Five Keys to Crushing Your Half Marathon

If you’re like me, you enjoy doing well at stuff. Nothing feels as good as the satisfaction of a job well done. Things I enjoy doing well include, but are not limited to: bar trivia, parenting, Ms. Pac-Man, and running half marathons.

When it comes to half marathons “doing well” is graded on a bit of a curve. I’m not interested in being one of the top finishers, primarily because it would be physically impossible for me to be one of the top finishers. So instead, I set my sights on “doing well” in a more relative sense. My goal is simply to post a time that’s close to, if not a little bit faster than, my last half marathon.

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Your author (#651) is smiling because he has yet to hit his first hill.

This strategy has worked well for me thus far. I’ve run six half marathons in the last 3 years and with each one, my time has improved. My most recent attempt (the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon in Hood River, OR) was my best half to date. I finished with a time of 1:52:44, which was more than three minutes faster than the Tacoma City Half I ran in the spring.

You’re probably thinking, “Wow. That’s really good. I wish I could do that.” Well, you can. All you need to do is follow my Five Keys to Crushing Your Half Marathon!

Key #1: Training
Training is obviously the foundation to any successful race. You must take the time to fine tune your body so it can handle to rigors of running a briskly-paced 13.1 miles. This fall my training was four weeks shorter than I would’ve liked because my wife and I waited until the end of summer to decide on a race. When I finally did get after it, my legs felt like garbage because I foolishly embarked on a 31-day running streak in August. (This was a horrible mistake.) My preparation also suffered in October due to a busy schedule, including two weekends out of town. 

Key #2: Course Selection
If you want to post your best time ever, be sure to select the hilliest course humanly possible. It’s even better if you’re bad at reading the elevation charts on the event’s website so that you’re rather surprised on race day by the shear amount of uphill running. In last week’s “Five Goals” post  I described the Columbia Gorge course as an “out and back.” It could also be aptly described as an “uphill and downhill.”

Key #3: Pre-Race Workout
The day before a half marathon I like to get in a “shakeout” run. You know, a leisurely couple of miles to loosen up those leg muscles and get the blood flowing. Saturday morning I shook it out real good. Saturday afternoon I continued to loosen my legs by ascending a few hundred stairs found in the heart of Hood River. Sunday morning I felt my calves were hungover.

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Want tight calves for your race? Climb these stairs the day before.

Key #4: Pre-Race Diet
Carbo-loading is an important part of running long distances. You need to fuel your body adequately so that you have an abundance of energy on race day. Some might advice a pasta dinner. I would suggest pizza and beer. A simple 10” wood-fired pepperoni and a micro-brewed pilsner should do the trick. And whatever you do, make sure you eat the whole pizza. Leftovers are for losers.

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Mmmmm. The perfect dietary choice the day before a half marathon.

Key #5: Positive Mindset
If you can think it, you can do it. Some overly positive person once said that. And it’s a nice sentiment. However, I’d like to suggest that sometimes not thinking about it can be better. Lackluster training led me to believe a race time regression was a foregone conclusion. So I didn’t think much about it. And I didn’t worry about everything I ate. And I didn’t worry about climbing hundreds of stairs. I relaxed and drank a little beer and ate a little pizza (okay a lot of pizza) and vowed to simply enjoy the race. In fact, I was so interested in “enjoying the race” I made several quick stops along the course to take a few snapshots of the picturesque course.

And you know what happened? I crushed it. Totally crushed it. Not only did I end up PR-ing, but I actually PR-ed by 3:32. All signs pointed towards a ho-hum half, but instead I did great.

Why did I do so well? There were a few factors, but I believe totally relaxing and not giving a f@#k probably went a long way. I let go of my expectations and was totally fine with it. I gave up… but in a good way.

Relax. Let go of everything. And head for the light.
Relax. Let go of everything. And head for the light.

I’m sure I’m not unique. I’m sure other runners have had similar experiences where they went into races with poor training and modest expectations and ended up posting their best times. I know my wife had a similar experience in San Francisco a few years ago and it kind of blew her mind.

You want to crush your half marathon? Do your own loose interpretation of  keys 1-4. Then come race weekend, forget about all of it. Adjust your mindset. Stop worrying. Drop your expectations. Just relax. Let go.

Don’t give a f@#k.

It’s a great technique. I just wished I’d discovered it sooner.

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