This past Sunday, I ran in the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon, which is my longest running event to date. For the record, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. That’s a lot of running for someone like myself who considers running a fairly casual sport. To be fair, this was supposed to be my big event for the fall, akin to AIDS/LifeCycle in the spring. I need the lure of a big new challenge to keep me focused on training. In a lot of ways, the story I’m about to tell shows that, above all else, I need to remember that it’s the act of signing up and committing to an event that gets me in the right mind to train for it. I waited until just a couple of days before the run to sign up for it, and the result is that I didn’t make training a huge priority. Really, I didn’t make it a priority at all. I did some running in Falmouth back in July, and I ran in the Big Gay 10k in August, but I didn’t do any real, structured training for this event. Part of it was feeling cocky about my cardiovascular endurance. Another huge part of it was that life seriously got in the way. In either case, I didn’t run regularly, and while I certainly had the cardiovascular endurance for a half marathon, my body wasn’t prepared for that level of punishment.
I will be kind on myself, though. I achieved both my primary and secondary goals for the run, and I came close to achieving a “nice to have” goal, too. My primary goal was to finish without walking, and I did this. My secondary goal was to finish with a time of 2:30:00 or better, and my finish time of 2:21:34 soundly achieved this goal. Early on in the run, I passed by the 2:20:00 pace runner and set myself an extra goal of trying to stay ahead of her. That was a level of ambition my body was simply not up for, however, and I faded behind her in the final miles.
A highly successful day, but there are some major red flags that deserve a bit of review. The first one of these is how completely miserable I was on the final miles. I started out, as I mentioned, feeling pretty ambitious, and the first several miles were a complete blast. In fact, I’d say the first half of the run was a lot of fun and I was seriously enjoying myself. Somewhere around mile 8, however, things progressively got worse and worse. My legs kept having less and less power to them. I was having to shorten my stride. My mile splits were slowly getting longer, mile after mile, and it was somewhere around mile 8 when they started to tank. The seams in my Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoes were starting to chafe badly. Nothing I tried to keep my head in the game was really working, and I was mostly holding on for dear life because I refused to give up. I’m really glad I didn’t give up, by the way. After the run, my legs were so wobbly and weak that I had difficulty stepping up onto a curb so I could walk home. Since then, I have struggled with pretty nasty muscle weakness and soreness, tight tendons, and open, bleeding wounds where my shoes rubbed me raw. Here I am, on the day after, and I’m walking with a very visible limp and shaky legs. I know I’ll heal, and I’m glad to know that I’ve pushed my body to its limits, but there are, I believe, some lessons to be learned here.
- I need to treat half marathons with more respect. 5k, 10k, and 12k runs are all “fun run” distances for me. They’re the sort of thing I can just do without preparation…just throw on my iPod and enjoy a morning of it. I even show some signs of being mildly good at 5k runs, though I’d never be a true competitor with them. Half marathons are a different beast entirely, largely due to the effects of running impact on my body. I must prepare for them, and I probably should have more running in my week in general if I want my legs and feet to be in good nick for longer runs. Given that I run barefoot, I likely have an even more direct need for training my body for the impact of running, as barefoot runners use their calves and the muscles in their feet more (or so I’ve been told).
- I need to look into keeping a pair of Vibram Five Fingers from giving me blisters. The ones I have are pretty serious. At 6 miles, I’ve not had a huge problem with blisters. At 13.1, and after getting my shoes wet, I’m bleeding on both feet, and I have other large blisters that haven’t ruptured. I’m sure the solution is as simple as a pair of socks.
- Knowing Sunday would be hard, I did a minor amount of tapering. I went surfing on Thursday, had a lighter workout at the gym Friday, and did nothing of note Saturday…or so I thought. Casual athletics count as exercise, though, and I spent a reasonable amount of time fencing on Saturday. Standing en garde and lunging are workouts for the legs and core, and my legs were not exactly fresh on Sunday morning. I need to be more watchful about my own laziness, it would seem.
I’m honestly not sure at this point if I’ll want to run another half marathon (or train for the big 26.2) at any point in the future. Right now, as I shamble around the office and my home, I’m mostly just wondering when I can get back to my “normal” life of cycling and surfing. Another part of me thinks, though, that my time wasn’t bad for someone without training, and these problems are all just new challenges to overcome, and I should do it. For now, though, I’ll rest and make some decisions about what my life can and cannot support, and then decide if half marathons will fit in there.