I Ran My First Half Marathon

Mohith Subbarao
9 min readSep 6, 2023

Last month, I ran my first half marathon! The 13.1 mile run was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but I’m really glad I stuck it out and completed it. I wanted to share a bit of my experience if anyone is interested in attempting a similar challenge!

Photo courtesy of MarathonFoto

Introduction and background

While I have been on and off running for most of my life, I very rarely attempted more than a 5K (3.1 miles). After hitting those first couple miles, my brain would tell me to stop because I wouldn’t be able to handle more. For the last few years, I had felt intrigued and inspired by those who completed a half marathon as it seemed like a great physical and mental challenge. Even more surprisingly, I had heard anecdotes that while the pain was real during training and race day, it simultaneously made for an oddly joyous and rewarding experience.

I feel really lucky that two of those anecdotes came from my parents, with both of them completing multiple half marathons, and my mom even completing a full marathon (which is still mind-blowing to this day). Seeing my parents complete these types of challenge has always inspired me to take one of my own. As cheesy as it sounds, attempting a half marathon seemed like one avenue to try to be the best version of myself.

Pre-Training

At the start of 2023, I got back into running with no goal of running a half marathon in mind. I worried that signing up for a race too soon would create those similar feelings of intimidation and burn me out. My simple goal was to run a 5K a couple times a week consistently and just see how things felt. Keeping my initial goals mild actually helped create some consistency and for 3–4 months, I ran 6–7 miles a week and slowly over time found a groove in running. Many days it was really hard to lace up my shoes, but I’d almost always finish feeling more calm and positive than when I started. Looking back, having 3 months of consistent running without a race in mind really helped build an aerobic base and made the actual half marathon training safer and more enjoyable.

Hitting 5Ks through the changing seasons

Signing up for the race

As that aerobic base started feeling more sturdy, I started to get the itch to sign up for a half marathon. My intimidation never fully went away, as I made sure to only look for races that offered both the half marathon and the 5K, just in case I wanted to switch distances at any point. It was June when I started looking for races and so I tried to find one 10–12 weeks out. After a bit of googling, I found that NYCRuns was hosting a half marathon in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in late August. I had done their 5K run in the same location in 2022, so I knew it was a well organized and scenic run. I signed up and began my training!

Training

Using a mix of online training plans as a guideline, along with phone calls with my mom and cousin who had both done full marathons, I created my own 10-week training plan. I decided to run 3x a week (two medium runs, one long run) as it felt like a sweet spot to consistently improve as a runner, without getting burnt out. In addition, I added some light weight-lifting (ex: front squats and overhead presses) before my runs and yoga after my runs (ex: forward folds and tree poses). These additions helped maintain my strength and flexibility throughout training. My training went as follows:

10-Week Training Plan

I tried my best to run all my runs at “Zone 2” heart rate (139–151 BPM), which is just a fancy way of saying running at a conversational pace. A lot of research has shown this “easy” running helps train your body to handle longer bouts of cardio, because it trains your body to use fat stores (longer-term energy) instead of carb stores (shorter-term energy) when running. It’s also safer on the body and results in much lower rate of injury. I definitely cannot explain the science perfectly (and may have even explained it incorrectly now), but if you’re interested you can read more here.

It was painful at times to stay so doggedly consistent with training, especially when the alarm would go off before the sun would come up. Those first few moments of waking up I questioned why I ever chose to sign up for this thing in the first place. Over the weeks though, I really began to like following a training calendar and knocking out these runs early in the morning before I started my day, especially with the heat and humidity of the summer. Each tick-marked run was a step closer to this goal that slowly felt less and less unreachable.

I also realized while some of my intimidation of longer distances was emotional, a lot of it was logistical. Until I followed a training plan, I didn’t realize that if I slowly increase distance week to week, no one week will feel that intimidating, but over the course of weeks or months, I’ll be able to run distances I never had completed. For example in week 2, my long run only went up 0.5 miles, but by week 4, I had done a 10K (6.2 miles)! Hitting the 10K mark was a big confidence boost, as it was only the second time I had ever run that distance. In the moment it felt like a lot of work to get to even that point, but it blew my mind that it really took just 30 days of consistent training to get to that milestone.

All smiles and stats after my 7 mile long run, aka the halfway point of training!

As the runs got to the 7 mile mark and beyond, I started investing in running gear. I got a running vest that I could load with two 500 ml water bottles and packs of electrolyte energy chews to keep me fueled. The runs from 7–10 miles felt really gratifying and even surreal to complete — the first mile or two it was hard to fathom I could run for 1.5–2 hours, but slowly and steadily the distance got done, and before I knew it I had run the longest I had ever in my life! As the long runs got longer, especially my first ever 10-miler, the part of my brain that would tell me I could not run a half marathon seemed to finally quiet down.

Race Day

I woke up at around 4 AM to give myself enough time to eat a pre-race oatmeal and banana, do my usual weightlifting routine, and take the 1 hour subway from the Upper West Side in Manhattan to the start line at Prospect Park in Downtown Brooklyn. I did almost all my 6 months of running completely solo, so seeing the energy of other runners and the race day decorations filled me with adrenaline.

Staying positive during pre-race jitters and rain

There was a light drizzle through the morning but nothing too bad, but as soon as the race gun went off at 7 AM, the drizzle turned into a downpour. The first 3–4 miles of the run was rough, as I had to constantly wipe my glasses, avoid puddles, and generally keep my morale high. After the first 5K loop finished, the rain started to slowly clear, and the good vibes of the race started to flow back. I started picking up the pace, remembering I had trained hard and wanted to put in my very best effort. Seeing my girlfriend and friends at different mile markers kept the motivation flowing. I felt so grateful to have had the support of so many through the months — not just the people showing up to the race, but also the long phone calls of different training advice and the heaps of encouraging texts coming in from family and friends.

The 7-mile marker, seeing my girlfriend cheer me on

After crossing the 10-mile marker, the last 3.1 miles were intense — my legs started feeling really sore and my brain had to do everything in its power to tell me to keep going. Luckily, the sun came out in the last 5K and the stark difference between the early race and late race weather felt encouraging and somewhat poetic. Running for 2+ hours in those rolling roads, endless greenery, and ever-changing weather conditions, I wanted nothing more than to finish this journey strong. As I got to the last 0.1 mile stretch, seeing my loved ones cheer me on helped me take whatever energy I had left to sprint ahead and finally cross that finish line, after years of imagining that moment.

Post-Race

When I crossed that finish line, I was flooded with both pride and gratitude that I had finally did this challenge that for so long I reserved as being for “other runners”. I had finally completed a half marathon!

Celebrating the completion of the half marathon!

My base goal was to just complete the half marathon, but my stretch goal was running the race in sub 2 hours 30 mins. I didn’t share this goal with family or friends, because I genuinely didn’t think it was possible for me. I was doing all my training runs at a pace that would equate to a 2:45:00 half marathon time. On race day though, I was shocked that I could comfortably run a lot faster than usual, probably spurred by the mix of adrenaline and the delayed benefits of the slow and steady zone 2 training. A few minutes after crossing the finish line, I was elated when I found out that had gotten a finish time of 2:29:58 — I beat my stretch goal by just 1 second!

My race results and stats!

The next couple days were a lot of post-race fun. After a lot of yoga and massage gun, I enjoyed an endless amount of the good food and views that NYC had to offer. My favorites were stuffed pizza in the Upper West Side and breathtaking midtown views in Chelsea!

Good food, views, and company to cap off the weekend race!

Conclusion

I felt a very unique post-race glow that stayed with me the next 48 hours as I happily reflected on the training and race day. While I attribute that glow to the accomplishment and euphoria of the half marathon race day, that was only part of the whole picture. I just as much felt the glow from sticking to the training plan unceremoniously week over week, month over month, as it slowly raised my levels of confidence and mindfulness. Even more surprisingly, I saw those benefits seep into all other aspects of my life. I started to understand why runners, from the casual to the elite, simply love running.

I’m not sure what types of races I’ll try next, but I’m definitely planning on keeping up with running and connecting with other runners, both in person and virtually. Thanks for reading and best of luck if you’re attempting a race (of any distance) yourself!

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