Are you thinking of doing a half marathon? Are you considering doing a half marathon without training first? While it certainly is not something I recommend, it is doable if you have a decent background in cardio-type exercises. I don’t think anybody ever really plans to attempt 13.1 miles without putting in the hours beforehand. That would be crazy, right? Life has a habit of getting in the way, though. Between work, chores, choosing to sleep in, and just plain procrastinating, sometimes that deadline sneaks up on us and before you know it, it’s race day. If you’re attempting it while races are canceled, time is a little more on your side. Perhaps stubbornness and wanting to just get it done is more what is pushing you to do it without training.
MY OWN HALF MARATHON WITHOUT TRAINING EXPERIENCE
I have never been an athletic person. During my school years, I would frequently do whatever I could to get out of gym class. On occasion, my other non-athletic friends and I would forge notes from our parents as an excuse to sit on the sidelines for the day. I was always one of the last picked for any type of team competition, and would actively duck and cover from any ball that came my way. I was definitely not a favorite amongst the competitive people in gym class.
One of my goals this year was to complete a half marathon. I got it in my mind somewhere around late October of last year that I was going to do it. What put this little nugget in my brain? The movie Brittney Runs a Marathon, which I found very motivational. If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend it! It will light a fire under your ass you didn’t know was there.
After searching half marathons in Columbus, Ohio, I found one that was set for the end of April. I didn’t sign up immediately, though. My husband was going through a job change, and I wanted to get some training in first.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my hubby gets a job offer 400 miles away in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had two weeks to pack the house, put it on the market, load up a moving truck, find an apartment in the new location, and for him to get to our new home. I would be staying behind to work until the house sold with nothing but an air mattress, a TV, and microwave dinners.
I lost access to my treadmill, and I didn’t want to sign up for a gym membership without knowing how long I would actually be in Ohio to use it. Training kind of took a back burner, and again, it felt pointless to sign up for a half marathon without knowing where I would be when April 25 came.
As it turns out, selling the house took a bit longer than we thought it would. In the act of desperation, I ended up signing up at a low cost, no commitment gym. I started going a few times a week to get some running in, and the thoughts of the half marathon started toying with my mind again. At this point, it was early February, and it seemed like I would, in fact, be in Ohio still when the race hit.
Then, it happened. We got an offer on the house, and they wanted to move in at closing in 35 days. Considering all I had to do was deflate the air mattress and load up the TV, we accepted, and the wait began.
Covid-19 was becoming more widespread around that time, and restaurants in Ohio were already closed except for carryout and delivery. I had heard of gyms in other states closing up and decided it would be best if I went ahead and canceled my membership. After all, in two weeks, I wouldn’t even be in Ohio any longer. I didn’t want to risk waiting until the last minute and not being able to cancel at all. Good thing I did, because two days later, it was announced that gyms were being temporarily closed.
I made it to North Carolina at the very end of March. By this point, most races over the next couple of months had been canceled, postponed, or turned into virtual runs. It didn’t stop me from searching for a half-marathon to complete in my new state, and I found a few that are scheduled for later in the year that piqued my interest. The only problem; there is a 3-hour time limit. I thought it seemed doable, but wasn’t entirely sure. After all, it would be my first half-marathon, and I didn’t want to make it to within a few minutes of the finish line only to be told time was up.
SHE POWER VIRTUAL HALF MARATHON
When I saw an ad on Facebook for the She Power Half Marathon in Indianapolis, I decided to look into it. I have to admit, the gorgeous race medal was a motivator. But Indianapolis went from being a 3-hour drive to a 9-hour drive, so it didn’t seem like a realistic possibility. That, and with it being in early June, there were no guarantees of the date not getting changed anyway. But then I saw it…
…the same race had a Virtual option, and it could be completed any time within 2020. I signed up immediately, knowing I would have plenty of time to train.
It was never my plan to do the half marathon without training. At first, I started going out around the neighborhood to get some jogging in, but nothing that I would consider real training. Other than a couple of 5k’s a week, hubby and I would do walks 5 days a week with the dogs. Overall, I would say I was getting in between 3-6 miles on activity days between walking and jogging. My initial goal was to do my half marathon in the fall after the insanely hot and humid summer days had passed, but in reality, I didn’t want to wait that long.
One spring morning, I was looking at the weather and saw that the coming weekend was going to be fairly comfortable. 60’s in the morning, low 70’s by afternoon. After that, all I saw were mid to high 80’s for the following 10 days after. Ugh! I could almost feel myself melting into the pavement. With that thought in mind, I decided on a whim that Sunday was going to be my day. I’ve always been an avid walker, and have pretty good stamina and endurance. But was I up for the challenge of 13.1 miles? There was only one way to tell, but I had it in my mind that I was going to do it, and I was going to finish it.
My goal was 3 hours, simply because, in Charlotte, that is the time limit for a half-marathon. I wanted to see if I could get close to that time before signing up, and I knew that this was my chance to see what I was capable of. After all, it would probably be my only half marathon until autumn, when I would do an actual live race.
After searching for hours over the next few days on completing a half marathon without any real training, I felt as ready as I was going to be. It seemed possible, but it was going to be both a physical and mental challenge.
Sunday came, and at 8:30 in the morning, I set out with nerves and high hopes.
Miles 1-3 were basically just getting into a rhythm that felt right. I jogged on flat and downhill surfaces and walked uphill. I was averaging between 13:00-13:30 minutes per mile. Not a record by any means or even my personal best, but it was a pace I felt I could sustain for the long haul. The first few miles were hard, mentally. Knowing that I still had so far to go and had barely made a dent.
Miles 4-10 went better. I had my rhythm, and my muscles and joints had warmed up. I was feeling pretty good. At mile 6, I sucked down an energy gel. My pace was now between 13:30 minutes per mile to just under 14:00 minutes per mile. I was still feeling pretty good but was starting to get some side cramps during my jogging intervals. I’m not sure if this was from the energy gel (which I’d never had before), water, or my energy starting to waver.
Somewhere during mile 11, I hit a wall. My legs were beginning to feel heavy, and some muscles were showing the first signs of cramping. I was so close, though. My average pace was still going okay, so I told myself that once I finished mile 11, I would walk mile 12.
Miles 12-13 were tough. I was tired and didn’t have the energy to do much jogging at all. In fact, I think I only jogged maybe 5 minutes total out of those last 2 miles, and it was a slow jog. I knew that I was going to finish, but I was going to be cutting it close to making the 3-hour goal I set for myself. To make it a guarantee, I tried jogging more, but my body was telling me to just walk the remainder. I started to be okay with the fact that I might be just over the 3-hour mark. After all, I was going to be finishing 13.1 miles.
As it turns out, my official time was 2:59:34. That is, 2 hours, 59 minutes, 34 seconds. As I made my way into my home, I felt such a sense of accomplishment. Sure, I was tired, but I had completed my first half marathon without training. Was this for real?
The first thing I did was eat a banana and have a glass of low-fat chocolate milk while I cooled down before taking a shower. After that, I had a carb-filled lunch and took it easy the rest of the day. As the day went on, moving became more difficult. Walking around became more of a shuffle despite trying to stretch every couple of hours.
I was sore for a few days after the half-marathon but forced myself to do a few slow, easy walks to keep from getting too tight. I made sure to stretch several times throughout the days. Around day 4 or 5 post-run, the soreness started to lessen, and I was able to do some light jogging intervals. It was probably around a week and a half after that I was able to meet my average 5K time.
All in all, completing a half-marathon was such an amazing experience. It proved that I am capable of things that just a year ago, I never would have dreamed of doing. Would I attempt it now, in the middle of summer? Heck NO! Would I do another one? For sure! Although next time, I will definitely be training more properly. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cross an actual finish line.
PLANNING YOUR HALF MARATHON
I don’t necessarily suggest attempting a half-marathon without training first. If you plan smart, and have a decent level of fitness and endurance, though, it is doable. If you want to give it a go, here are some tips that will make it an all-around better experience for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a trained fitness or medical professional. The information included here is for informational purposes only and/or based on my own personal experience. The information is not a substitute for professional medical care or advice.
CHECK FOR TIME LIMITS
If you are planning a half marathon that is an actual live race event, be sure to check for race time limits beforehand. Many cities have a 3 hour time limit in which they must reopen roads after that. I have seem a few select places that have a 4-hour time limit for a half marathon, but they are tough to find. You would hate to be running your race, only to have water stations broken down and mile markers taken away towards the end of your run (yes, it does happen).
If you are your race virtually, then time is on your side. Your race packet will be mailed to you and you pick the date you want to complete it. Most virtual races have a set time in which you have to put in your time results. They usually give you a month or two to complete it. With a virtual option, you can go at your pace without worrying about everything getting torn down before you finish.
EAT SOMETHING SEVERAL HOURS BEFOREHAND
I woke up around 5:30 and had a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and a glass of water. I then cuddled up on the couch and went back to sleep for a couple of hours. About a half-hour, before I set out, I sipped on some Gatorade.
You’ll definitely want to make sure you have something light and easy to digest in your belly before hitting the road and that you’ve given it plenty of time to settle. There is little that is worse than getting a cramp while exercising. Best case scenario is that it will be an annoyance. Worst case is that the pain and discomfort will be so intense that you won’t be able to continue.
HYDRATION & FUEL
Should there ever be actual races again, taking a water bottle is up to you. If it is super hot outside, it is probably a good idea to have one. Otherwise, there ware water stations where you can grab a cup of water along the way.
If you are doing your half-marathon on your own, then yes, absolutely carry a bottle with you or wear a hydration pack. Hydration packs can hold a lot more water, but it is also extra weight. It’s whatever you are comfortable with, but you definitely want to have something. If you are running near your home or past water fountains, consider carrying a bottle that you can quickly refill and get back to it.
It is also a good idea to have some energy gels with you. It is best to take one every 45 minutes to an hour. Definitely test out several different brands before going out for your half-marathon. If gels don’t agree with your stomach, there are also energy gummies out there as well as some other race day fuel options.
FOCUS ON FINISHING, NOT SETTING RECORDS
You should not be worried about beating your best time or speeding through your race, especially if you haven’t trained. Instead, focus on keeping up a pace that is sustainable for you and on making it to 13.1 miles. Find a walk/run/jog interval that works for you. If you have to do more on the walking side, that is totally fine. Take it easy and listen to your body. Don’t make the mistake of starting out too fast, then crashing before you’re able to finish. 13.1 miles in one go is a lot for anyone, so go at a pace you can keep up with for the long haul.
CLOTHING AND SHOES MATTER
I must sound like a broken record with how often I mention wearing the right shoes. Wearing shoes that fit properly will help ensure that you don’t rub blisters or lose a toenail. Or you can minimize the risk of this happening. Good running/fitness shoes will be between ½ to 1 size larger than your typical dress shoe. If you are going to attempt a half marathon without training, you’ll want to be sure you are wearing good shoes.
You’ll also want to be sure to dress for the weather. Once you get going, your body will warm up, so don’t wear so many layers that you won’t know what to do with them mid-race. Alternatively, if you are running in the cold, wear enough that you won’t get frostbite. For colder running, a good rule of thumb is to dress as if the temperature is 10-15 degrees warmer than it actually is.
Choose moisture-wicking clothing, as it dries more quickly. Wear fitted pants or shorts if your thighs rub when you walk/run to avoid chaffing. My absolute favorites are by Constantly Varied Gear. I first discovered them in January 2020, and 7 months later, I have 12 pairs of their capris leggings and 9 pairs of their 5” shorts. They are comfortable, squat proof, fantastic material, and don’t ride up. Seriously, I cannot recommend them enough. Plus, they have amazingly cute prints and come out with a new one just about every month.
After you finish your miles, get out of the way of other runners, and do some light walking/stretching. Grab a bottle of water and a light snack as you cool down. Shortly after, you’ll want to grab lunch to replenish your energy. Now is not the time to skimp on fuel, as you’ve just burned a whole lot of calories! Some excellent choices are covered in 9 Nutritious Foods to Eat Post Run. Don’t be afraid to indulge in a bowl of ice cream or a cupcake. You earned it! Be sure to do some stretching throughout the rest of the day and for the days to come. It will help with soreness and muscle recovery, although you might need assistance with going up and down steps.
While doing a half marathon without any training may not be the best approach, it is doable with a positive mindset. The most important thing is to be safe and smart as you trek through the miles. At the end of your race, you’ll feel absolutely euphoric and will already be planning your next one. For your next one, definitely get in the training so you can give it your all and crush your untrained time! Crossing that finish line after putting in the hours will never feel better!