This blog has been on the down low for a couple weeks now, partly because I didn’t want to talk too much about the half marathon (which I wasn’t too confident on) and partly because fitness and training for the half was literally my life. All of my life.
The Auckland (Barfoot and Thompson) half-marathon was done and dusted yesterday though, so I thought I’d pass on some grains of wisdom to those that may be thinking of signing up for a half marathon in the future. Trust me, there is a lot to prepare – and I don’t say that lightly.
To make it simpler to gain insight from my experiences, I’m going to go through what I did – and with each of those points add on the relevant learnings now that the marathon is over.
Let’s begin with fitness preparation!
I started working out regularly 4 weeks ahead of the race. This was mainly triggered by 3 events: a music video shoot one week before the race, the half-marathon itself, and my trip to fiji this month (yay it’s November!!). My fitness regime was extremely effective and I lost 2.1kg in the first 2 weeks. Although I had no before/after photos, the visual difference was clear – not only was I less fat, I was quite a bit stronger than the couch potato state I had started off from.
To go from 0 to 5k from the first day though, is not recommended for – it was very difficult for me and I had played competitive sports for half my life. The most famously touted beginner running plans are the c25k (couch to 5k), and b210k (bridge to 10k) of which there are several versions.
In weeks 1 and 2, I did only 5k runs but almost daily. In weeks 3 and 4, I attempted 3 long runs before the race. I did a 9k powerade, a 19k (after 1 day rest), and an 8k (after 2 days rest). For me having not prepared early enough, it was important to have done the 19k. However the last 8k run wasn’t entirely necessary. It helped me decrease my time and improve my pace, but it created excessive strain on my ankles. If I had less than 3 days rest after my 8k, it probably would have impacted on my performance in the race.
I think if you started training early, then one or two distance runs a week would be ideal. If you are time constrained, then 5 runs between 2 weeks is probably the most you should do – with quality recovery measures in between.
Naturally, overall training to increase body strength and to lose weight/fat would be beneficial too. Less to carry on the course right? I’m really glad that I did the workout I did in the first two weeks because it made me physically fitter, more toned and compact, and gave me less mass to carry with every step. I would definitely recommend following a fitness regime of some sort to tone up, even if your goal isn’t to lose weight or look slimmer as mine was.
I chose to do the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide because the cardio circuits are really challenging for me, so I know it would be really effective on my body. You should definitely pick a workout routine based on what your body is and isn’t good at. Pick something challenging, and just go as hard as you can but make sure you keep it up regularly!
edited addition: I was always a terrible cross-country runner back in my school days. I knew my form must have been terrible, so I watched heaps of running tips videos and then did the first 9k run with a friend who did a half-marathon last year. I asked him to comment on my form, how to distribute effort more evenly through the body to reduce the effort on the legs, how to breathe effectively, how to distribute effort throughout the course, and all sorts of questions.
After that, it was a matter of running by myself and adjusting how I ran based on how I felt. Everyone is probably different in some way so self-discovery is really important when training for a half-marathon!
My diet consciously switched towards a higher protein and higher carb diet. Although I still measured my total calories, I switched out up to half of my vegetable intake for fish and lean meats, and increased the amount of grains I ate through bread or rice. Supposedly this would increase my energy levels on race day, but tbh I don’t know if it made much of a difference. I just didn’t continue to lose weight.
I do think the protein helped me recover faster though. With just 3 days rest, I was feeling more than fine – I felt like I had excess energy! Fish in particular, are high in protein and still low on calories. My favourite in the week leading up to the race was John Dory – it felt fatty enough with the skin on, but it was fantastically low in calories and my body happily took up quality portions of it without complaint.
For me, not doing anything and recovery was the hardest thing to do. I felt like if I had any energy left in my body, it should be used to train train train more. As a result, I almost did not get enough recovery. When people say that you need your rest or your body can’t handle it, it’s more or less right. Yes, some people might be able to push just that little bit more, but sometimes one part of your body will just give in (mine was the ankles). It’s really important to work out an effective training schedule that gives you enough recovery time, and stick to your plan.
It is also important to do enough long runs to get a good idea of your pace before the race. For me, I was aiming for 6:50min/km, and expecting 7min/km. Doing the 3 long runs confirmed that I would be able to do this, and would ensure that I reached my goal of not being on the bus of shame.
Also, it is important to do runs of half the race distance, and similar to the race distance prior to the race. Before my 9k run, I didn’t think I would be able to do more than 5k (because I always pushed myself to the limit for 5k). After the 9k run, I believed I could do the race and reach my goal. For the 19k run, I learnt where my shoes and clothes will chafe, and was able to prepare the band-aids I needed on race day. If you have different pairs of shoes, also do similar long runs with different shoes to find which ones will be the best for the race – and the same with your clothes.
On race day, I tried to stick to a 6:50min/km pace to begin with. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people at the starting line all packed together, so I wasn’t able to accurately measure the exact time or point I started. I used a running app on race day to keep track of my pace (strongly recommended), and I tried to let gravity carry me as much as I could on flat land and downward inclines. On uphills, I would run the smaller inclines, and walk the larger ones if I’m really tired. However, I think it’s good to run for 20m of uphill (regardless of the incline) if there is a downward incline coming up – it helped me carry into the downward incline, and let me recover more during the down than if I had started running at the top of the hill.
I made the stupid mistake of eating a gel pack for the first time on race day despite allll the warnings I’ve had not to try anything new. I had never used it in my previous long runs, but I knew that I slow down a lot after 15k, so I thought I’d have a gel pack at 16k. Thing is, at the actual race I wasn’t tired at 16k, but by eating the gel, I feel like my body had to put energy into digesting the gel so it actually made me more tired. As a result, I finished the half-marathon at a whopping 20 minutes later than I expected on the race day. Do not try ANYTHING new on race day.
It is now Monday, the first day after the half-marathon. I went to bed at midnight last night, after a day of eating everything I wanted to. I didn’t end up getting up at 5am for gym, and I am not sore at all (even my ankles are fine!). One of my friends thinks that I’m experiencing delayed reaction and I’m going to feel absolutely smashed tomorrow or in a few days, but I think I just didn’t run hard enough yesterday. I regret many of the things I did during the race, but I don’t want to do another half-marathon or full marathon just to rectify those mistakes.
I’ll just live with this regret forever. lol.
Also I feel really bad for my eating yesterday. I didn’t need to eat until I was 120% full, stretching out my stomach so much and with unhealthy food too. The bf and I went to a Korean restaurant last night and had jajangmyeon, seafood noodle soup, and garlic fried chicken. All super dense and heavy foods. I was burping up stomach acid at 12am (which is why I slept late also). Don’t let loose and go crazy on the food after your marathon! You WILL feel terrible!!
Other than that, I can’t wait to get back to my usual gym routine and start shedding the fat again! I originally signed up for the half-marathon as a way to motivate myself to get fitter (which I procrastinated on for way too long anyway), so I’ve reached my goal of getting fitter, reached my goal of not taking the bus of shame, and even got a better time than I originally estimated (25 mins shorter!). All in all, I’m satisfied with what I have gained out of this half-marathon, and it doesn’t hurt that the views and the experience of strolling across the harbour bridge were phenomenal!
If you’re thinking of doing a half-marathon or full marathon, I would strongly suggest the Auckland half-marathon. For the distance/price/training it would take for the average person, the Auckland half-marathon is a really good deal and a worthy unique experience!