How I ran my first half-marathon

Simon Scotting running Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 with bikini girl in background

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015, best costume/distraction

 

My first half-marathon was the Moscow Half-Marathon 2015.

I had run a half-marathon distance on a treadmill a few times in the past, but never on the street. As I approached the end of my training I pushed out a long run on the street to 22km (13.6mi) just to make sure I could do it. My head did not pop open, so I felt confident about doing the full distance in the actual race.

In order to collect my registration pack for the race, I had to obtain a “spravka” stating I was medically sound to run a half-marathon. A spravka is a is an official-looking document, ideally with lots of stamps on it (the more, the better). I was used to overcoming bureaucratic hurdle during my years in Russia. There was no way to avoid spravkas, so I had learned to relax and follow the procedures.

This health spravka was relatively easy. I visited a local sports clinic and paid a few hundred rubles (US$4). Five electrocardiography suction cups were applied to my chest with a liberal coating of medical gel. I laid chest up on a table while the machine was fired up. It beeped a few times and that was it. I spent 20 minutes trying to wipe all the gel off my chest, but who cared? I had the spravka!

The day before the Moscow Half-Marathon, I visited the “expo” near the starting area with my spravka to collect my race pack. This also allowed me to check travel logistics for tomorrow.

I collected the race pack and headed home while the rain dumped and wind howled. Would it be like this tomorrow? I would have still run in hurricane conditions if necessary. I carefully removed and inspected each item as I laid out everything.

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 race bib, drop bag sticker, security bracelet, and starting area map

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 race kit

Bright green running shirt with race number

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 race shirt and bib

 

My race number was affixed to a Moscow Half-Marathon race shirt. Socks and shorts laid out, and event wrist band next to them. That night I went to bed so early it was still light outside as the rain continued.

I woke up 3 hours before the start of the race to eat breakfast. It was still raining, so I adjusted my outerlayer for something more waterproof. A drop bag was provided to leave whatever I did not need during the race.

Traveling to the race on the Moscow metro I felt calm and confident. I had followed the plan and done every training session. I spotted a few other runners with the neon green race shirts which increased to a slow-moving crowd exiting from the metro station.

It was still windy and rainy as I wandered the indoor changing area. All unnecessary items went in my drop bag. I bumped into my friend Pavel Verbnyak. He was debating taking his jacket with him due to the rain. He was worried about getting sick (Russians are generally hypochondriacs as a stereotype). I told him to leave the jacket because we would warm up after 2 minutes of running. He took the jacket.

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 indoor starting area

Me with Pavel Verbnyak at Moscow Half-Marathon 2015… Pavel decided to keep his jacket on for the race

We stayed inside to avoid waiting in the rain and debated when to go outside. The rain stopped about fifteen minutes before the starting time. The air was fresh, ground clean, and sun still hidden behind clouds. Perfect conditions as we entered the starting area and waited. At the starting gun there was a mass shuffle to reach the starting line. The attached race number had a timing chip in it which would record my actual starting time as I crossed the line.

Half-Marathon race start with lots of green shirts

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 starting area… another typical Moscow traffic jam

 

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 starting area

Me shuffling along the starting area

The crowd walked, then jogged, then ran, then spread out. It seemed like everyone was wearing the neon green race shirts too. I started passing people. It was fun. I kept passing more people. This trend continued for almost the entire race.

I didn’t want to end up walking by the end, so I tried to keep my pace slower than what I felt like running. The atmosphere was electric. The course went along the Moscow River embankment up to the Kremlin and back, with another shorter turn around point. This is usually a very busy road, but it was silent except for the sounds of a few thousand pairs of shoes hitting the ground repeatedly.

Half-Marathon road running

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 running along Moscow River embankment towards the Kremlin

 

Trying to stay relaxed was a very good strategy. The collective race energy only was urging me to run faster and harder.

There were some water and food stations along the course, but as I did not drink or eat anything on my long training runs (and I didn’t feel thirsty nor hungry), I skipped stations but still waved to the friendly, enthusiastic volunteers.

I felt great.

On the return part of the course I saw Pavel carrying his jacket in his hands. Note to self: always anticipate feeling much warmer than the initial starting temperature would have you believe.

Pavel Verbnyak running Moscow Half-Marathon 2015

Pavel carrying his jacket and a beverage

I also saw this incredible distraction. Luckily my mobile phone was in hand:

Simon Scotting running Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 with bikini girl in background

Moscow Half-Marathon 2015, best costume/distraction

My original goal had been to finish under 2 hours. As the training progressed I modified this to finish under 1 hour 45 minutes. At one point during the race I passed the 1:45 pacer and thought that the more distance I could put between me and him meant the more margin I would have if I faded or had problems later in the course.

race pacer flag

Passing the 1:39 pacer

Around 19km into the race, I had a bizarre sensation. A voice in my head was telling me that I had run far enough. I could probably just stop. Find a bench. Sit down. I could start to see the finish area. Perhaps my brain was tricked into thinking the race was already over. It was a very loud and clear voice in my head, but I was able to identity, and dismiss the negative thought before it became too strong.

That was also when my legs were feeling a bit empty and other people were passing me (instead of me passing other people).Physical fatigue affecting my mental state, or was it the other way round? After snapping out of my wobbly mental moment, I pulled it together for the final 200m and overtook a few of the  runners who had taken advantage of my temporary weakness. Of course I had to sprint finish across the line where I received a medal and shiny metallic survival blanket (not necessary).

Moscow Half-Marathon race finish area

Finishing the Moscow Half-Marathon in a sea of tin-foil wrapped people

I had a few stretches as I watched for Pavel to finish, then we found our bags and headed off for some lunch.

It was a great feeling to have done the half-marathon and to finish strong. I stuck to the plan, stayed calm, and executed the race without any problems.

My finish time of 1 hour 35 minutes was beyond what I had hoped for.

Simon Scotting race results - Moscow Half-Marathon 2015

Strava results don’t lie.

The half-marathon training and the race was only to build confidence for my full marathon. I still  had 5 months the Moscow Marathon, plenty of time to continue building my endurance and confidence. My hypothesis about focusing on the plan had achieved a great result today. My fitness base and confidence level made me feel ready to start the real plan: training for a full marathon.