‘It’s not like cramming for a test’: How to irresponsibly train for a half marathon

Maybe it was the post-wedding euphoria, or perhaps a post-birthday fog, but for some reason I agreed to run the Jet Blue Long Beach Half-Marathon in June. The problem is I waited until September to start training in earnest for the 13.1-mile race that’s happening next month.

Sure, my boss thinks highly of my running abilities, and suggests that I’ll blow away the field of three that will be competing from our newsroom. She even says I could do it with a hangover which may have been true 10 years ago.

But now I’m a 33-year-old man with a dog-dad bod who hasn’t run with any conviction or regularity since completing my last full marathon in Chicago in 2015. That day I finished in 3 hours and 45 minutes. October 13, 2019 will likely be a different story.

Some half-fast tips on getting started for the marathon

There are approximately 31 more days until the day of the race and if I’m dedicated to training over these next five weeks that means I have about 23 more opportunities to train. Even when comparing to Runner’s World’s most ambitious training schedules, I’m about five weeks behind the eightball and I’m pretty sure those 10-week courses are designed for people already in shape.

Sure, I squeezed in some exercising while I was on my honeymoon. I ran with a local chapter of an international drinking club (with a running problem) in Rwanda. As I struggled to keep up with the locals in Kigali’s 5,100 feet of elevation, the local children cheered me on, clapping and shouted “Mzungu”—that’s Bantu for white person—as I trotted by like Pumba.

I have to admit, there’s something motivational about public humiliation. I once took a spill in the neighborhood while switching songs on a run and I’m certain I’ve never run faster in my life to exit that street in the event that someone witnessed that graceless tumble.

The wife and I did summit Mount Kilimanjaro but, sadly, those extra red blood cells have been drowned out by IPAs since our return to the States last month. So I started my training slow.

On Friday I hit the gym. It was hot out. I ran five miles while testing out my new phone holder which conveniently clips to the treadmill and bends so that I can position episodes of “Making a Murderer” right in front of my face. The run was… okay. Five miles in 40 minutes isn’t terrible, but I know from past experience that I need to be able to do much more than that at this stage in the game, and definitely with less heavy breathing.

So, I consulted an expert.

Just over three years ago I wrote a story about AREC, a local running club which responsibly trains runners to be able to complete full and half-marathons. At the time, Todd Rose was the president. Todd is a much more accomplished runner than I am having completed 13 marathons and hundreds of other shorter distance races. Sprinkle in a few triathlons and a half and full ironman competition and, well, you get the point.

I wanted to ask Todd how much trouble I’m in and get some relevant tips that I shouldn’t’ be trusted to provide to our readers. Here’s how our conversation went.

How stupid am I for waiting so long to start training?

Well… that’s pretty stupid, but it just depends on where you’re at. Where you’re at in your training. You said you’re varied right now. Let’s see, it’s five weeks out, you said?

Yeah, the Long Beach Marathon is in about five weeks.

If you think about it, our [AREC] half-marathon training, two weeks prior to the race they do their last long run which is a 12-mile training run. So, in three weeks they’ll do the 12-miler. The week before that they’re probably going incrementally up by one mile or so each time or doing ten [miles] then dropping to eight [miles] then jumping to 12. That kind of mileage each week for their long runs then doing a couple of other shorter runs during the week as well.

Ideally, as a coach, where would you want someone to be in terms of being comfortable running? If I had to go out right now being five weeks out, I should be comfortable running X amount of miles?

Right now I would say 8-10.

Oh boy.

You’ll be able to finish without doing a 12-mile training run prior to the race. If you got up to a 10-miler, that’s great too. Adrenaline and slowing down on race day will take you the rest of the way, no problem. If you can get up to a 10-mile run that would be ideal. If you can’t, heck, I know a lot of people who have done half-marathons with their longest runs being only six to eight miles.

That’s probably where I’m going to be by the time race day comes around. Right now, I think just based on muscle memory and generally being in okay shape, I could go and do about four miles right now.

I think I know the answer to this based on personal experience, but you said I’d be able to finish. But what’s the difference between the day after when you’ve correctly trained and when you haven’t?

Finishing and running well and feeling great the whole time are two very different things. I think you’ll be able to finish. Strong will, adrenaline, slowing down your pace will all help get you there. And you should be able to finish.

As long as you don’t go out from the start line too fast. Take it easy, enjoy it, have a lot of fun and you’ll finish. And you may actually feel fine the next day as well. I still think you’re probably going to hurt a little bit after 13.

Right. I’m anticipating the pain.

You’ll probably hurt a bit but when you’ve done proper training up to say, 10-, 11-, 12-mile training runs prior to that or even up to the distance [13.1 miles]. Some people train to as high as a 16-miler so when they do the 13 it feels pretty easy.

So, in terms of my condensed training-window here, what should I be aiming for in terms of mileage per week?

How many days per week can you get out there, are you getting out there, and can you get out there the rest of the time? Is it two or three? What do you think you’re going to do?

I have to get serious about this so probably four to five.

Todd: Well, just remember, it’s not like cramming for a test. It’s almost impossible to make up that milage that you haven’t had until now. It’s hard to cram as many miles as you can or there’s a good chance you may actually injure yourself prior to race day and then you won’t even make the starting line healthy. You don’t want that.

So I’d just say play it by ear and get out there and do a long run, whatever that might be. Four or five miles right now, that’s fine. See how you feel and I would shoot for three days a week and if you feel good after the first week, the second week go up to four days a week. One day is your long run, if you can make that five, then the next week six, then the next week seven, the next week eight. Something like that.

The other runs are going to be shorter. You don’t want to do those long runs all the time because you’re really going to be pushing your body pretty hard.

And that’s doable.

Club Provides Companionship and Expertise in Training for the Ultimate Runner’s Experience

Unlike me, Todd is very optimistic about my stamina and my ability to stick to a plan.

By his math I have about 17 days to get up to an eight-mile run. I used to have an eight-mile run that I’d complete with regularity but now would just result in mom’s spaghetti, or whatever else I ate prior, ending up on the sidewalk.

But I’ll share it with you.

It’s approximately eight miles from the eastern end of the bike/pedestrian path in Belmont Shore to Shoreline Village and back. If you want to make it more interesting throw in some pushups every mile. It helps with the boredom and focuses my anger on the pushups instead of the monotony of running that everyone dreads.

But Todd makes an excellent point. No matter where you’re at in your training and fitness level, your body will always tell you when you’re doing too much. Listen to it. Rest when you need it and push harder when you can.

Running has always been a unique sport for me because unless you’re literally one of the best in the world you’re really only racing yourself. Try to improve day-by-day and honor the progress that you make, even if it’s just a few seconds.

September 30 is my goal date for doing this run again, sans pushups. Either way, I’ll be out on the course, October 13. Come cheer me on, or make fun of the Mzungu, like the kids in Rwanda.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.