I hate running. On January 10th, I decided to register for a half-marathon on March 4th. Makes sense, right?
Before you think I’m crazy or that I have SM tendencies, let me explain.
Every day I hear some version of “I can’t do that, it’s just too hard”. It’s probably true, it’s hard to find a work/life balance, it’s hard to find the time to get a side project off the ground, it’s also hard to stay in shape.
But is it really that hard or are we just kidding ourselves?
We know the hardest things are the ones worth doing. They’re the ones bringing the most value. Are they really too damn hard or are we just lacking self-confidence in our ability to get them done?
So I tried, as an experiment. I challenged myself to do something I consider hard.
Since I hate running, I registered for a half-marathon.
And I finished the race. Not just finished, but I beat the average time in my age group which was 2h08. I’m not saying this to brag or anything, but I think it’s important to realize what is possible.
If as a non-runner I can run a half-marathon, I’d say that it gives some support to “anything is possible”. You can get this pay raise you deserve. Finding the time to work on your side hustle shouldn’t be a problem either. You could even work on learning a new language. It sounds hard, but it’s definitely feasible.
What helps is having a system.
So I’d like to share with you the 5 steps I used to successfully run a half-marathon with less than 2 months preparation. This is my system.
1. Find the Experts
Since I had no previous experience in running long distances, I really had no idea how to go about this, in such a short period.
So as you would guess it, I Googled it. There are tons of training programs online and multiple articles on how to run a half-marathon under 2h, like here, here and there. That was useful, but Google advice has its limits.
To the novice, an expert is anyone who’s done it at least once before.
My wife has run one marathon before, so I asked her for recommendations based on what I found online. She was very supportive and offered advice on the importance of stretching before and after the run. No-one really explained this online, but doing the proper stretching was a key success factor after the first 2 weeks of training.
Then her friend, a runners’ coach, heard about my crazy idea and sent suggestions my way too.
Their advice helped me getting up to speed on the topic really quickly and adopt the best practices that would have taken months or years of trial and (mostly) error. Their input also helps put things in perspective for what is reasonably achievable.
When starting something new, anyone who has done it before, even only once, is an expert for you. Find 2-3 people to get the most value. Too many people’s opinion wouldn’t help get started.
Which brings us to the next point: setting a goal.
2. Set a goal you’d be proud of
With support from my friends and family, I now had a good idea of how much effort a half-marathon would be. A 2-month training was going to be tight, but all the experts believed I’d be able to finish the race in ~2h30.
I have no idea why they thought so, because I surely wasn’t convinced.
So I set myself a goal to finish the race under 2h.
“The Merit of all things lies in their difficulty” Alexandre Dumas
That sounded crazy enough to me and counting the number of articles I found on Google on “How to do a sub-2h half-marathon”, a lot of runners share that goal.
Sharing my goal with the experts also helped me realize that I’d have to be serious about it to reach that goal. They also tailored their recommendations to my goal, which helped me further in the training (eg. take at least 3 energy bars the day of the race so I can use one for every 45min of running).
Key Takeaway :
Pick a goal you’d be proud of achieving and share it with the world. Your natural supporters will want to help you.
3. Create your own plan
With the idea to run a half-marathon under 2h, I decided to follow a Beginner’s guide to running a half-marathon. There are plenty of them available and they typically require running 4 times a week, for 12 weeks, until race day.
I know myself. I can’t commit to running 4 times / week if I don’t have numerous reminders pushing me.
Without any surprise, the first week was a struggle. Finding the time, the motivation or the energy was difficult. There were way too many ways I had to convince myself to go run.
So the following week I decided to automate my schedule and remove all decision from the process. I opened up my calendar and scheduled all the running time slots for the next 10 weeks, on specific days, at specific times, for specific distances.
My calendar looked like this:
To automate things further, I always had my running shoes by the door, as another reminder. My running socks and shorts were always ready for use. I also found it motivating to have a running cap. Only one. It became a ritual. Every time I put it on, my brain switched to running mode.
Craft your own plan and set as much as possible on autopilot: the checkpoints, the reminders and try to always have the tools you need to execute the plan ready to use.
Bonus points if you can set up a ritual. For my running sessions, it’s been putting my running cap on. Find something that puts you in the mood and repeat it every time you start that activity.
4. Stick to the plan. But adapt when needed
There are so many occasions I could have skipped a running session. And I did a couple times, but I’ve realized how important it is to stick to the plan once you’ve committed yourself to it.
No more trying to find a good day / time, it’s already been scheduled. Absolutely no need to look for my running gear, it’s already waiting for me at the door. Zero question on how long I should run that day.
The best? I had no need to actually have motivation. I just had to go run when my phone reminded me it was running time, everything was on autopilot.
It was great until I hurt myself 6 weeks into the training.
I got shin splits. The less scientific appellation is beginner-overdoing-its-training-and-getting-hurt. Apparently very common. My shins started to hurt while I was running and suddenly, a burning pain took over the whole leg, forcing me to slow down, to the point where even walking was painful.
I had to stop training.
First for a few days, but this actually had to be extended to 2 weeks. What Google doesn’t tell you is that many people following these 12 week programs end up getting hurt for training too much, too quickly.
This is when the plan needs to change. Running isn’t the goal anymore, but making sure the body has time to recover definitely is. The goal now is to make sure it recovers enough for the race.
Automate and pre-plan as much as possible to “front-load” all the work. The only way to stick to the plan is to take future motivation out of the equation.
But… if the plan becomes inadequate because the initial conditions changed, adapt. The quicker, the better.
5. It’s absolutely mental
A few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. Running a half-marathon is 90% mental. The rest is physical and anyone in decent shape can do it.
For sure, part of it is physical and my legs did hurt. My feet too. I even discovered that my butt could hurt. Yes that was an interesting discovery, around mile 10. However, at no point in the 13-mile race has it hurt enough for me to stop. It was unpleasant, but never painful.
What was painful was the constant mental fight going on in my head. One little voice kept telling me how much better I’d feel if I walked just a little bit. Just a little bit. Like 30sec. I could take a sip of water. That evil voice tried to make me stop multiple times during the race.
But another voice was supporting me. It was telling me how awesome it will feel to cross the finish line. To prove to myself that I could do it. Unfortunately, that voice wasn’t always as powerful as it should be. Especially when running uphill.
Fortunately, that’s also where the supporters are. They waved at me, they cheered me up. They had signs claiming to give Power Boost if I touched them. And it worked, the mental support from all these people was genuinely a source of energy.
It’s all about mental power. Remember it’s as easy to continue as it is to stop.
Navy SEALs say that our mental gets uncomfortable when we reach 40% of our capacity. Put another way, when we feel like quitting, we can still do at least twice as much.
Running a half-marathon was a personal challenge. It initially looked like a physical accomplishment, but it really was a mental one. It also gave me a huge boost self-confidence: it shows that anything is possible.
It wasn’t as hard as I initially thought. I’m actually looking for the next challenge. Maybe a full marathon this time?
So I challenge you.
Find something hard, something that would challenge you. Set a goal you’d be proud of reaching. Create a plan and stick to it. Talk about your goals and find supporters.
Challenge yourself. Do something hard. What it is going to be?