Lessons from my first Almost Half Marathon

Lessons learnt from running my first 20K (12.5 miles) this past weekend.

1. We underestimate what our bodies are capable of. I did not train for the 20K and had zero confidence in my ability to run 12.5 miles, but somehow my body forced my mind to toughen up and keep going. You can push your body to inconceivable limits. But you won’t know until you try.

2. Having a partner to motivate you is priceless. There is no way I would have reached the finish line if it weren’t for my friend who ran the race with me. Like me, this was his first 20K and he hadn’t trained either. I showed up to race registration in the morning and was fully prepared to change my race from 20K to 5K. I told him my plan and he wouldn’t hear of it. He pushed me to give the 20K a shot and to test my limits. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have attempted the run. Vice versa — if it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t have signed up for the race in the first place. Teammates can make or break the deal.

3. Things may not always work according to plan, but having a plan goes a long way in making things work. My success plan comprised of two key strategies — Interval running and podcasts.

a. I decided to do 4 min running, 1 min walking intervals using an app on my phone. It was crucial to helping me stay on track. If I had just relied on my body to run and walk as it pleased, I would have never made the finish line. Having the 4:1 structure allowed me to push myself in short bursts.

b. The other critical piece was keeping my mind alert and engaged. I had an interesting line up of podcasts downloaded on my phone, a great pair of earphones and a fully juiced up battery. The podcasts kept me entertained and distracted from the intensity of the challenge.

4. Train for the hard middle. The home stretch is the easiest. You would think the last mile would be the hardest but it’s the least challenging because you are within a whisker of the finish line. The most grueling stretch of the race is between mile 5–9 when your body is started to feel the burn and the finish line is far, far away. Training your body and mind to keep going during the hard middle is what makes the difference between winning and losing.

5. Set a goal that seems insurmountable and then work your way up to it. If you set goals based on your current ability/knowledge/reach, you will never know what your true limits are. Keep setting the bar just a little bit higher.

6. Success is a combination of hard work, perseverance and a healthy dose of luck. My friend and I truly did the hard work of pushing ourselves but if it weren’t for the glorious weather and the scenic route, I doubt we would have made the time we did. We lucked out with a cool, clouded, dry morning in the middle of August which was completely unexpected. The route was beautiful and mostly flat which made the run so enjoyable. They say success is 99% perseverance and 1% luck. That 1% can truly make or break the deal sometimes.