Early in 2017, I set a goal for myself: to run a shitty half-marathon.
My thinking was basically:
- 2016 was a not-great fitness year.
- I’m a dad of two young kids and not a lot of time on his hands…
- …so if I try to run a sub-whatever-time half-marathon, I’m probably gonna fail.
- But a shitty half-marathon is doable, and still difficult.
Or, to quote myself:
I’m going to adjust my definition of success. Specifically, downward.
Well, guess what, mofos? I did not run a shitty half marathon.
I ran two.
And here’s the real kicker: the second one turned out to be my best pace ever. I don’t even know how the fuck I did this, except that I know exactly how I did this.
Before I get started: This should not at all be construed as official running or training advice. I am not a coach, a doctor, a professional runner of any sort, or even a guy who is all that physically fit. What I am is a dude who has figured out a way to run long distances without stopping. This works for me — doesn’t mean it will work for you. Honestly: when in doubt, assume I’m an idiot.
Anyway. Here’s how I ran a shitty half-marathon.
1. I prioritized consistency over performance.
I knew I wasn’t gonna get a nine-mile run in multiple times per week. But I knew I could almost always make time for at least one mile. And I knew that if I stepped outside to run one mile, I’d probably end up ultimately doing at least a little more than that.
Some days, I really did only run one mile. Others, I went out with the intention of running just one and knocked out four, five, or six.
Truthfully, I didn’t really care. Some of my one-milers were more satisfying than some of my six-milers. I went off feel. That felt like my best run ever — even if my pace sucked or if it was way shorter than what I was scheduled to do.
Feelings like that are important. They keep you going and get you excited for whatever’s next.
Hot tip: There’s nothing like being able to look back and see what you’ve accomplished. And for me, an app just won’t do. I got one of Tracksmith’s free (less shipping) “No Days Off” calendars [Update: They may not be free, free anymore] and put a red X through each day that I completed a workout. No, I’m not being paid to say this. Yes, I would absolutely take payment or gifts from them if they asked me.
2. I had a plan for when shit inevitably went south.
One mile of walking — that was my bare minimum that I was determined to accomplish on the days I had a workout scheduled.
A mile of walking is stupid easy. For me, it was basically the equivalent of, OK, I’ll get off of my bus two stops early, or, I’ll walk around the block a few times on my lunch break.
Why make it so easy? That’s the goddamn point. If my minimum was too high, I knew I’d fail to do it and then just feel awful. Making it easy enough to hit no matter what meant that I’d still feel good about myself and be motivated to get up and try again the next day.
This was hugely important. Maybe the most important thing. Because I knew there’d be days:
- The kids would wake up early and I wouldn’t be able to run.
- I’d stay up too late or drink the night before and feel like shit in the morning.
- I’d get sick.
- Some other bullshit.
I knew I could always knock out a one-mile walk. Whether I did it in full workout gear or wingtips and slacks didn’t matter. It was a mile either way.
3. I switched things up.
I get bored easily. I’m one of those people who will hear a song, think, Oh, that’s good! and then kill it by listening to it 200 times in a row over the next two days.
I love running. But I also get insanely bored with it.
So as often as I could, I’d switch up my routine to make it less of a routine. Midway through the year, I started to mix in weight training at my local YMCA. I did that two times a week.
I ran the other four (I gave myself one planned day off per week), and I’d change those up by making them different types of runs.
- Sunday was always for long runs. I knew that.
- Tuesday was for recovery runs, meaning I’d just shuffle my feet along at the slowest pace possible.
- Thursdays and Saturdays were the ones where I’d always try something out of the ordinary. I’d run through a part of town I’d never been to before, try fartleks, or do a hill course.
The variety helped keep me interested. And I think — I don’t know — it may have made me a stronger runner by keeping my muscles guessing, too.
4. I forgave myself.
Some days I just had to remind myself:
You’re a 33-year-old dad, not a professional runner. Chill out.
There were days when I shot my eating plan straight to hell. There were days where I couldn’t even bring myself to walk a mile. There were days where I could, but I decided to just sit around eating doughnuts instead.
Look, if you’re gonna run a distance race, you’ve gotta get used to taking the long view. One day of shitty behavior or bad running isn’t going to kill you. A string of days like that won’t kill you. You string together multiple strings — OK, maybe it’s time to refocus.
The point for me was to be able to look at the long arc of my year and say, I got in a workout more often than I didn’t.
So, to recap, here’s how to run a shitty half-marathon…
- Be consistent, not good.
- Have a plan ahead of time for what to do when everything goes wrong.
- Break your routine.
- Relax and have fun.
Fun facts about my shitty half-marathon
I benefitted a lot from reading about other people’s training experiences. So here are a few random facts about things I did/used/etc. that helped me make it to my goal.
- My first half-marathon of the year was one that I just ran around my neighborhood by myself. I walked-ran it and my time was 2:24:32.
- I later ran the Seattle Marathon Half-Marathon and my finishing time was 2:26:27. That’s juuuust under 11 minutes per mile.
- (The half I ran around my neighborhood was slightly shorter, and my pace was more than 11 minutes per mile.)
- I rotated between a small handful of shoes, including the Brooks Glycerin 12s, the Adidas PureBoost Climas (in white, my favorites), the Brooks Ravenna VIs, and some old-ass Nike Pegasuses, which I don’t think they sell anymore.
- Food: My wife works for Clif Bar and I ate a lot of those on my longer runs. I also brought a couple along on the official half-marathon day. (Mojo Bars — they’re delicious.) My favorite thing, though, was to pack an almond-butter-and-jelly sandwich and eat it midway.
- Hydration: Water. Don’t fuck around with Gatorade or any of that shit.
- My go-to app was/is RunKeeper.
- I started training on Super Bowl Sunday and it was snowing. When I ran my first half of the year, it was pushing 90.
- During training, I ran in the dark, in the rain, in the sun, in the snow, in multiple layers, in shorts, in Seattle, in Hawaii, in the morning (almost always), at night, in the middle of the day, occasionally twice in one day, with a stroller, with a double stroller, without any stroller, with a phone, without a phone, in shoes, out of shoes, with and without headphones, with and without music playing, and also podcasts, on a treadmill, on the street, on grass, on trails, on the beach, up hills, down hills, across flats…I ran well, I ran poorly…I ran a lot.