At the beginning of the year I decided to try and run a half-marathon in 2013 coming off a base in 2012 of having run a 10k and and having went and purchased the relevant books (e.g. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons) in preparation. Then I proceeded to the very common habit of not following the training plan, although I did managed to actually read the book. The biggest issue is that while training for a half-marathon isn’t nearly as intense as training for a full marathon, you are still investing a considerable amount of time in “getting the millage in” which isn’t always something that can be juggled with a busy schedule so inventively I put the training off in favor of my usual running to stay in shape.
Towards the end of the summer, having come off a 10k race and with the Wicked Half-Marathon coming up, I decided to see what the internet said about running a half-marathon without training:
- Location180 – How to run a marathon with (almost) no training
- BBC News – Could you run a marathon without training?
- Feet of Fancy – How to Run a Half-Marathon with Absolutely No Training
- Ask MetaFilter – Advice for the undertrained?
- reddit: Running – What’s the worst that could happen if you run a half-marathon without proper training?
and those are just the links that I had handy around, quite a bit of reading was done on the topic which lead me to the general conclusion that in all likelihood I could pull off at least finishing the half-marathon and wouldn’t be too worse for wear afterwards.
Going into the half-marathon I had a base of about 12 to 15 miles of running a week broken up over two to three 5k runs and a six mile run every weekend. Plus having finished a couple 10k races (including one that had two major hills to climb) I knew that I could do six mile run in right around 60 minutes and figured that if I tired to stick to around an 11:00/mile pace that I should be able finish in about 2:24:12 which isn’t very impressive by any means, but if the goal is to just finish the half-marathon then it is a number to keep in mind during the race and a firm target of under 2:30:00 to aim.
So the day of the race came and while the weather started out iffy (57.4F and 95% humidity with fog) once the fog lifted and took some of the humidity with it, the day proved to be a very good one for running in general. In deference of the fact that I wasn’t planning on running any sort of fast pace, I started at the back of the pack at the starting line and after about the second mile I could barely even see the pack in the distance. After that, it was largely a lot of scenic running through neighborhoods and along the ocean for the next six miles before the distance started to catch up with me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, at this point I didn’t feel like I was physically hurting and pushing myself, but rather the mental side of things was starting to catch up with me. Since the course is an out and back, mile eight marks the point in which you are passing by scenery that you have already seen before and the miles seemed to feel a lot longer than the previous eight that I had ran. So for me, getting from mile eight to 11 was much more mental than it was physical since by that point I was pushing about two hours and I knew that most of the starting pack had already finished the race when I still had several miles left to go. Boredom also played a huge role to an extent as well since, let’s face it, running can be quite boring and I have a hard time pushing myself past one hour when working out. That is also a large part of the reason why I didn’t engage in any training specific to the half-marathon.
Mile 11 on the other hand, is when the pain showed up and it showed in my mile splits. The pain was nothing unbearable that would have forced me to stop, but I did have to alter my gait and getting from mile 11 to mile 12 was very, very rough. After that though, once I was able to get to mile 12, you aren’t that far from the finish and the mental desire to push through and actually finish goes a long way. Once you can see that finish line in the distance you tend to push to get there.
So how did I actually do in quantifiable terms? Well, personally I would say not too bad given the standards by which I judgment myself, but with proper training I likely could have done a lot better. I should put a bit of context around these numbers since I have a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and since the injury my fastest mile is around 8:45-ish and most of my runs tend to be paced at around 9:30 to 10:30 per mile depending upon the distance. For the half-marathon itself, I only slowed down to walk at the aid stations to grab some water, the only time I walked was during mile 13 when going up the last hill momentarily winded me. So over the course of the entire race, I likely only walked for about a minute.
The final time is missing from the splits but it was under 2:28 which was under the 2:30 target. Looking over the times, I’m not sure if if I could have ran the last two miles faster given the fact that I hadn’t trained for the half-marathon, but I think that if I keep trying to push my long runs out, I can likely get to the point the next time I try to run a half-marathon that my times can be much better. Also, the day after the race I didn’t feel completely wiped, just a bit sore, leads me to understand why people generally do half-marathons a lot more than full marathons.
So where does everything stand with regards to if you can run a half-marathon without dedicated training? Well, based upon my own experience, I was able to accomplish it and I did find quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that shows it can be done; however, there are some considerations to keep in mine:
- Age plays a role in that there more stories of people having run a half-marathon, or a full marathon, in their early twenties than not.
- Physical fitness prior to the race seems to play a major role since in a lot of cases the stories are from people who are quite active and work out a lot, but generally don’t run a lot.
- Technique plays a role in that in a lot of cases people use a run/walk style and it could be argued that using such techniques aren’t quite the same as actually running the distance.
Now I suppose that some would argue that running a half-marathon off of the base of running 10k’s is not the same as not having trained at all, but that’s also not the question that I was asking myself prior to the race. When I was doing my original searches I found that advice that was given was all of the place and in some cases seemed completely off-base for the goal of just finishing the half-marathon – one person even stated that you should have three hour training runs as part of your perpetration for the half-marathon(!) which I suspect applies more to those that are trying to place as opposed to just finish.
Which, at the end of the day is the key to this whole question, there is a huge difference between just being able to finish the race and someone that is actually trying to compete to place or to beat their own personal record. For those that are just trying to finish, a good portion of the race is mental and what they say about everyone running their own race is true. Regardless of if you approach the half-marathon having followed a training program (which personally I would recommend, my own outcome not withstanding) or not, there are times where you will feel like quitting for any number of reasons and you need to be able to push yourself through. After all, all of the training in the world will not help you finish if you hold yourself back.
DISCLAIMER: Trying to run a half-marathon or marathon without training will likely result you not finishing, limping across the line in a lot of pain, or worse. Most people that attempt such things usually have a solid base of fitness that they are building off of and even then reports of injury are not uncommon.