How To Run A Half-Marathon: A Guide For Slackers

How To Run A Half-Marathon: A Guide For Slackers

I didn’t really advertise the fact that I was registered for a half-marathon before it happened. I would like to believe that this reflects my humility. I know, however, that I was just terrified of failing and then having to tell people about this failure (also, I really want Will deFries to like me). You see, I am not exactly the “type” that one would expect to run a half-marathon. I am a former NCAA athlete (emphasis on “former”) that has put on about thirty pounds since my playing days while languishing through an over-priced, three-year graduate program with somewhat suspect career prospects (one guess). Even when I was an athlete, I hated distance running. The monotony combined with the physical exertion was just something my brain was not designed to handle. After almost two years of drastically reduced exercise with no corresponding reduction in food, caffeine, or alcohol intake, even a two-mile jog seemed an insurmountable obstacle.

So, when my buddy asked me back in August if I wanted to do the Austin Half-Marathon, my immediate mental reaction was negative. But I should now mention something else about myself: I feed off of other people’s doubts. I knew from the start that my family, girlfriend (now fiancée), friends, and classmates would doubt my ability and initiative to actually do this shitty thing and this motivated me like I wish the prospect of a high-paying job or the phrase “cum laude” would. So I said I would do it. Then about a month later I actually registered for the thing. Then about a month after that, I tried jogging a little. Then after another month, I did a few 5-mile runs with my two friends who were registered with me. Then I did basically nothing in the two weeks leading up to the run. Then it was the Friday before the race and it was time to head down I-35 to my buddy’s lake house in Austin. That’s where the guide will start, because it is really all you need to know:

8 p.m., Friday, February 12, 2016 (35 hours to race time)

I arrived at my buddy’s lake house and we immediately went out for Tex-Mex. We went to Matt’s El Rancho. It has awesome food and margs and it was in Austin before Austin became… Austin, so I like it a lot. Anyway, we each had two drinks or more so we were feeling pretty loose.

Editor’s Note: The moment I moved to Austin, I was told, “Matt’s El Rancho’s Margaritas are like boobs — one isn’t enough and three is too many.” This is also the location for 95% of Grandex’s sizzle Snapchats.

10 p.m., Friday, February 12, 2016 (33 hours to race time)

Naturally, I wanted to relive my glory days on the Dirty Sixth. One of my buddies had never been to Sixth Street before, and that justification far outweighed any countervailing considerations like the fact that we would be attempting to run 13.1 miles in about 30 hours. So, we got an Uber and hopped out at Trinity and 7th. Out of habit, I almost told the driver that he better be back at the same spot at 2:05 a.m. to pick us up “or else,” but I caught myself. Those days are in the past, sadly. Anyway, we had a blast. We drank a few of those nasty pitchers of Long Island Iced Tea, took a whiskey shot, then settled on G & Ts for the rest of the night (we were in training, after all). The details are pretty fuzzy, but it was a damn good time.

7 a.m., Saturday, February 13, 2016 (24 hours to race time)

I woke up and enjoyed the five seconds before I discerned that my mouth felt like a Colombian sewer, my head was literally pounding, and my stomach was telling me, “I’m not mad, I’m just disgusted.” My fiancée briefly woke up to inform me that I had been a dick the night before (truly, I was young again), but this would not factor into my calculus for at least another four hours. I had one desire in mind, “marijuana.” Unfortunately I no longer (regularly) associated with people who used or distributed this proven hangover-crusher, so I was forced to settle for Advil liquid gels. I took four and got back into bed.

11 a.m., Saturday, February 13, 2016 (20 hours to race time)

I awoke once more and came to the tragic conclusion that I could not force myself to sleep any longer. I still felt awful when my fiancée helpfully reminded me that in less than 24 hours I would be trudging my way up Congress Ave, heading back down 1st Street, crawling around Lake Austin Boulevard, then probably suffering cardiac arrest on Enfield before the hearse carried me around the bend on Colorado to cross the line back on Congress. This was probably my lowest moment. I think it was the only time that I felt like I could not do this race. Self-loathing and anxiety began pouring in as they often do after a night of heavy drinking, but this time, they had their object in something very real and seemingly imminent: the prospect of failing to run this race.

12 p.m., Saturday, February 13, 2016 (19 hours to race time)

My buddies and their respective partners had arisen before me and made breakfast. I ate a bit, but I mostly felt too sick. We went out on my friend’s boat and saw Andy Roddick’s house, so that was neat. I still felt like shit and very in doubt of my prospects for the race, but at least I had something else to fixate on.

3 p.m., Saturday, February 13, 2016 (16 hours to race time)

My buddy realized that we needed to go get our “race packets,” by 6 p.m. from the Palmer Events Center: Right smack dab in the middle of the traffic atrocity that has become Austin, Texas. We got in a damn Acura and traversed the windy, narrow roads around Westlake. I was a little paranoid that Roger Dorn would come whipping around a corner with the BMW that his parents bought him and send us careening to our deaths, but we finally got into town. In my condition, I felt like I was going to yak any second. We parked outside of a snow cone shop, but then got paranoid about being towed so we moved to some alley. We got into Palmer and, of course, they put the registration tables in the back so that you have to walk through all manner of yuppie try-hards attempting to sell you worthless crap before you can get your packet. I remember thinking that they could have just mailed the damn thing to us and spared us all the headache, not to mention the extra traffic caused by 15,000 people descending on this place to get a damn piece of paper with a “tracking chip,” in it and some pins. Ugh, I’m becoming the grumpy old man I said I never would be. But I digress.

Oh yeah, and then we found out that Justice Scalia died. Really a low point of the trip overall.

7 p.m., Saturday, February 13, 2016 (12 hours to race time)

We went out for some Italian food. I got fettuccini alfredo because I saw this episode of The Office in which Michael eats pasta before his race to help him with energy or something. After, we went back to the house and got ready for bed.

12 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (7 hours to race time)

I can feel anxiety literally pulsing through my whole body. I am so nervous that I cannot sleep. I just keep shuffling in the bed, undoubtedly pissing off my fiancée, and trying to lose consciousness. I start having this stupid anxiety that I am going to have a heart attack during the race, but I quash that with my amazing mental powers.

5:30 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (1 hour and 30 minutes to race time)

I hear the sound of an alarm. It doesn’t feel like I ever fell asleep but I guess I did. I wake up, get ready, and kiss my fiancée. “You can do this, you’ll do great,” she says sleepily. She’s a saint. I still feel nauseous from the prior day’s hangover, or the nerves, or both. I go downstairs where my buddies are also rousing. One of my buddies who wasn’t running agreed to wake up and drive us to the start line. He’s a saint. We got there without too much incident, although the road closures were a bit of a pain. Stupid marathon.

6:55 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (5 minutes to race time)

I’ve got my bib on and am all ready to go. I am standing with my two buddies. There are so many people around us. I guess I knew that would be the case but it was still a bit overwhelming. Some guy is talking about how great Austin is on the intercom. I wish he would shut up.

7:10 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 1)

So the race started at 7, but there are 15,000 people who need to cross the start line and the longer you expect to take to finish, the farther back you start… we were pretty far back. Finally, we crossed the start line and we were jogging. It was actually happening, and I was still scared. I decided that I would stay with one of my buddies at all costs, and I think he sort of tacitly felt the same thing. We knew we would need each other to get through this, I think. My other buddy is a stud so I had no expectation of keeping up with him.

The beginning was interesting because you see all kinds of different people. Some people just walk the whole thing and of those people some wear funny costumes. Some runners also do funny things. One guy had his chest hair shaved to look like a bikini top, which was pretty funny. One guy carried an American flag the whole way to honor veterans. There was this really old guy who was wearing this shirt that said, “The All 50 States Club.” This dude had run a full marathon in all 50 states… and it showed. It looked like he had basically no cartilage in his knees. He was literally swinging his hips to move forward. At that moment I knew that if I couldn’t do this then I was just a total pussy, and I am not a TOTAL pussy.

Another cool thing about marathons is the people that cheer you on from the sidewalks. They are really nice. Such people are some of the remnants of the authentic good nature that made Austin so cool for a while.

~8 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 5)

I am feeling good. I am right alongside my buddy (other buddy is long gone). I am just focused on keeping the same, modest pace. I found this playlist earlier on YouTube by this channel called Majestic Casual. It started with the song “Been So Good To Me” by Chris Malinchak and played more songs like that. It was perfect long-running music, very chill and relaxing. I would recommend, however, not streaming music from YouTube while running. I must have accidentally clicked off the song I was listening to twenty times. Really harshed my vibe.

~8:30 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 8)

We are now running down Lake Austin Boulevard and I am no longer feeling good. In fact, I feel very bad and I really want to stop and start walking. Luckily, my buddy is still right next to me and I’m not going to stop and give that SOB the pleasure. I know he feels the same way about me. Music is no longer achieving the desired endorphin-releasing effect so I get rid of it. We come to a pretty steep hill and I can feel the burn in my quads. I don’t have much to say about this part of the race except that it really sucked.

~8:50 p.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 10)

If you have read the book “1984” you probably remember the scene in which Winston is tortured after being arrested. They hook him up to this device. At level 10, he feels pain. At level 50, he feels excruciating pain. At level 80, he feels unbearable pain, like his tendons and muscles are ripping apart from his bones and his heart will surely explode at any second. At level 100, though, he feels extremely tranquil and relaxed. The pain is so egregious that his body simply stops processing it and replaces it with a sort of bliss.

Well, you’d probably laugh at me if I tried to compare mile 10 to that, but it’s sort of analogous. Your brain and you have come to an understanding, “I am finishing this and you might as well help me rather than being a dick.” I think some call this the “runner’s high.” It was pretty dope (amine, am I right???) I have to say, but it did not last long. The brain quickly reconsiders its agreement as the complaints from the feet, the knees, and the back come pouring in.

~9:20 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 12)

Whatever carnal, base, and cruel body determines the route for the half-marathon truly deserves a medal from Satan himself. As you cross the 11-mile marker you see in front of you the Moody Bank Building, a disturbing sight itself; but what lies beneath it is the true horror: A steep, steep hill. This hill was the Mt. Doom to my Frodo. Everyone was as leaned forward as possible to try and compensate for the sickening incline. People were literally using their hands in a sort of bear crawl to climb this cursed hill. I felt like someone was stabbing my thighs with every step, but finally both my buddy and I made it to the top.

~9:30 a.m., Sunday, February 14, 2016 (Mile 13)

The last mile (and a tenth) was a strange experience. You feel the joy of imminent success, but also the agony of the continued suffering. I refer back to my comment about the Satanic route planners. They make you turn right off of 15th and onto San Antonio. They then immediately make you turn right again up 14th, then left down Nueces and left again down 13th, then right down Colorado and left down 11th. This is clearly a little “make-up,” for a small miscalculation in the route but at this point in the race it is truly traumatizing. You have this sense that the end is near but you cannot see it until you turn right down Congress. Then, only a tenth of a mile in front of you, is the finish line. Towards the end I had this temptation to pull ahead and beat my buddy, but I knew that would not be right. We had stuck together the whole time. I looked at him and said, “we finish together,” and he looked back and nodded with a smile. We almost sprinted that last tenth of a mile, and we finished at the same time (not like that).

~9:40 a.m., Sunday February 14, 2016 (Post-Race)

The rush you feel immediately afterwards is nice, it really is. People are congratulating you, giving you food and water, and putting medals on your neck. But, that rush fades fairly quickly as your body begins to seize its opportunity to punish you for daring to put it through such an ordeal. You have to walk about 500 yards to exit this fenced area that only runners are allowed into (thanks, Tsarnaev brothers… rot in hell). It’s nice when you finally see your loved ones, though. My fiancée and my buddy’s fiancée and another of our friends made us a sign with our pictures on it, so that was sweet. Of course there’s the obligatory pictures and everything. My fiancée posted the one of her and I on her Instagram. I didn’t post any anywhere. Because of this, virtually everyone I know was informed of my spectacular achievement without me looking like a tool. Suck it, deFries.

After the pictures, you have to walk to the cars. My fiancée, bless her heart, parked in a garage without elevators five blocks away. She also neglected to remember which floor she had parked on. Thus, all three of us who had just run had to walk up 4 flights of stairs and then wait for the girls to determine if they had parked on each level. This is a minor detail, however. The main point is that they were willing to spend part of Valentine’s Day waiting for us to finish a marathon and even cared enough to make a sign. I think that makes me pretty lucky in the whole woman department. She didn’t even complain about my lackluster performance that evening.

So, in closing, I guess there are several things I would advise for a successful half-marathon. First, you should train some, but you don’t need to train that much. Second, if you’re going to a big city, enjoy yourself, you don’t need to be a Buddhist monk for three days before the race starts. Third, if you are not confident, run with a buddy. Fourth, try to make sure there is someone waiting for you at the end.

Image via Shutterstock

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