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Run Like Fred, a half Marathon story

I have been running for some years now, but I still find it hard. My legs are too short, my pace not fluent enough, and the whole concept of runners high is still a mystery to me. I am not a runner. But still, I run, and this is my kilometre by kilometre diary the last time I ran a half marathon.

Things started off bad

Fred Stepanov
I leave home at 08.30, the race is going to start in roughly an hour. I don’t have a car, and there’s around 5 kilometres to the starting area, so I decide to take my bicycle. But I had a struck of bad luck. I had a flat tire 600 meters away from home on my bicycle, so I had to run back and change to my sons bicycle, and then get to the starting area in time.

When I finally got there, I was very late. The race was going to start in 5 minutes, and still I hadn’t got my chip, I hadn’t changed clothes and I hadn’t warmed up. Shit!

I just threw the bike away, tried to find the chip spot, got the chip, fastened it to my shoelaces, stripped off my clothes, threw them into a plastic bag in a corner, prayed that I would find it again and ran to the starting line.

As the announcer called all 3.000 runners to take their positions, I was stressed out. I had not warmed up physically, and mentally I wasn’t ready at all.

Go straight to the 5 Things I’ve Learned »

The race

0-1 km: Bang! It´s 09:30 in the morning. Off we go, and I just try not to step and run into other people. I find myself trapped behind three big ladies, wearing T-shirts saying “Walking is as good as running”. Do I need to say they were walking…erhhh…quite slowly?

1-2 km: A little more room now. I focus on finding my normal running pace, thinking about how I extend my legs, lifting my pelvis to an upright position, keeping my shoulders low and remembering to breathe.

2-3 km: I run. Things are working, and as we are running through the outskirts of the city, and the morning sun fights it´s way through the clouds, I feel alive and happy.

3-4 km: We are now a small group of people running at the same pace, and I notice a guy running in a T-shirt saying “I run for the police, not from the police”. That´s a good statement. There’s another guy with a T-shirt saying: “As long as I´m out running, I don´t have to stay at home with my wife”. The cobblestones of the city have now changed into concrete. Nice, I like concrete, it gives you good friction and you won´t slip even if has been raining.

4-5 km: I feel just right. Legs are working, lungs are pumping, I check my watch and see that I have been using 4,40 minutes per kilometre up until now, it´s all according to plan. I have just begun to run, and my body is fully awake, I´m not sweating, I´m not thirsty and everything is just perfect. No wind, no rain, no sun, and that girl a few meters in front of me have beautiful long legs and the most perfect (…) to focus at.

5-6 km: As we enter a stretch of somewhat slippery concrete with some sand on top of it (this is an area where the city is building the new headquarters of the national broadcasting company, and they also plan for a new line of the subway) I for the first time notice that I´m a little hot. A small streak of sweat lingers on my forehead, and finds its way into the corner of my eye.

6-7 km: For the first time, I notice my legs. They work all right, but I can now feel them. I feel the impact from the concrete working its way into my lower legs through the knees and into my thighs, pelvis and lower back and of course, stomach. I had the perfect runner’s breakfast: One cup of coffee without milk, one bowl of oat meal with milk and frozen strawberries and a dash of sugar on top, one leaf of bread with Nutella. But still: The contents of my bowel are now telling me that they don’t like to be twisted from side to side.

7-8 km: We now enter a long stretch. It´s stretching for about 3 kms ahead, slightly upwards and the wind has been picking up from nowhere. This is not funny, knowing that everything you can expect for the next 15 or so minutes is just pacing upwards, keeping the rhythm and ignoring the very normal thoughts saying “Why do you do this?. This is stupid. Just stop. Go home. Read a book. Go get a cup of coffee…

8-9 km: Thinking about getting home and relaxing with the paper. Running alone. No girls to look at, but legs and stomach have gotten used to these new terms of activity now. I am slightly bored.

9-10 km: I now leave the upward stretch and enter a forest area, but the wind keeps on pushing from the left. Disturbing, but at least I don’t feel it coming right into my face anymore. There is a control post, and I use 20 seconds to grab a glass of Powerade and a glass of water. I have been running for almost 44 minutes now, and just getting 20 seconds of rest is nice. At 10 kilometres, my watch says 43 minutes and 30 seconds.

10-11 km: This race is not for those who need new horizons. No, the second part of the race is actually the first part all over again. This is both good and bad: You know the path but you also know what to expect. I feel fine: Legs are ok, lungs and stamina are fine, but I notice a small pain in my back, just where my kidneys are. There is a theory, saying that you will get pain from your kidneys while running, as they get more oxygen-enriched blood pumped into them, and as this is new to them, they protest, like all parts of the body being exposed to something new.

11-12 km: Just running. I notice one guy, who got off at an alarmingly high speed at the start, about my age but maybe a little bigger and heavier. He is having severe difficulties, panting and sweating. His face is very red, and he looks to be in pain. I guess he just started out too fast. Running for more than a few kilometres requires that you find your pace, and not running faster than your body can keep up to. If he manages to fulfil the race, he will be in bad hurting for the next 45 to 55 minutes, and if he is in bad shape, this will give him either very sore muscles for the next couple of days or, if his very unlucky, a stroke.

12-13 km: I´m just flying! Now, this is the way you´re supposed to feel while running. I keep my 4 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometre, and it is a gratifying feeling to pass those runners who set off so happily almost an hour ago. I recognize a few of them: The bodybuilder guy, the thin stepmother pushing 60 and the guy being the star of the company runners club. They all thought that if you just give it all you got from the start, you could make it to the end. But they couldn´t.

13-14 km: The sun makes its entrance again. Disturbing, but I try to keep in the shade, and grab another cup of water. I try to keep my legs long and relaxed, and try to keep my shoulders low. A lot of the runners I pass and see are way too tense. Running is a natural thing, this is what our bodies are supposed to do, and its stupid to be tense about something natural. I feel fine, and I look at the sky, the clouds, I feel the wind slowing down and think about what to eat as soon as I reach the finish line.

14-15 km: Wham! It just hits me, as a sudden rush of alcohol dispensing in your blood. My legs suddenly feel tired; the pain that I ignored from my kidneys is back and I´m actually sweating now. My t-shirt, which was cool and dry, as now soaked with sweat and somewhat heavy.

15-16 km: I again experience that long boring slightly upward stretch, with the wind again challenging my whole body, now at an even more sturdier strength. This hurts. I try, I really try to keep my pace, but it is hard to keep your spirits high, when all you see is… 2 kilometres more of running against the wind. It’s hard, it’s brutal.

16-17 km: Now I notice that I do run slower. I try, I do try, but legs, body and mind don’t answer to my prayers. I´m not keeping the 4 minutes and 30 seconds pace per kilometre right now, but clock myself at 5 minutes per kilometre. I don’t like this anymore.

17-18 km: Finally, I reach the woods again, but the last 3 kilometres have robbed me of a lot of energy. My feet are OK, but my left calf is burning, cramping, and my whole left leg says “Stop now. Why do you do this?”. Lungs are OK, I´m not really sweating anymore, but I´m really thirsty. Luckily, there is a waterhole coming up, and I use 30 seconds getting a glass of water and 30 beautiful seconds of rest for my left leg.

18-19 km: So, this is what it has come to. Pain. So stupid, that my body can do it, my lungs and brain and stomach can do it, but my left calf can´t do it. I run on, but this really hurts now. But still, if I just keep on this pace, I will be seeing the finishing line in about 15 minutes. That feels nice!

19-20 km: I get some help. A guy (thanks to you, whoever you are and if you ever read this!) runs up to me and says “Yeah, I know it hurts, I hurt to. But in 10 minutes this is all over with. Why not finish in style? Follow me!” And he just runs off, in a blaze of energy. And I follow. I run again, not actually feeling my feet, my hurting calf or my kidneys anymore.

20-21 km: I spurt at an 4 minutes per kilometre pace up to the sign saying “These are the last 400 metres” and those 400 metres are just so nice to enter. I run between high rises, the harbour, I see the spectators, hear the cheers and suddenly I see the finishing line. As I pass, I get this stupid feeling of being to slow, why didn´t I run faster? But still, this it what it comes down to. If I could have run faster, I would have. But I didn´t. My result gets to be 1 hour, 43 minutes and 33 seconds. And that´s all right by me. I just relax, get a cup of soup and a slice of bread, and feel very very proud. I did it.

The preparations

There are different theories about how to be a good runner. Some say, that to be able to run long distance, you have to run long distances, and others say, that running that long will cause damage and not strengthen but exhausting your muscles.

I believe in both. So my training programme for this event was running for 7-10 kilometres 3 times a week, and during one of these runs using interval training, including parkour-style training like running up stairs, jumping up and down from benches and rocks, that way strengthening the joints and ligaments in my feet and legs. I began this programme roughly 10 weeks before the race. It is probably also a good idea just once to run for lets say 15-17 kilometres, just to get that “I can!” feeling. If you can run for 15 kilometres, you can run for 21.

So if you´re aiming at running the marathon, my simple but useful tips must be doubling my amount of kilometres, and combine it with a few very long trips, but not more often than once a month. And don’t forget to do other activities like weightlifting, boxing, playing football and swimming once in a while.

That will give you a more balanced body mass in the first place, and secondly, women usually don´t find ultra thin long distance runners super attractive. And maybe most important of all: your mind needs distraction and a little play, not only the steady pace of running alone.

5 things I’ve learned from this race

  1. Come well prepared and make sure you arrive to the race in time to stretch out, warm up and mentally convincing yourself that this will be a great experience.
  2. When starting out, my strategy with starting quite slowly, letting the body getting adjusted at its own pace, worked just fine. I was not really physically tired at the end, but more annoyed from the pain.
  3. The 20 to 30 seconds breaks for slowing down and getting water is well spent time, It´s really hard to drink while running and you will either way slow your pace while drinking. So get that short rest and drink properly. Take your time to smile and say thank you to that kind person giving you your drink.
  4. At the end of the race, I forgot to focus at the kilometres left behind; I forgot to be happy about what I had achieved. If I had been better at this, I would probably finished better and maybe not that focused at the pain. This is an important learning.
  5. I now know that 21 kilometres surely requires some training and preparations to be run properly, but I didn´t really use that much time to the project. If I would invest some real time into running, running the real thing, the marathon, should be within reach 6 months. I am not sure yet, but I do feel a little tempted…

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2 thoughts on “Run Like Fred, a half Marathon story

  1. Philip Chræmmer

    This is a very fascinating description of a half marathon. It really gives the impression of how it felt to be in your mind and body. It sounds like it has been a transcendent experience.

    Way to go buddy


  2. Jez

    Great article. I’m working on being a more stable runner myself. I prefer listening to SpeedGarage or Breakbeats while running – it keeps the blood pumping.