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How NOT to Train for a Half Marathon

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

This is the opposite of a how-to essay. This is a cautionary tale – how NOT to train for a half marathon.

It all started over lunch. My friend Regina had just gotten into running, and I really wanted an excuse to go to New York. Somehow those two things led to us making a decision to do the More Magazine Half Marathon in New York City.

From the beginning, for me, “do” meant “walk.” For Regina, “do” meant “run.” The first of many differences.

My goal was to have a fun friends' weekend in NYC and finish the race. Regina’s goal was to run (actually run) 13.1 miles. Regina did everything right. I did not.

Mistake #1 – You Should Actually Train for a Half Marathon

I didn’t change my routine very much before the race. I was swimming twice a week and walking about 5 or 6 miles a week. Key word: walking. Most days I got in 10,000 steps so I thought I was ok. Take it from me, walking back and forth to the copy machine and doing recess duty does not quite cut it.

Mistake #2 – Partners Should Share Similar Goals

Warning bells sounded when Regina started a sentence with “My trainer says…..” I didn’t even hear the rest of the sentence. I realized she was taking this thing seriously. I was not.

More warning alerts at the race expo when Regina’s husband asked me my farthest distance. He seemed a little concerned that Regina had not run a full 13.1 miles. He said her max was 10 or 11 miles but that he was sure adrenaline would kick in and take her the rest of the way. I lied and said my max was 6. I didn't tell him that was my average walking mileage for a week.

Mistake #3 You Should Actually Complete a Race Before Trying a Half Marathon

Words to live by: Don’t let a half marathon be your first race. Regina did the following: First Flight’s Resolution Run 5K, The Greenville News Run 5K, The TD Bank Reedy River Run 5K, the Greenville Hospital System Swamp Rabbit Trail 5K, the St Patty’s Day Dash and Bash 10k and the Clemson Easter Bunny Run 5K.

I walked my dog all the way to Garner’s Ferry Road one time.

Mistake #4 Make Appropriate Travel Plans

Regina flew up Friday night so she would be well rested by race day Sunday. I took the 8:00 AM flight out of Charlotte Saturday morning because it was the cheapest flight. I really didn’t think through the whole getting up at 3:30 AM to leave by 4:30 AM to get to the airport by 6:00 AM.

On the flight up, a darling college student who was flying to the city for an audition in a Broadway musical asked me why I was going to NY. It was the first time I had said the words “going to do a half marathon” out loud to anyone. I was able to keep a straight face. Because she is a trained actor, she kept a straight face as well.

Mistake #5 Mind Your Meals

Serious runners watch their diets and their liquid intake before the race. I should have eliminated all my favorites (chicken and rice, guac and chips, pecan pie, Diet Coke), but I did not.

Regina and Rob took me to one of their favorite spots overlooking Columbus Circle for dinner the night before the race. As I nibbled on the olive from my martini, Regina squeezed lemon into her water. Her trainer had insisted she give up sodas and alcohol for two weeks before the race.

I reminded her that she watched me drink a 16oz Diet Coke that day in front of her very eyes. “Why didn’t you stop me?” I asked.

"I figured you needed the caffeine since you had been up since 3:30 am,” she said. Fair point. I slid both little cocktail spears under my napkin.

Mistake Number #115 – Prepare the Night Before the Race

I had been awake since 3:30 AM and had consumed two very strong martinis, so I fell asleep without doing any prep. Race day morning found me a bit disorganized.

Heading to breakfast, I realized I forgotten to attach my shoe timer. Had to go back to the room. Headed out again and remembered I forgot chapstick. Had to go back. Half way down to breakfast the elevator bells seemed especially loud. I decided two Advil might be a good idea. Back to the room yet again. I had walked 13.1 miles before I ever left the Midtown Hilton.

After the many trips back to the room, I finally hobbled into the lobby for breakfast, still trying to work out the cramp behind my knee.

The wait staff seemed surprised that I was one of the many folks with a number pinned to my shirt. “Oh, Senora,” one older waiter said, shaking his head, “what do you need?” “Another six weeks to actually train” was what I thought, but the words that came out of my mother were: “coffee - black - and some bacon.” He brought me a carafe of coffee and a plate of bacon. What a good, good man.

I walked/hobbled down 6th Ave, still trying to work out the cramp. By the time I caught up with Regina, she knew just what to do. Her trainer had prepared her for all situations. We stood in front of the Essex House stretching. By 7:15 I was ready to go. By ready to go I mean that I was able to put my right foot flat on the ground.

We found our place in the mass of runners. Young, lithe women stretched and lunged. I continued lifting my right heel up and down, up and down.

The time had come. We were “doing” a half marathon in New York City.

Despite all my mistakes, I still thought all would be fine. A big, big, big mistake. I was about to learn that a determined spirit is not always enough.

The More Magazine Half Marathon is a scenic 13.1 trek through Central Park. In the first couple of miles, we passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. I kept thinking, “I am in paradise. This is heaven.” I was excited to walk by the Museum of Natural History, one of my favorite places.

You name it, we saw it. The Dakota, Strawberry Fields, the Carousel. I wanted to pinch myself. I was actually competing in a half-marathon in Central Park in New York City on a beautiful spring day. The forsythia was in full glory. Daffodils were everywhere. It was a picture. At about the 6-mile point, the picture changed. It changed dramatically.

Oh, there’s the Museum of Art AGAIN. There’s the Guggenheim, AGAIN. I did not need to pinch myself anymore. My shoes were doing enough pinching, and I am pretty sure my big toe had gone numb. Yep, the Museum of Natural History for the THIRD time. I never thought I would tire of sight seeing in New York, but by mile 9 I had tired. I was in paradise no more. I was straight up cursing as I hit the Harlem hills for the second time. The worst part was that I knew I had done it to myself.

The lightbulb finally went off when a woman at least twenty years my senior passed me. That's when it hit me. It's not enough to want to do something. I'm a big where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way kind of person. But when it comes to exercise you have to put in the work. Your mind can think all the happy thoughts, but your body is the boss when it comes to half marathons.

Cause. Effect. It's really pretty simple. Because she had training properly, Regina finished the 13.1 miles in record time. Because I did not train at all, I barely finished. I crossed the finish line with minutes to spare before the draggin' wagon scooped me up.

I want to do the More Magazine Half Marathon in 2023. Since my daughter is going to school in NYC, it will give me a great excuse for a visit. Cautionary tales like this one should bring about change. Lessons should be learned. This time I am going to put in the work. This time I'm going to make the effort.

This time, I’m going to do better. We’ll see how it goes.

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