Why I Ran a Half Marathon without Training

In my younger days I was one of those people who thought that only someone insane would “pay to run” by signing up for a race. However, when I worked in corporate and used to run at lunch time, a coworker convinced me to sign up for my first 5k (3.1 miles) run and after that first race I was hooked, and had one lined up every weekend for the next month. It wasn’t just the race that I enjoyed, but also the hanging out with friends. Over the years besides 5k runs, I tried different races: triathlons, 10k, adventure runs and duathlon. But I always said I would never do a half marathon (13.1 miles). So how did I end up doing not one, but two half marathons?

My First Half Marathon

In 2013 I was teaching bootcamp when my client, Elizabeth, mentioned that she was doing her first half marathon and I should join her. This was something on her bucket list even though she was not a runner. She told me about her training plan and how she was up to 7 miles. Having done a 10k, I knew I could run that much and anyway I was already running 3-5 miles a couple of times a week, thus I decided to give it a try. The race was a month and a half away but training for it was out of the question; I don’t like running everyday and certainly not for more than 45 minutes. The only training I did specifically for the race was running 10 miles with the client on a Saturday morning two weeks before the race.
Race day was a cold morning where I was excited and nervous at the same time. The race was uneventful but by mile 11 I regretted not training as I had blisters and mentally I couldn’t stand running any longer. But I kept going and was surprised when my finishing time was two hours and two minutes; I had guessed my finishing time as two hours and thirty minutes. I was happy that I had done a half marathon and never had to do another one again.

Year 2014

From that first race in 2007 to 2013 I had done 24 races; nine in the first year alone and then two to three races a year. I got married in December 2013 and, for the first time in years, in 2014 I didn’t sign up for even one race. Around November 2014, I decided that in 2015 I would do another half marathon to “make up” for the lack of racing the previous year. Moreover, I had always been bothered that if I hadn’t taken a bathroom break because I was mentally tired, I might have finished in less than two hours. By that time I was barely running once a week, so I started running more often and on weekends increased the distance to 8 miles. Since I don’t like running long distances, it only lasted a month. I then decided to run fewer miles but faster, which had worked the first time around. But again life got in the way and I was barely running once a week. I was still working out regularly, but not running.

My Second Half Marathon

My goal was to run the half marathon before March 2015 for various reasons: before the Baha’i fasting month of March, before I started planning for kids, and before another year passed without any races. The only race I found in my city that was before March, was in January. Many tried to talk me out of it since I had not trained at all, but I decided to do it anyway. Even without training, I could finish it with a slow and steady pace. I gave up on my “obsession” of less than two hours finishing time, and set a new goal of a maximum of two hours and a half, and possibly a miraculous finishing time of two hours and fifteen minutes. Race day was another cold morning and I started behind the 2.15 pace setter (a runner who sets the pace to finish in that time) but soon lost track of her or any other pace setters. Therefore, I decided to have a strategy and pick up the pace at the first half of the race, knowing I eventually would get tired and slow down, and to stop at every water station to avoid dehydration. The first mile was easy; by mile 2 my upper back was hurting unless I ran with the left arm overhead or behind my back; by mile 4 my right calf was cramping; by mile 6 my left knee had such a throbbing pain that I doubted I could continue the race if the pain persisted; and by mile 8 my hips were on fire. For the rest of the race, the pain moved between the upper back, the knees, the calf or the hips. I decided to try mind over matter, and when I was in pain I thought of those that didn’t have the freedom to run: those in war torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq; Baha’is in Iran and others imprisoned for their religious beliefs; and those in Nigeria and other countries ravaged by terrorists. It worked and I was able to finish the race in, to my surprise and delight, exactly two hours and two minutes, same time as two years earlier.

What I learned from racing

This race has taught me a lot: from mind over matter; to setting your mind and going for it; to not listening to others doubting you; to how much you body can withstand; to trying things even when you are not ready for them; to how much a race environment pushes you; and to how much stronger I am, both mentally and physically, than I thought. Before the race I was asked why I don’t time myself for the distance of a half marathon instead, and I replied that I knew I would never push myself that much without the “pressure” of a race and other runners inspiring me. I am not suggesting doing a race, especially a long one, without training; but I knew in my case, being very active and having done triathlons, I could. Sometimes a race represents other obstacles in life that we want to overcome. Sign up for a race with only a goal of finishing it, and you might discover a lot more about yourself.

About the Author

Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following: