Flashback Friday: My First Half Marathon

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how little time I have to prepare for my next race, the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon on July 27th, which is just over 3 weeks away (!!).  I know I can do it, it’s just intimidating coming off a running base of ZERO MILES.  However, whenever I start getting anxious about how soon it is, I think back to my very first half marathon in July 2008, the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon.  From what I can recall, my preparation for that race was pretty much weaksauce (yes, that’s the scientific term).  Two of my friends from Maryland, LS and MS, planned to visit Wine Country in the summer, and we somehow decided that running 13.1 miles together would be a great idea despite the fact that none of us were runners. (I still don’t remember whose idea it was originally).  Even though I had only run a handful of races during graduate school, and despite never running longer than 10K ONCE (in 2003), I decided that a half marathon would be no problem.

As for the training, I vaguely recall putting off any regular running until the late spring, and by “regular running”, I mean 3-4 miles 2-3 times a week.  I had so many excuses back then: Berkeley is so hilly!  Being a post-doc is so demanding time-wise!!  I need my beauty sleep!!!  I can’t train for a half marathon in 5 year old running shoes!!!!  I can’t afford new running shoes because I make no money as a post-doc!!!!!  And so on…

Eventually, I did invest in a new pair of running shoes and I did start running 2-3 times a week.  Just as I got into a decent rhythm, I left the temperate Bay Area for hot and steamy Taiwan for 2 weeks.  I did zero running in Taiwan, though I made sure to carb load.  I came back from Taiwan only 2-3 weeks before the race.  That’s when I freaked out.  I quickly ramped up my mileage over the remaining weeks, starting with 3 mile runs and topping out at 10.

I recall being pretty nervous about maxing out at 10 miles during training when I’d have to run 13.1 at the race.  I also thought too late about fueling.  From a few friends that were runners, I knew about Gu, but was advised not to try anything new on race day.  I heeded their advice, but was nervous about bonking (though I didn’t know the terminology at the time).  One more thing that added to my anxiety was that LS and MS dropped down to the 10K (or was it 12K?), due to training or injury problems.  So much for running my first half marathon with friends by my side.  Whomp whomp.

The day before the race, I packed up my things and drove up to Sonoma, where LS and MS graciously let me set up my aerobed and crash on their hotel room floor.  We had a nice dinner and hit the sack early, as we had a shuttle to catch around 5 or 6 am.  Both distances started at the same place, so I was happy to have LS and MS’s company for a while longer while we took the shuttle to the start.

I don’t remember that much from the race itself, except having a general goal of running 10-minute miles the whole way.  Not having a Garmin back then, I must’ve kept track of my pace with my old Timex and the mile markers.  I was probably pretty pleased with myself, since my average pace ended up being 9:54/mile.  The thing I remember most clearly was being incredibly hungry by mile 11, and wondering how I was going to make it.  By the last stretch of the race, with only about half a mile to go, I recall staring at the ground and willing my body to keep moving forward, getting dizzier with every step.  Eventually, I crossed the finish line and attacked the food area with such voraciousness that I think I may have scared one of the volunteers.

A couple shots taken close to the finish. I look a lot more alert than I recall!

A couple shots taken close to the finish. I look a lot more alert than I recall!

After I stuffed my face with fruit, yogurt, and a bagel, it finally set in — I ran and finished a half marathon!  I was giddy with excitement and looked forward to telling LS and MS about my race.  Even though they should’ve finished an hour before me, they were nowhere to be found.  It turned out that there weren’t enough shuttles to bring them back to the finish area, and they had waited 45 minutes to just get on a bus!  I was just relieved to finally have found them, considering I didn’t have my cell phone with me and we hadn’t come up with a meeting spot or plan.  (We were race amateurs, obvs.)

Post-race photo, with medal, commemorative wine glass, and peace sign.

Post-race photo after I finally found MS and LS. With medal, commemorative wine glass, and peace/classic FOB sign.

After a quick shower, we headed to lunch at the girl & the fig, where I think we had made reservations.  You can see our priorities — post-race meet-up? Nope, didn’t even think about it.  Post-race food? YES OF COURSE.

In retrospect, what strikes me about my first half marathon is how naive I was, and how it both worked for and against me.  I had no idea what the heck I was doing, and yet I survived just fine.  I’m sure I was a little bit nervous, but mostly my anxiety was aimed at finishing, not at any specific performance or time goal.  And the fact that I finished 88th out of 199 women (top 44.2%) with so little training suggests that I may have a bit more natural running talent than I usually give myself credit for (if I do say so myself!).

With that first half marathon experience in mind, I can put my upcoming race in perspective.  Even though SF1HM is a much tougher course than Napa to Sonoma, I’m also a tougher runner than I was 6 years ago.  I’ll do my best with what I’ve got and the rest will take care of itself.  Whatever happens, there’ll be a Irish coffee at the finish line with my name on it.

Cheers, and Happy 4th of July!

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Howdy! I'm a 30-something recovering former academic living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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15 comments on “Flashback Friday: My First Half Marathon
  1. gracechua31 says:

    Aw, so cute! Brings back good memories. Of my first half marathon (run with equally enthusiastic bright-eyed bushy-tailed colleagues in our first six months of work). And of the chafing that ensued. Enjoy your upcoming half! Take it easy and no more hurting yourself.

    • Jen says:

      Haha. I think my first races were all due to peer pressure from my colleagues. I guess there could definitely be worse influences!

  2. Sherry says:

    It just goes to show that sometimes jumping in the deep end naively can be a good thing! Did you start running more seriously after this race?
    All the best for your #?? half marathon!

    • Jen says:

      Actually, I didn’t start running more regularly until almost 4 years later! I guess even though it was a good experience, I didn’t enjoy it all that much? I think that if I had trained more rigorously, maybe I would’ve gotten some good positive feedback (i.e., put in the work and reap the rewards).

      Thanks for the good wishes — SF1HM will my 7th road half marathon! Lucky #7. :)

  3. Angela says:

    That’s so funny, your first half sounds a lot like mine! It was during my first year or two of teaching and as a result I think I was running like 3 days a week at that point, rarely more than 4 miles, did maybe two 10-mile long runs in the month before the race, & “fueled” by carrying a little bag of jelly beans. I’m pretty sure my average pace was well over 10:00/mile! :)

    Heh, I’d say “Speaking of post-race meet-ups…” but I don’t know how excited you’ll be after your race to wait around for those of us in the second half.

    • Jen says:

      That’s hilarious – thanks for sharing your 1st half marathon experience. As for SF — I’d like to stick around and watch if things work out. It might not be such a long wait — I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to take me a while to finish… and then I’d have to catch the shuttle back to the Ferry Building. I know a handful of people who are running the 2nd half and the full, so I’d like to cheer everyone on!

  4. Amy says:

    While I definitely trained, I ran my first without a garmin and without any gels/fuel and zero strategy on pacing (not that it would help since I had NO CLUE how fast I was going). And yet, it is still one of my faster half times! It makes me think that maybe I over think things now…

    But, good luck prepping for The First Half! You will most certainly survive!

    • Jen says:

      I was thinking the same thing about over-thinking things! I feel like for as much time and energy as I’ve put into running in the past couple of years, I really should’ve cut more than 10 minutes off my time from my first half… but nope! Slightly frustrating…

      Thanks for the good wishes. I’ll definitely need it!

  5. Cathryn says:

    Fab story…I totally agree that sometimes we overthink our races – you did pretty well without knowing much technical stuff or doing ‘all the right things’. It also sounds much less pressured and ‘fun’ than having goal times etc. Like the good old days :)

    My first half was in the UK. My Dad showed up as a surprise to cheer me and my friend on, and turned up again at mile 9 with two Mars bars which we happily ate on the run. Best tasting fuel ever ;)

  6. You never forget your first ;)

  7. Dominick S. says:

    So what you are telling me is your body responds to lots of rest? Anyway, the fact that you crammed for a half and put in sub 10’s is pretty awesome, especially your first one. I also assume you walked away injury free so that is pretty huge. I definitely think you ponder waaaaaay too much and since you have expectations now you don’t just go out and let your body do what it wants like you did in the first race, maybe find a flatter half after SF and let your body go without any planning or watches and run by feel, that would be cool to see. 2008! I don’t I started running until 2008 and it took me soooo frickin long to even ponder a half….so crazy….youre such an over achiever.

    • Jen says:

      I not only walked away from my first half marathon injury-free, I went on to play a game of softball that night! I have to point out that this was all pre-ankle injury (spring 2009), which kinda screwed me up biomechanically. (excuses, excuses!)

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