Raising Richmond: How to run a half marathon without really trying

Me: I’m going to run 13 miles this weekend. My daughter: Why? Me: Because I want to? My daughter: That’s a long way.

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Last year I ran the American Family Fitness Half Marathon, and the last leg of the run was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had a huge smile on my face as I ran to the finish of my first half marathon (which is downhill–good planning, Sports Backers). I had decided at mile seven that I hated what I was doing and would never do it again, but at mile 11 I knew that I was definitely going to try it again in the future, but it would be a while.

Cut to a year later, and I just finished my second one. Please hold your applause while I explain my half-ass half marathon training.

I decided about two months before race day that I was going to run the half marathon, but that didn’t give me a lot of time to get ready for it. I run three to four times a week anyway, which includes morning walks with my dog on weekdays where I maybe jog for 15 of the 30 minutes we’re out. I take longer runs on the weekends, which are typically also half-jogs that turn into pep talks convincing myself not to feel bad for taking a 45-minute brisk walk while listening to Doug Loves Movies.

When I first searched online for a two-month half-marathon training plan, I was quickly discouraged by the amount of time and miles required. I squeeze in the dog run before my daughter wakes up so we can get her ready to leave the house by 7:15. And on the weekends I can easily get one long run. I found the advice I was looking for on a random mom blog: training plans are for people who want to have their personal best time, and you can still run if that’s not your goal. For me, my goal was to finish the race without collapsing onto a pile of discarded paper cups in front of a lawn full of people drinking mimosas and cooking out on the Northside. That, and also maybe beat last year’s time and get in shape.

My training started off fine.1 I was getting up at 5:15 AM2 and running three miles with my dog (we ran four minutes, walked one minute, and repeated until we were back home). It was dark, and we were often alone on the streets,3 but we had some good runs. On the weekends, I loaded up my iPod with podcasts and started at four miles, and every weekend tried to add another mile onto that. My goal was to get to 10 miles before the half marathon, but that didn’t happen. There was always something keeping me from running longer than a 10k: sore legs, a really windy day that had me convinced I would get blown off the Boulevard bridge, and then a terribly-timed cold the weekend before the race.4 I did however, get my best 10k time, and then beat that time the week after.

My friend and I ran the Monument Avenue 10k route the Sunday before the half marathon. She had just run a half the weekend before that and was running again. Her wife and kids dropped us off at the start, met us at the two and four-mile marks with water and Gatorade, and then picked us up at 6.3 miles. Best support team ever! And that was my best 10k time. I hoped that if I could run a 10k and do well when I was sick, I could run a half marathon when I felt better and also do well.

I tried running two days later, but after a mile I had a sharp pain in my abdomen. A doctor told me that I pulled a muscle either from coughing or running. I was going to rest up before the race, but I was anxious. I saved episodes of the Serial podcast to listen to during my long runs, and when I read anything about Serial that week, it would make me nervous anticipating the run. I walked six flights of stairs the day before the run–which I do several times every day–and I got winded and felt terrible. Nothing made me feel any better.

Then race day came. It was incredibly cold (but it wasn’t raining, which it did last year). When you run, you really only worry about getting too hot. Being cold while running is a short-lived bother. My dad and father-in-law were in the half-marathon, too, but I was in a different starting wave. When it was finally time to run, I was relieved that it was not painful, and that I actually felt pretty good.

I was able to compare it to last year’s run because I remember how I was feeling at this mile or that point in the route. This year I was not intimidated by the route. This year, I made it longer than last year before I took a walking break. This year I was further along before the police motorcade in front of the marathon finishers came by. This year only two marathon winners ran past me before I finished. I was doing so well that I didn’t bother finishing Serial. At no point in the run, unlike last year, did I wish I never started. I knew I would run a half marathon again. The one thing that was the same was the amazing feeling of knowing that it was almost over and that big grin on my face as I finished. There is nothing at stake, and the results matter to no one but me. It’s a dumb run, but a dumb run that makes me emotional. It’s the opposite feeling of a sour attitude that the roads are closed on a Saturday morning. It’s the pride of knowing “I shut down these roads.”

I think the reason that I both hate and hold onto running is that it is something that is completely mine to do. I’m the only one who cares if I do it. My husband is great about working around my (not demanding) running schedule. When I come back from running, my daughter attaches herself to me, down to doing her own exercises on my yoga mat while I try to stretch (this is both very funny and annoying). I’ve run with a friend throughout the year, and it’s been nice to have pal time plus motivation to run better. Mostly I run alone.

I picked up running as my main exercise (as opposed to going to a gym) after my daughter was born, and it’s part of our routine. I no longer feel guilty about taking that time for mysel, because staying healthy and active is a gift for yourself and for your family.

I luckily have a dog to get me out of bed on most mornings, and I have the promise of an hour alone on the weekends to get me out the door. Even though I don’t run at amazing speeds, I don’t have much energy, and I managed to gain weight during my half-marathon training, I have proof that I am stronger, which means a lot as I get older. I even beat last year’s time by seven minutes.

Maybe I’ll do it again next year. 

Maybe I don’t actually hate running.

Photo by: Sports Backers


  1. Obviously the woman who writes a parenting column on the internet IS NOT a qualified fitness expert, and you should not take anything that I say as actual advice. Except for this: get your running shoes fit by an expert. Your running shoe size is not what you think it is. 
  2. I have been getting up before 5:30 AM throughout the week for years now to walk my dog and run, but I’m still surprised by how consistent I am at doing this. 5:00 AM doesn’t seem unusually early anymore, but it makes me feel like a more put-together person that I can get up this early and get my daily exercise in before everyone else is awake. 
  3. It is not fun running in the dark. My neighborhood is poorly lit, I’m a jumpy person, and my dog is a jumpy dog who often likes to lunge under parked cars looking for cats. I don’t think pre-dawn is a popular time for assaulting people in the streets, but I’m sure I speak for lots of women when I say that there is never a time or place when I don’t feel like someone is capable of trying to hurt me. I wouldn’t run at that time if I didn’t have my dog. I’m happy to report that she did bark at someone who did get too close to us during one run (nothing fishy — he and I were both trying to make room for the other on the sidewalk and ended up blocking each other). Still, it made me feel better that she noticed something that wasn’t a potential cat. 
  4. I got sick right before the half marathon last year and didn’t run more than 7 miles before the race, and I was running on a bad leg for most of the training until I figured out my shoes were bothering my hips (see footnote #1). 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Sarah on said:

    I love our runs together, Kelly! I’m looking into our next one, don’t worry. We will do another one together soon. xoxo

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