I ran my first half marathon after training for just one month. Here’s why you shouldn’t

The idea of running a half-marathon had been swimming around in my head ever since I completed my first 10-km run in January 2015. I clocked 76 minutes to run 10 km – nowhere near an impressive timing considering the guy who won that race had finished in an absurd 33 minutes or so. But it was an achievement for me, nonetheless, considering I had never run more than five kilometres in my life before that.

A half marathon was still a long way off at that point. I knew that I had to first finish a 10-km run in 60 minutes or less to even think about running 21.097 km. Later that year, in December 2015, I participated in a couple more 10-km runs in Mumbai, but did not manage to better my timing. It wasn’t surprising since I had not trained for them for more than a month prior to the race. Even for a 10-km run, you need to train for at least two months to be able to do decently well. But in spite of my below-average performance, I decided to make it a New Year’s resolution to participate in a half marathon in the next running season, which meant I had about a year to prepare for it.

The preparation (or lack of)

2016 was a busy year for me, both professionally and personally – I was getting married in December. I took some time out to run whenever possible and had some weeks where I exercised at least thrice, but those were few and far between. In August, I came across a post on Facebook where an NGO was offering some charity bibs for the Mumbai Half Marathon on January 15, 2017. What I had to do was pay a flat sum of Rs 17,000 upfront to the charity and then raise that money myself by promoting it. I was never going to qualify for the Mumbai Marathon myself, with my 76-minute 10ks. So, this was the only way I could do it. It was a risk, considering I had six months to train for it, which is not a lot, and there was no guarantee I would raise the complete sum of my donation. But I decided to bite the bullet, telling myself that it would be a good challenge and motivation to run. Plus, I was doing it for a good cause.

I found myself a beginners’ half-marathon training plan online, which was for 20 weeks – perfect for me. I was really motivated and told all my friends and family about it, and they gladly helped me kickstart my fundraising. However, my 20-week training schedule went for a toss after just a fortnight. In mid-October, I went to Thailand with my friends for my bachelor trip. On a quiet beach in Phuket, I vowed to myself that I would restart my training in full vigour once I return home. Six months were now down to three, but better late than never, I thought. As Diwali came and went, I managed to raise nearly half of the Rs 17,000. I also bought myself a book called Run Your Butt Off!, which taught me to set myself weekly running targets. I was back on track…sort of.

Back to square one

However, by the middle of November, I was back to square one again as wedding preparations kicked in. By the end of the month, I was off for a three-week wedding-cum-honeymoon break. When I was back in mid-December, I had just about a month left for the marathon. It was too late to do anything, but I still restarted my running. In the last two weeks before the race, I ran for five kilometres and clocked 10,000 steps almost every weekday, with some help from a daily step-goal challenge between friends. If this was a 5-km run, I would ace it. If it was a 10-km run, I would probably do the same as I had done three times earlier. But this was 21 km and I was nowhere near prepared.

As D-day arrived, my goal was to just finish the race. I had just over three hours to do it. As I left home at an unearthly hour to make it in time for the 5.40 am start, I considered leaving my cell phone behind, lest I got tempted to book an Uber after five kilometres to take me home. In the taxi to the race venue, my best friend, who had run at least a dozen half marathons and had a personal best timing of somewhere around one hour and 45 minutes, sensed my nervousness and told me to take it easy. “I’m sure you’ll complete it,” he said. “I’ve seen people who were lesser prepared than you who have completed it.” That gave me some confidence.

I had already walked more than three kilometres that morning to reach my section of the crowd behind the starting line. There were at least 15,000 participants and I was right at the back along with other first-timers and corporate-sponsored runners. I saw the official pacers with 2h30, 2h40, 2h50 and 3h flags attached to their backs. If I could do 10 km in 76 minutes, or 1h16, I should be able to do 21 km in 2h40, theoretically. Even if I had to factor in fatigue, I thought I would definitely beat that old man who was the 3h pacer.

Waiting for the start
Waiting for the start

The first half

I decided not to follow any of the pacers as I had been advised to run at my own pace and not get influenced by others around me. As the race began, I jogged along at my own leisurely pace, watching the more enthusiastic and prepared runners brush past me. I had a four-hour-long playlist on my phone for company. Let’s do this!

As I ran past the one-km marker, my legs had already begun to ache, but I pushed on. I had set myself a target of running non-stop for at least 20 minutes to start the race before taking a breather. I pushed myself and managed 25 minutes, by when I had knocked off three kilometres. After that, I set myself a target to run for eight minutes and walk for two, and repeat. I managed it twice, before my legs forced me to revise it to six+two. By the time I finished six kilometres, 50 minutes had passed.

The first 10 km of the Mumbai half marathon are all on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Worli sea-face. I expected a lot of sea breeze to slap my face and keep the sweat away, but I got no such assistance. I was anyway disappointed that the pleasant winter chill that had set in Mumbai over the last two weeks had suddenly disappeared, conveniently, the night before the race. So, when I crossed the starting line again, which marked the end of the first 10 km of the race, I was hot and exhausted. This was also when the 3h pacer – that old man who I was so sure I would beat – merrily passed me by, even exchanging a few high-fives with some of the full-marathoners who were running in the opposite direction on the other side of the road divider. I almost called an Uber.

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The second half

The last half of the race saw me walk most of the way, as each part of my lower body slowly gave in one-by-one. By the 11-km mark, my calves had given in and didn’t allow me to run more than 500 metres. By the time I reached the Haji Ali junction, around 13 km in, my quadriceps had given in, further reducing my running distance to 200 metres. By the time I reached Girgaum Chowpatti, the 16 km mark, my toes started cramping up if I ran even 50 metres. By the time I reached Marine Drive, for the last three kilometres of the race, my hamstrings had given in and I was near crawling.

But I did not stop. Not once. Along the way, I saw many co-participants stop by the side of the road to stretch their legs and arms. I knew that if I did that, I would want to do it more and more. The only place where I stopped momentarily was on Peddar Road, an uphill stretch of about two kilometres, where some race volunteers were giving runners ice packs to apply on their legs. That was bliss.

As I reached the milestone that said I had only the last 200 metres to go, I pushed my body into finishing with a run. It was the most painful 200 metres I had ever run, with every muscle in my legs almost non-existent, but I managed to do it without a break and without collapsing. I had done it. Almost three-and-a-half hours in, but I had done it. Twenty-one kilometres running, jogging, walking, almost crawling, but without stopping. I had kept my New Year’s resolution, even if it was only just.

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Do not try this at home

However, even though this was an achievement for me, I would not recommend the way I did it to anyone. The fact is: I was severely under-prepared. I took nearly three-and-a-half hours to finish. The winner took just over an hour. That’s not to say I was targeting to win, but it’s still a difference of two-and-a-half hours. The last 10 km of my half marathon were not fun. I saw ambulances rush past me at least five times. Later, I saw pictures on social media of people being stretchered off after fainting. It could so easily have been me.

My advice: Do not enrol for a half marathon until you can clock 10 km in 60 minutes or less. That’s my New Year’s resolution for this year. And even if you do enrol, please do not leave yourself with just one month to prepare for it. Give it at least six months, proper, if not more. Otherwise, you will not enjoy the experience, which is the whole point behind taking up running in the first place.

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