It only took me four half marathons to discover the secret to an enjoyable race. Here’s the progression, race by race.
Half Marathon #1: Disney World Marathon Weekend (January 2010)
Finish Time: 1:58:38 (9:03/mile)
Training: completed according to the plan
Race Summary: Great running atmosphere with plenty of distracting hoopla, plus cold weather! But the hills (the highway ramps) were brutal—I didn’t walk, but I almost cried. It really hurt from mile 11 to the end. Read all about it here.
Half Marathon #2: Illinois Marathon Weekend (May 2010)
Finish Time: 2:05:06 (9:32/mile)
Training: completed according to the plan with longer runs just under 9-minute pace
Race Summary: A flat course with decent entertainment, but it was very humid and warmer weather than I had trained in. I ran the first 10K with a friend who was running the full marathon, and we were at 8:45 pace (so great!). But then the weather and my mind turned against me, and I walked—a lot. And I cried with disappointment once I got home. It was not fun. I did not bother writing about it here.
Half Marathon #3: Disney World Marathon Weekend (January 2011)
Finish Time: 2:00:57 (9:13/mile)
Training: completed beyond the plan, with several 12 to 14 mile runs (felt beyond ready!)
Race Summary: The same great running atmosphere but better because my running buddy Rosa was with me. The warmer weather got to me mentally, as did the cruel highway ramps—I didn’t walk, but I did cry. It was fun till mile 9, and that’s when I got overwhelmed. I just wanted it to be done, but I had four more miles of self-inflicted pain to go. It was rough. Read all about it here.
Half Marathon #4: Illinois Marathon Weekend (April 2011)
Finish Time: 2:05:07 (9:33/mile)
Training: due to a heavy workload, my training was sporadic with only three longer, double-digit runs
Race Summary: This race should have been a total bust. My training was terrible. I was sick on race day (congestion/cold and no voice). It was extremely windy. But somehow, everything clicked. The flat course, running with Rosa, the overcast day—all good for me. We started out slow (so crowded!), and the miles kept flying by. I felt great, the whole race! I finished 13.1 miles feeling like I could have gone farther and faster. What is that?! This wasn’t my fastest time, but I am so encouraged!
So what’s the secret to an enjoyable half marathon? Don’t expect everything to be perfect. If your training goes great, you may have bad weather on race day. If the weather is great on race day, you may be sick. If you feel great before the race, but the course may have too many highway ramps at the end.
Basically, the key is to do the best you can with the set of circumstances you have that day. That’s better than perfect. It’s real. And enjoyable!