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Virtual Half-Marathon: Envisioning the Race

by Karl Gruber
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Welcome to your first virtual half marathon experience, as I guide you from the starting line all the way to the finish line at 13.1 miles. This virtual half marathon race tour is geared toward you, the first-time half marathon runner. It can also be appreciated by someone who has a couple half marathons under their belt and any experienced distance racer. 

Almost every runner I come in contact with who has signed up for a half marathon is super anxious about it and has almost no idea what to expect during the race. Sure, you experienced what it was like to run at least 10 miles in training, but believe me, a training run and a race are vastly different.

Your last long training run of 10 to 12 miles just a couple weeks out from your race allows your body to feel what it is like to run a distance close to the full 13.1 miles. However, come race day, your body and mind may react very differently than during your training run. 

During your training runs, generally you are more relaxed and easy going in your attitude and emotional make-up. You more than likely ran with a training buddy, and were chatting with and encouraging each other, which is great and can also be done during your race – yet there’s that funny term called a “race.” A race prompts competition not only within yourself, but with your fellow runners, too. Sometimes pre-race agreements with your training buddies that you would stick together come hell or high water, and run hand-in-hand across the finish line together, goes out the window pretty darn quickly.

Let’s get you ready for race day by getting started right now with your first virtual half marathon race!

Starting Line 
So, you’ve got everything you think you need for the 13.1 miles that lie ahead of you. You believe you’ve put some good training and miles in the bank, and you are pretty sure you can do it. It’s only a couple minutes until the starting gun is fired, and you and a couple thousand other runners will take off like a shot. It’s these moments when you’ve got nervous energy built up and should channel that energy into your race. No turning back now! The gun sounds, and you’re off.

RACE TIP: Make sure your laces are double knotted, and you’ve topped-off your fuel tank with water and easily-digestible carbohydrates.

Mile 3.1 (5K)
The field of runners has now spread out, as each runner finds the pace and stride they feel comfortable with at this point in the race. Your mind flashes back to the very first time you raced a 5K, and here you are cruising right by the 3.1 mile marker. You’re barely breathing hard and thinking, “Wow, I remember when I was totally scared to run my first 5K, and now it’s like nothing to me!” All of a sudden you hear someone shouting through a bullhorn, “Aid station straight ahead! Gatorade at the first table, water is next!” You try not to slip on the dozens of paper cups that other runners threw on the ground, all while weaving past slower or stopped runners as you try to get that much needed liquid. Oh, and hopefully half of your cup of water didn’t fly up your nose and down your face as you tried to drink while running. That’s when you realize you should have practiced drinking from an open cup during training.

RACE TIP: Squeeze the open portion of the cup to form a siphon to make it easier to drink and less likely to spill. 

Mile 6.2 (10K)
The field of runners has opened up even more, and now you are really hitting a stride that lets you know you are racing but still feeling fairly comfortable. You check in with your body and your mind – all systems are go – but you know that you are pushing it and starting to understand what it is like to race. The bands rocking out at each mile marker and the many spectators cheering you on are keeping you pumped up – except the ones yelling “You’re almost there!” who have no clue that you still have almost seven miles to go. You check in one more time with yourself and confidently say, “I’ve got this!”

Mile 10
You see mile marker 10, and grab some more liquid at the aid station, this time slowing enough to drink as deeply as possible and spilling as little as possible. As you drink, you remember your coach telling you, “If you lose as little as 1% of your body weight in sweat, your performance goes down by 2%!” 

Your legs are now starting to feel the strain of running at race pace for such a long time. Still, you feel confident because you know you did the necessary training and you’re confident you still have another 5K left in your legs to get to that much sought-after finish line. You may be passing the runners who blew by you at the 5K mark because they let their adrenaline take charge and ran way too fast, way too early. Once again, you check in with yourself and think out loud, ”I’ve got this!”

Mile 13
Again you hear a spectator shout “You’re almost there,” but this time they’re not lying to you! You can see the finish line, hear the race announcer on the microphone calling out the names of finishers, and listen to the rock music beckoning you to get through the last tenth of a mile. By now, your entire body is straining, and you truly are racing to get that awesome finisher’s medal draped over your neck. 

You’ve been smart with your pace for the entire race, but now you let your own adrenaline and excitement take over, and suddenly your legs are really churning as the finish line is now in clear sight. Next thing you know, you are across the finish with your name reverberating through the sound system as the race announcer congratulates you. You stagger and stutter a bit as you realize that now you can actually stop running. 

As a volunteer puts the finisher’s medal around your neck – and a wave of fatigue and elation sweep over your entire being – you suddenly realize you’ve done it! You have successfully completed running a half marathon, as your mind blares, “I did it!”

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