13.1 lessons from my first half marathon

1) It takes quite a bit of planning to prepare for the race, especially one that is not local
I ran the SF RnR race. Technically, it could be considered “local” except San Francisco is an hour drive each way. Because of the time restriction of Golden Gate Bridge, the race started earlier than I expected at 6:30am. I decided to take the “early start” at 6.15am to ensure that I would safely make it to/back on the bridge. It was a tough call to stay overnight. It took some planning to book an AirBnB place that was about 2 miles from the start at a reasonable price. I had to pack well and that was when I realized running the half marathon was like going on a small trip itself. Before this race, I only did few local (like 20 minutes away) shorter-distance (5 mile) races. SF RnR was a whole different level! Note to self: next run will be a local run until I’m more experienced with running more races.

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2) Speaking of a small trip, planning for hydration and refuel was a new experience.
Last time I went on a “backpacking” trip was when I was 14 back at summer camp. I learned the lesson of “counting” and “rationing” for a 10-days hiking trip on the Appalachian trail. Well, I applied what I learned to the half marathon, except, I still ran a little short on the GU Gel packs. It was a good thing that aid station was passing out extras. In all honesty, that was in the last 5K of the race and at that point, I was running on “will power” anyway.

3) When in doubt, WALK, especially in the face of San Francisco hills.
As I said, will power carried me through and allowed me to finish. That said, my original plan of run 7 minutes/walk 1 minute did not pan out well, especially, with the rolling hills of SF. It was one thing to “read” the elevation chart of the course. It was a whole different ball game in actuality, experiencing it with my two legs. In the first few miles, I was able to keep up a somewhat 7/1 plan, but the hill getting on the bridge killed the rhythm. By the last 5K, I was feeling pain in my right knee. I walked even more then. I did not even want to push it. There would be another race…

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5) Mind over body. Until I experienced it, it was a pretty empty quote.
I’ve heard many coaches, trainers, and motivational speakers emphasized the importance of the “mind”. Mindset is the most important asset we have. Yada yada yada. Depending on how good the speakers were, I would feel really motivated for like 7 minutes. Well, now I could appreciate it much more. As I had mentioned, running SF RnR had surprised me in many ways from the unexpected planning to the hills and to the sheer distance of it (more on that later). By the time, I got off Golden Gate Bridge, I was half way through and also pretty through with my physical reservoir of energy. I started to feel pain from blisters developing on the right toes and on the left toe. It was not a good situation. The entire time, I just kept telling myself “one more step, one more breathe, and one more mile” I must’ve repeated that a thousand times. Somehow I made it to mile 13. I got a bit teary. It was totally mind over body. I drew on my reservoir of will power and determination.

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6) 13.1 miles is a lot.
Okay, there is a second part to the statement. 13.1 miles is a lot WHEN I did NOT train fully for it. It wasn’t a “pretty” take-away. It was more like wake-up call. Hooray to “mind over body” and finish it. BUT, seriously, no more procrastination on running a race without fully training for it. It was like that college term paper that I had stayed up entire night to write and at the end no one liked the outcome, including the professor.

7) Human body is amazing.
Okay, this one is like number 5 “Mind over body”, until I experience it first hand, it does not have much significance. As aforementioned, there was both pain and doubt during the race. The last 5K was particularly painful with the blisters rubbing against the shoes every freaking step of the way. It FELT as if it was bleeding. And of course, it was not. Then my right knee began to “twitch”. I could not explain more but intuitively I knew that feeling was a sign the body telling me to “stop”.  And yet, I was just so close (c’mon 5K!!) that I just walked more and jogged a bit. Looking back, I had to thank my body to perform amazingly!

8) Mental dialogues during an endurance race are … funny or weird, depending on the perspective.
13.1 miles is a long distance and a long time for slow runners like myself. I had to keep myself going and somewhat entertained, especially on that weird stretch from mile 8-10 descending from the bridge. It was a flat open road through a somewhat industrial area. Around mile eight, I was counting how many pancakes I could have during brunch with my family. I figured each pancake is about 100 some calories and on average I burned about 125 calories each mile. Another five miles, I’d be so near the end (and my five pancakes) that it was perfect math! Yeah, really weird self-talk…

9) Dress creatively will be a goal for next race
Going along with point 8, being entertained was huge! I was thankful to my fellow runners, especially those who put extra effort to make themselves look goofy, fun, and different. That made my first 4 miles really engaging. Constantly, I was taking notes. That 80s guy had a really fun pants on. Another dude was dribbling two basketballs (one on each hand) while jogging (score!). And let’s not forget Aunt Sally on tutu’s – priceless!

10) Golden Gate Bridge was 1.7 miles long, each way.
Hey, when I was driving on it, it was over in minutes. Running on it, well, felt forever. And, did you know that Golden Gate Bridge was was not flat? It had a shape of an arch. Translation: it was like a small hill. This was not meant to be a “profound” lesson. Just a fact. I could “wikipedia” this fact during a cocktail conversation from now on.
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12) Yes, I skipped #11.
Who cares? Life isn’t about perfection and so was the race. Being flexible was key to make it enjoyable. I went over almost half hour more than I projected. I did not get hung up on it while running. By the time I got off the bridge, I knew I would not make my goal. I adjusted my expectation: focus on finishing it without injury. At the end, all was well – event was a success and more importantly I reached a milestone.

13) Schedule a chiropractic appointment as soon as the race was over.
This was one of the “smart” ideas that panned out well. I went to my chiropractor today, two days after the race. She used to be an tri athelete herself so she knew where to adjust and how to adjust it. She worked out all the weird kinks and I went for a 1-mile walk afterwards. It felt good! I almost felt like I might be able to do a short run tomorrow.

0.1) Keep going, keep running, and keep smiling.
I’m already signed up for a 6-months training program with San Jose Fit in anticipation for another half marathon in the fall. I don’t know which race I will do yet, but the point is keep going. That’s the biggest lesson I learned. Keep going.

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3 thoughts on “13.1 lessons from my first half marathon

    • thank you! I’m super stoked about GGB. There is always next SF RnR. From what I read, they did improve from last year’s inaugural run. Plan on next year’s run – I’m sure they’d take the feedback this year to make it even more awesome 🙂

  1. Congrats on pushing yourself in a tough race and finishing! I completely agree with #8. I would love to be able to record the thoughts I have during a race and play them back later…they are totally ridiculous!!!

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