologically and physically, my plan really fell apart there. Previous to running the race, I had run twelve miles twice: once indoors and once outdoors. When I ran the race indoors on a treadmill, I felt pretty good afterward and maintained a good pace. When I ran twelve miles outdoors, it was in gale-force winds and I came home, barfed and ended up on the couch the rest of the day with my calves in violent convulsions. I am probably unrealistically scared of wind now.
Mile nine was also the point at which I started to really have to pee. bounce bounce bounce don't think about it don't think about it don't think about Niagara Falls and bathtubs filling and water fountains and how full your bladder is
I tried for about another mile to achieve the top end of my comfort zone, but then there were a few more hills that I hadn't anticipated. AND I HAD TO PEE. And some more wind. But the worst part? The people around me started walking. Not taking walk breaks—just walking. Without realizing what was happening, I found myself taking a walk break after every song instead of after every two songs on my iPod. The walk breaks started to get longer. I started to focus on my legs hurting instead of on finishing. I took my last way-too-long walk break during the final mile of the race, which is really just ridiculous, but at that point I had pretty much run out of gas. I was able to muster myself across the finish line running, but that was because there were people watching me. Most of the race didn't have spectators. I crossed the finish line a few minutes ahead of the 2:30 pacekeeping runner while nearly wetting myself. I didn't even let them clip off my timing chip. I handed my water bottle to my husband and hobbled as fast as I could over to the port-a-potties.
My bladder is about to explode here
All in all, I feel okay about my first half-marathon. I learned a lot. I know part of what I did wrong was to start with a slower group than I should have—if the people around me had been running instead of walking, the competitive side of me would've kicked in sooner, and I would've stuck to my correct run/walk/run ratio for longer. I drank too much water when I started to get tired. It wasn't that hot, and I wasn't sweating that hard. I maybe should consider the fact that I'm forty and have carried a baby to term and run wearing a Poise pad or something. I should ask my husband and daughter to cheer for me at the eleven-mile mark, not at the end. I don't need cheerleaders at the end; I need them when I'm DYING. I should train on the actual course during my long training runs so I know what to expect and how to gauge my energy. I should maybe think about trying those goo packs around the last few miles to rejuvinate my energy. And I should do a more serious training program than just-to-finish, which is what I did this time. That said, I finished and didn't barf, like the woman who vomited her way across the finish line two people behind me, unfortunately caught on camera by my husband in a play-by-play set of three priceless photos.
The best thing I think about the run/walk/run method for me was the psychological piece: I always knew I was within ten minutes of another walk break. The second-best thing: I really think it saved me from hurting myself more. I weathered the plantar fasciitis with only a week off from running, and the day after my race I felt fine. Two days after is today, and that's usually the worst sore for me, and I feel fine other than to-be-expected hamstring soreness. At forty, my highest priority is not hurting myself, and I really think inserting walk breaks helped me a lot. We'll find out if I'm able to correct my other mistakes on November 15: my next half-marathon.
Have you ever run a road race? What's your method?
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