My First 21k – The Half-Marathon Journey

My first road race was a 3k last August 28, 2011. A few days ago, I completed my first half-marathon with an official time of 2:08:03. Here is how I did it, and some realizations during the race.

My First 21k – The Half-Marathon Journey

As part of my 2012 full marathon dream, I have committed to run 2-3 half-marathons before August 2012 (full marathon scheduled on September). The training for a ‘half-mary’ (or 21k) is something necessary before making the jump to a full 42k. My game plan for my first 21k involved scheduled weekly mileage, road races, and cross training periods.

1. Weekly Mileage

The serious 21k training effort began in March, as I suspected I would need at least three months to build the necessary endurance and strength for the half-marathon. My 10k time at this point was about one hour. The goal was to build enough endurance to run a 16k in under 1:36:00 (6:00 per km).

Month #1 schedule:

  • Week 1: 8k – rest – 5k (speed) – rest – 7k
  • Week 2: 8k – rest – 3k (speed) – rest – 5k (hill) – 5k
  • Week 3: 9k – rest – 3k (speed) – rest – 5k (hill) – 5k
  • Week 4: 10k – rest – 5k (speed) – rest – 5k – RACE DAY SUNDAY (10k)

Month #2 schedule:

  • Week 1: 10k – rest – 5k (speed) – rest – 8k
  • Week 2: 10k – rest – 5k (speed) – rest – 9k
  • Week 3: 12k – rest – 3k (speed) – rest – 5k (hill) – rest – RACE DAY SUNDAY (10k)
  • Week 4: 5k – 5k (speed) – rest – 8k – 5k – rest – RACE DAY SUNDAY (16k)

Month #3 schedule:

  • Week 1: 12k – rest – rest – 10k (hill) – 3k
  • Week 2: 12k – rest – 5k (speed) – 8k – rest – 5k (hill)
  • Week 3: 15k (long) – rest – 5k – rest – 8k – 7k
  • Week 4: 10k – rest – 10k (hill) – rest – 5k – rest – RACE DAY SUNDAY (16k)

The progressive increases in weekly mileages really helped with my endurance, and the hill training – while incredibly painful – made me so much stronger. Speed-work is short and sweet.

2. Road Races

It’s important to run on Sunday races; these are events that have official times and the ‘feel’ is completely different when running alone. I always run faster during a road race (maybe it’s the pride kicking in?) and road races can also be where you can learn your fatigue point (mine is at around the 13-14k mark for a 16k race), where and when to take in fluids, and when to schedule walk breaks.

3. Cross Training

In a way, I was forced to learn how to swim because on my rest days, I can’t stand not doing anything. Nothing vigorous, just move around and paddle around the pool for 30 minutes during rest days does wonders for recovery. Barring that, I also use the sauna for 30 minutes, just to sweat out (not really ‘cross training’ eh?).

Realizations on a Half-Marathon

It’s legitimately painful. As a first-timer, I knew there were going to be difficult moments in my first 21k, and thinking it’s just “a 10k + 10k + 1k” is absolute rubbish. The halfway point for me was at around 17k; the last 4km was a pure mental battle and I exerted every bit of positive thinking I had to make it.

Hydration and timed gel usage is the key. I use a 2-bottle Amphipod hydration belt, loaded with sports drink. Sipping every 1.5-2km helped a lot. I took 2 GU gels as well; one at 7k, and another at 15k. I also had a banana at 17k, which helped a LOT.

Oh, the last kilometer is the cruelest. And crossing the finish line felt amazing.

Hope this helps you on your first half-marathon training program! Do let me know how you did yours, or how you’ll train.

My First 21k – The Half-Marathon Journey

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