Now that I have had a little bit of time to reflect on running my first (and possibly only) half marathon, I thought I would write about my thoughts-the good and bad!
Everyone that knows me, knows that running is not exactly my favorite activity, in fact it’s probably not even in the top 10. In other words, I HATE running, so why in the world would I sign up to run 13.1 miles, or in the land of kilometers, 21 km? That just sounds like a death sentence, doesn’t it? I wish I could say there was a lot of logic behind this decision, but basically I just wanted a challenge. I thought if I did 1 half marathon that was incredibly unique, then I wouldn’t find a better race and wouldn’t need to run another race EVER AGAIN. And really what is more unique than running through the DMZ?
I’ll start with the training process and then get into race day. For most running beginners, you need 3 months to train in order to run/survive a half marathon. This meant that training started in the beginning of June. Now South Korea has a shorter summer and it isn’t quite as bad as a Georgia summer, but July and August were hot and humid. June was mainly my shorter runs of 4 or 5 miles and I could get those done in the morning before work, so those weren’t bad. Then July happened, and the runs started to get a little more difficult. Luckily, my childhood consisted of playing soccer and tennis in the middle of hot, humid summer days, so my body is very used to functioning in this weather. I actually think my body and lungs prefer that hot weather over the cold. Training was going well and I was religiously following my training plan set up by my friend that happens to be a running coach-thank God I had her help!
Then August came and it was time for summer vacation. I’m pretty sure everyone can agree that taking 2 weeks off during the last month of training probably isn’t a great idea. Oh well! I went to Thailand for 2 weeks and ran twice while there. And those 2 weeks were supposed to be my highest mileage during training, and now I’m missing that crucial time during training. My friend kept saying “don’t worry, your legs will be fine.” But when I came home and jumped back into the last 2 weeks of training, those first 2 runs were awful and painful. Mentally, I was not in a great place with running and really dreading race day. Then, Korea gave us all a gift of a heat break and my last long run of 11 miles went great! This was a HUGE turning point for me.
Sunday, September 4=RACE DAY! The day started with a 4:30am wake up since we had to meet the bus at Seoul Station, and then take a 2 hour bus ride to the DMZ…and then run 21km. Unfortunately, the heat was coming back so I really didn’t know what would be a realistic goal for myself. The time limit was 3 hours and yes my first goal was to finish. With it being my first half marathon, I really didn’t know how ambitious to make my goals. Yeah I could have just said I want to finish, but I knew that if all I did was beat 3 hours, I wouldn’t be happy. Going into the race, my biggest fear was finishing the race and not being proud of myself. After training for 3 months, I wanted to be proud at the end of this and not have a feeling of all that training was for nothing. Thankfully, I had this conversation with my friend/coach who told me to have multiple goals because there are things outside of your control, like weather and how your body feels on race day. From then on, I decided to make 3 goals: 1. Beat 2:30 2. Finish knowing I gave it my all regardless of time and 3. Take it all in and try to enjoy the experience. Yeah, I know it’s hard to enjoy running 13.1 miles when you hate running. This is a concept that I didn’t understand until I was actually running. The scenery was beautiful with mountains and fields of what I assume of be rice. For the first few kms, I made sure to observe my surroundings instead of looking down at the pavement.
I got very lucky that one person in our group ended up running at the same pace as me. So the 2 of us ran the whole race together. We listened to music and would chat every now and then, but having someone with me kept me motivated. About half way through another friend met up with us, so now the 3 of us were together. With this race being in Korea, there was a sign every km, a little excessive but helpful near the end of the race. Around 12km, I wanted to walk, not because I was in pain but because I was tired of running and just wanted to walk to do something different. If I wasn’t with my 2 friends, I probably would have walked and I know I wouldn’t have been proud of my results. Once again, I was so happy to have people with me. As motivation, I kept telling myself “at least you aren’t running a full” and “just finish and you NEVER have to run EVER again for the rest of your life.” Having never done a race in the US, I’m not sure what food they give at the stations mid-race, but in Korea, they give you choco pies. Now I love chocolate, but the last thing I want mid run is a chocolaty, sugary dessert.
I was feeling pretty good for most of the run. That is until I got to the 18km sign. At this point, I just wanted to be done and the relatively flat course was starting to get some slight inclines. This is not the time that your legs want to run up an incline and the decline seemed to have lasted only 10 steps-not nearly long enough. I was really starting to struggle at this point, but I had to finish because it was less than 2 miles left. Finally, we saw the 20km sign, which I think was placed a little prematurely. It felt like that last km was really 5 miles. What seemed like lifetimes later, I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:20! Yes, goal #1 ✓, goal #2 ✓, goal #3 ✓! That gave me a pace of 10:45 min/mile, much better than my usual 11:20 pace during training!
Overall, I am very happy with my results and glad that I accomplished this challenge. Not sure if I will run another half in the future, but now I know that I can do it. Once again, I learned a very valuable lesson to not put limits on myself, and that’s one of the best lessons I could have possibly learned!