What I Learned from my First Half Marathon

Most of all I learned that I could do it! And If I can you probably can too! It was sort of 10 years in the making and pretty darn close to a life changing experience. I learned A LOT in the process about myself, running, training and how I want to be in the world.

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How I came to run a 1/2

Even though I always ran (since I was about 13) it was never my main thing. I started running laps around the lake I lived on as a child, it was a small lake. Then Lifegaurding was my thing and you had to do inservice runs each week, then single track mountain biking, then yoga, then and now it’s triathlons which brought running more into focus for me. I went for runs in the spring to get my fitness back up fast, to spend time with my friends in my undergrad, to run out the crazy of grad school and to get back into shape when grad school ended. Finally on a whim I did my first sprint triathlon and I wanted to improve my time and I was hooked. I was a daily runner, 9 months a year for years at a time in college, in challenging times and during the first 2 years of my PhD. It was then that I started toying with the idea of either yoga teacher training or a 1/2. Both were helping me to cope with a break-up I didn’t really want and becoming the senior PhD student in a lab often missing a supervisor. Either or seemed like the next logical level and the only thing I had besides work. Even though I knew that I needed something besides work each seemed like a demand that was too great and that I should focus my energy there. So at 23 I decided training for and running a 1/2 marathon was too much of a time commitment.

About 6 months after graduation it was time to get back to self care and me time. I needed to make some tweaks to make my lifestyle healthier. The demands of school were behind me and I got back on my bike hard and running to get my fitness back up in the spring and keep it up in the winter. Two years after graduation I decided to run my first official road race after, sort of, banditing the city’s big one in an evening gown the year before and a couple of sprits in. After that 10 k, I decided it might very well be now or never, so 10 years after deciding I couldn’t run a 1/2 at 33, I went for it.

What I learned about training

As weird as it sounds I never really trained for anything before my first 1/2 marathon. Sure Lifegaurding meant I had to swim 500 m in 10 minuets, sometimes I was close to the line but I always got it done. I had done bike races and century rides but I loved biking so the fun rides I got to do was training enough to do pretty decent. I could do the most advanced yoga poses but that flexibility was mostly god given. But beyond saying I should get out there that race is coming up I never did follow a disciplined plan.

Taking on a half was different though. I was a runner but not an endurance runner or at all fast. I’d probably gone for two runs ever over 10 km and 6k was a long run compared to the usual 4. I used the old plans that used to be built into the nike app for the 10k but trailed off with a month to go and signed up for the beginner 1/2 plan there too when the time came. Five days a week my phone pinged and I did what it told me to for three months after that. It was a great plan and I used it for the basis of mine because I thought it prepared me so well.

So what did I learn about training? Well for starters do you very best not to read or at least stress about the runs later in the plan. You might not be ready now but you will be by then. Yes following a plan is designed to get you into the physical shape you need to be but for me at least, It was also about 60% mental. While it’s important that you are increasing your level of fitness and endurance as the weeks wear on you also start to believe that it is possible to accomplish something you could never do.

I learned that I liked the regularity of training and that getting out there at 9:30 pm after spending the day on a roof lugging shingles wasn’t that bad. I also learned that at some point as it gets more intense and you can ignore that for a while but at some point something has to give. With about 5 weeks to go I had a chat with my fiancé, who totally understood that until peak week I needed to make time for training a priority. I had come this far and there was no way I was giving up now. But a lot of my time was spent googling why I was doing what I was doing. My plan gave me distances and intensities but that was about it. I craved more information about long runs, speed work and race day strategies and a lot of time I should have been sleeping was spent picking up one piece of information here and another there. I would have been nice to find it all in one place!

Overall I learned that you need to trust in your plan, which I did but I would have liked something more comprehensive. Things I learned on a running blog by chance on week 8 would have been nice to know from the start. Also tell me to run 7 km not 6.84 km, runners don’t round! That’s what I tried to create in my half plan a one stop shop for a runner training for a 1/2.

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What I learned about running

I should have known that I would learn a lot about running other than how to run far, but it ended up with so much more new information. I learned the difference between regular runs, speed work and long runs and how to approach them. I learned that I actually liked running longer, that it really does start to get good later and my usual 5k’s were holding me back from finding that great point. I learned that if you can run 12 km with our stopping you feel unstoppable in so many aspects of your life. I learned that running is a way to spend time alone without ever feeling lonely. I learned how to double dress to sneak a run in. I learned that foam rolling was a thing, so were epsom salt baths and that cross training really does prevent injuries.

What I learned about racing

You need a strategy for race day, you really do! I thought in training for the bluenose 10 k in May that this might be the year. I signed up for a 5k July 1st after my knee healed and a half the 2nd of October. I really had never ran a road race before that year and when I had a strategy I did better. I found out that you will be faster on a race day and how to pregame for a race to make it less stressful. Almost none of your runs need to be all out for you to pull off a PR. I learned from my 1/2 how really racing actually feels and how to race against yourself.

I had more in my tank when I finished the half and could have gone harder. But after my 10k at bluenose this year then came home and had a nap. Also not every racer will do their best with one race day strategy and you need to explore yours.

What I learned about myself

I really didn’t expect to learn anything about myself, but I did and confirmed somethings I already knew to be true. First of all confirming that having a routine and sticking in it brings me a lot of comfort. Numerous running blogs offer the advise to plan new routes to beat out boredom. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I loved the fact I would be running the exact same stretch of road on long runs just a bit more of it. Always turn left for long runs and head straight other runs, turn right and I vary the route on those. Silly, pointless but it makes me happy and to start out on a new route would make me feel super anxious and itchy.

Being I tiny little powerhouse rocks and it’s important to me! So I’m not short but I’m not taking up a aloe lot of space otherwise. But I love being able to shatter people’s expectations of what I can do. Not only can I pick up the 25 kg bag of concrete that is literally half my body weight I can carry it up the hill for you too. I can do full lotus and a headstand, run 21 km without stopping and lug 90 bundles of shingles up 2 stories of staging. I’ve known I like being capable of more than people first assume for a while but it turns out I like a physical challenge too.

My body truly can do anything! The great part is now I know that. I joked with honey recently that should we find ourselves in a 127 hours situation I might as well stop  chopping off my arm right away but if he’s stuck I’ll be right back with a helicopter. I’ve done a lot of physically challenging things but it took one I once thought was impossible to finally make it sink in.

What I learned about being in the world

I already knew that just the act of getting fit and staying fit changes how you view the world. You don’t have to be in marathon shape to get the benefits of it though. Knowing you can run 5k, hell even 1 km without stopping is something most people can’t do. Even though it takes a decent amount of hard work and dedication knowing I can run over 20 km without stopping makes me feel so lucky and grateful! Lots of people say you only get one life enjoy it to the fullest but now I also think that you only get one body to do that in and you don’t want that to be what holds you back.

I learned that my family, especially my mom and my partner are there to support me if given the chance. That was only 4% new information with my partner but I think that had I given her more chances I would have learned that about my mom sooner. While things aren’t as frosty between us we have been more Emily and Lorelei than Lorelei and Rory for over a decade, getting closer to two. She genuinely took an interest in my training, showed up and stood in the raid with Richard for the last hour or more and generally in the process showed me a side I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. But it’s not to say it’s at all one sided, the race just gave us an opportunity to come together again. It sounds silly but I really appreciate it.


My sister, her husband and her tiny newborn daughter came out for the very last bit too. Not that I have any really nagging regrets but I do wish that I spent a bit more time enjoying my finish line time. I was more concerned about everyone being cold and inconveniencing them. I’m grateful my mom and mostly Richard slowed me down and made me take pictures. It wasn’t until the drive home I realized it was three generations of ladies in my family were there to cheer me on, right after that I got a bit teary.

In the process of training and racing I finally realized why being fit is so important to me. Perhaps it was the 80+ hours I spent out pounding the roads training in that race season made me question why I was doing this? Before that training season I thought I did it because I should, because it made me look good, to stay healthy and to blow off stress and steam. Perhaps it’s age or time to think but it scares me to think of what happened to my dad at such a young age that I have always/ usually made fitness a priority. I also see it happening to people my age I have known most of my life. A great friend’s husband and father of four young kids has a myriad of serious and lifestyle related health conditions, some times even landing him admitted to hospital at 32. I find myself doing the math for his kids I was so used to doing the same math I did as a child. 11 more years means he gets to see them graduate from high school (43), 16 years for college (48), 24 until they get married (54) and 32 to meet his grand kids (64). The clock ran out for my dad earlier than I ever though it would. Even though I don’t have kids I want to be there for certain things. I want to meet all of honey’s grand kids in the next 14 years (48), see my new little niece graduate (maybe from her dad’s and my alma matter in 22 years (56), see my new little nieces and nephews all get married over the next 35 years (69) and have children after that (76). If I play my cards right I might even get to see one or two of them graduate from Mt. Allison too (91). In short I don’t want to miss a thing because I didn’t take care of myself earlier on. And… while I’m working on 91 I want to live in a body that I love and skip those final years of sickness and ill health. I really did figure all of this out while training of my 1st half marathon. It was also in that process that the beginnings of this blog came to be.

Part of the reason I created this plan is because one fairly similar got me across the line of my first 1/2 and it’s no longer available. Mine was just a list of intensities and distances but this is so much more. I would appreciate it if you checked it out in my Etsy Shop or follow me here for more upcoming posts!

I plan of doing a post about the practical and specific tips I learned in training for my 1st hard marathon too, so stay tuned. Do you agree with this stuff, or did you learn something totally opposite in training for and completing a big race.



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