How to Run a 1:18 Half-Marathon

HINT: Don’t run all of it.

I’ve been picking my races a few days before I do them. Thought about a 10K this weekend, but decided I was going to go for it: break 1:30 in a half-marathon. I know I’m fit and fast enough right now. So, I picked the Primo’s Run for Education in the East Bay and I was told it’s an organized, well-run race.


They certainly had lots of free stuff, and tons of tents, and music, and volunteers. But, you know what they messed up? It’s only one small, tiny, thing. THEY SENT US OFF-COURSE!

I went out hard. It’s a new theory of mine for running fast: I slow down by the end no matter what, and it doesn’t appear that I slow down less if I start out slower, so might as well start out hard and hold on for as long as possible. Which meant I was with the front group(ish) through the first couple miles. There were some fast guys up the road, about 15 men and two woman ahead of us, but I was with a group that included two other woman and a handful of men.

I wasn’t paying attention, just following people, and where the volunteers were pointing, and I could see the bike leads ahead of us and circling around. Then, the woman next to me was like, “We’re going the wrong way, we should be going that way.” But the bike lead near us said that no, this was right. She said something a few more times and the group was talking about it, but I didn’t really listen. I figured they’d changed the course from when this woman ran it or she didn’t really know what she was talking about and I didn’t think anything more of it. Because, surely, if all of us went off-course, someone would yell or say something or flag us down.

(After the race, I was talking to the woman who won and she said the front guy went one way and then the bike lead in front of her turned a different direction and she said, “I think this is the wrong way,” but the bike lead said, “No, I’m from around here. I know these roads really well.” There’s a name for doucebag tools who show up with carbon bikes and Zipp race wheels to lead a half-marathon and, then, screw it up.)

But, I had no idea anything was wrong. Because the first half of the course is all turny and twisty through neighborhoods, you do a lot of looping back on yourself, kinda. So, we basically cut off one loop and were back on course. And the volunteers kept waving us on, because they had no more idea than me, and people kept cheering. We never saw the mile 2 marker, but it’s common for mile markers to be missing here and there in races, so I still didn’t know anything was wrong. Then, just I was thinking that we should hit the mile 3 marker in a couple minutes, there was mile 4 at 16:50. I don’t think I just ran 4:14 miles.

I swore and asked the group if we were really off-course and they all said yes. Shit. I knew I felt good and was running well, but if I kept it together and ran hard the whole race, it wouldn’t even matter. The time wasn’t going to count now. I was pretty pissed, but there’s not a lot of time to be pissed in a race. You either keep going or you don’t.

So, I decided to keep going and just run hard.

I ran 6:30-6:35 miles for about 7 miles. A woman behind us (who I thought was ahead of us) caught back up after a bathroom break and she and one of the girls in the group right in front of me took off. The group started to break up and I tried to hang in there. I did pretty well and was running in 5th woman, with 4th right in front of me. It was hard, but it wasn’t awful.

Then, around mile 8 or 9, all of a sudden, I felt my heart rate skyrocket and the blood rush to my head and the pressure pushing in on my skull. I’ve passed out enough times to know what it feels like. The whole world started to shrink into a little circle and I thought my head was going to implode and I just needed to slow my heart rate back down. I tried to take nice big slow breaths and focus on not passing out while still running. After 30 or 40 seconds I stopped feeling like I was about to pass out and after a couple minutes I felt ok again.

I’m guessing I slowed down, but I didn’t really feel like I did. After that, I kept running hard and I felt ok, but my miles were not as fast anymore. It was weird. Other than my left hamstring feeling like it was ripping where it connected to my butt, I felt fine. Tired, but strong. I felt like I was running the same speed, but, yeah, I wasn’t. My miles dropped to just under 7 minutes, then 7:05, then I tried to push it to get back under 7 but I ran a 7:12 instead.

Still, I was well within my goal. By my calculations while I was running, the mess-up was worth around 9-10 minutes, so I wanted to be significantly under 1:20 and running strong and hard enough at the end that I could feel good that I would have been able to finish the whole thing under 1:30.

I came in at 1:18:46. One of the girls who had a fancy Garmin and wasn’t just winging it like some of us told me we ran 11.8 miles. Which means I averaged 6:40 miles, which would have been a 1:27:25. Obviously, I was slowing down, so I doubt I would have ran the extra 1.3 miles at 6:40 pace, but even if I held the slowest speed I ran out there, it would have been just over 1:28. So, I could have slowed down significantly and still come in under 1:30.


The stupidest part is that it got all mixed up out there. Apparently, at some point after us, people got back on course. (Some people also went the wrong way a different way.) That’s just bad organizing. I’ve been in plenty of races where they sent us the wrong way. Once you send the front people in the wrong direction, you have to keep sending people that way, because you have no way of telling at the end who ran what. Which is what happened. The results say I ran 6 minute miles and a 1:18 half, with no recognition that they screwed up. I know that the people all in front of me and most of the men behind me went the wrong way too, but then the next woman behind me ran a 1:30. I’m guessing she probably went the right way. But who knows.

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

And, now I’m done. Because I’m not really training and I’m not really resting, either, and the half-assedness is no good. So, I’m taking this fitness and parking it on the couch. What a waste.


4 thoughts on “How to Run a 1:18 Half-Marathon

  1. Well that’s irritating. The AIDS Walk/Run here in Chicago last week laid out a figure-eight course that had the runners crashing into the walkers who hadn’t cleared through yet. Nice.

    But at least you ran pretty fast.

  2. Well at least you would have had a big PR, right??? And you know you can run that fast. Still sucks that you put in the effort and didn’t get the actual PR though. Next time.

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