The 21-Day Half Marathon Challenge by Seb David [Day 14 to Race Day!!!]

*This is a contribution by my friend Seb David who got challenge to do a Half Marathon on less than 3 week’s training, and totally stepped up to the Challenge. Great job bro, really goes to show that when we put our mind to something we can accomplish great things rapidly.*

DAY 14 — Tuesday Oct. 18th

Today marks the start of Taper Week.  I’ve realized in all my years of training that a taper (reducing the intensity of training progressively to zero over a period of a few days before the race) is super important.  Since I’ve had such a short time to train for this, I wanted to maintain some intensity into the last week and reduce the length of the taper, but for sure I wasn’t going to do a super hard run this week.

Weirdly, I felt a bit sore today, especially in my calves.  Doesn’t feel like normal DOMS, however, more like tendon pain, so I didn’t want to go for a run since it’s so high-impact (I’m realizing more and more that running isn’t such a great form of exercise, it’s very high-impact), so I did some more bootstrappers and extended-arms good mornings.

DAY 15 — Wednesday Oct. 19th

I absolutely wanted to go for a run today.  So I did.  It wasn’t a horrible run by any stretch, but neither was it the relaxed, loping, effortless run I was hoping for at this point in my training…

Distance: 12.49km
Time: 1:02:26
Average Speed: 12kph

Legs felt relatively heavy, and I had to actually push to keep a reasonable average pace.  Apart from my big 20k run, this was one of the only times I ran in the morning (late morning), so maybe that’s it.  It’s important that I try to get my body used to working hard in the morning, though.

DAY 16 — Thursday Oct. 20th

Getting into the final stretch now.  Since I’m getting a bit paranoid about injuries, I didn’t want to chance another run today.  My calves and knees have been feeling a bit “tender” for a few days now, so I stuck to a modified version of the bootstrapper.  I basically start with a bootstrapper, and then do a good-morning, finishing with a calf raise.  I can do these continually for 5 minutes, and it’s very low-impact.  It focuses a bit more on muscle work than running.

I did 4 five-minute sets of these, and called it a night.  I procrastinated all day so I was stuck doing these late in the evening…

DAY 17 — Friday Oct. 21st

Very small run today, I just wanted to get into my stride after the warmup part of the run.  I was expecting the relative taper to provide me with a completely effortless run, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

Distance: 5.22km
Time: 26:13
Average Speed: 11.96kph

Legs heavy, still some pain in the calves, a bit in the knees as well… wow, that wasn’t what I was hoping for!  For the past few days, I was thinking my taper might be a bit too long and that I could have trained harder a bit longer… doesn’t seem to be the case!  It’s true that today was a bit of a hurried day: I had to do some work, and get that run in before taking a shower and leaving for Niagara Falls.  A long time in a car awaits me now.  The goal for tomorrow, aside from doing sightseeing, will be to do a quick warmup run, just to keep the blood flowing.

DAY 18 — Saturday Oct. 22nd

No run today.  We walked all day from tacky haunted house to touristy exhibit, we saw the Falls from various angles, got wet and cold, walked some more, ate in restaurants at weird hours… we all wanted to do a pasta meal for dinner, which we did, but way too late!  When we got out of the restaurant, it was 10 or 11pm, and by the time I actually got to sleep, it was past midnight, and I have to get up at 7:00 tomorrow!  So not enough sleep the night before the race, last night wasn’t much better… certainly not the best lead up to the race!

Throughout the day, my legs felt pretty heavy and I always felt like sitting down.  Hrm.  Doesn’t bode well for the race tomorrow…

DAY 19 — Sunday Oct. 23rd


So I wake up, feeling like I could/should have slept at least one more hour.  First, a quick assessment of the legs: some pain in my left calf, nothing too bad but who knows how badly it’ll be multiplied during the race?  I don’t care much about pain, I can easily put it in the back of my mind, but I would prefer to do without it, and although I’m ready to just go for it and not think about the consequences, being able to walk after the race would be nice!

Good breakfast, not too heavy, a banana, few glasses of orange juice, peanut butter and jelly on a bagel, a yogurt.  I dress for relatively cold weather, but in leayers, as I know I’ll shed most of them for the race itself.  It’s cold now, but during the race, with the sun shining, I know It’ll be warmer.

We have to walk for a bit to get to the bus, which is a nice way to get the legs going without working too hard.  When we get there, I’m impressed by the number of people that are doing the race, although a lot are walking.  A half-marathon is nothing to sneeze at and I’m pretty happy to see all those people caring about fitness and physical exercise.  It shows North Americans aren’t all fat couch potatoes!

I do about 800m warmup run, a glass of water or two, pop an energy gel (DISGUSTING!) for the first time in my life.  I’ve got two more in my pocket.  I opt to keep a long-sleeved shirt and my leggings, just to be on the safe side.  Last thing I want is battling the cold if there’s a lot of wind, and keeping my legs warm and somewhat compressed can only help avoid injuries.  The weather is beautiful, which is not ideal for me because it’s easier for me than most people to put cold, bad weather, and other adverse conditions aside and just concentrate on the run.  But then again, it might make for a better time, and I’m not really competing with the other runners.

Minutes before the start, I try to find the 1:45 bunny.  Bunnies are those guys with bunny ears who are in charge of running a certain pace, so you can follow them to pace yourself.  I didn’t really need one, as my Runkeeper App was going to give me my approximate pace, but I just wanted to be in the correct position in the pack.  I found the bunny, but I decided he was too far back.  I didn’t want to get stuck in the melee, and I knew there was no way all those people would be faster than me.  With a 1:45 run, I should be in the first 200 guys, and there were way more than that in front of the 1:45 bunny, so I muscle my way past a few people during the last few seconds.

The Start

BOOM!  The start is given, at 10am.  It takes me a few seconds to actually clear the start line, people are soooo slow to get away!  They should watch a few more race car starts… you don’t wait for the guy in front of you to start going, you just GO!  Ah well.  Now I have to be very careful not to start running too fast.  Adrenalin is a powerful thing, and what feels like a slow jog can actually be a pretty fast rhythm if you don’t know how to pace yourself.  Avoiding excessively fast starts is absolutely imperative, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a huge crash down the line.

Runkeeper is telling me I’m following a 4:45 per km pace.  A quick bit of mental math tells me this would net me a 1:40 time for the 21km… faster than I anticipated, but it really feels like an easy enough rythm, and I know that I can’t rely on my normal training pace, since my training runs have all included a slow warmup run of about 800m-1km.  I decide to keep that pace and aim to maintain it as long as it feels effortless.  I’m passing plenty of people, seems like a lot of slower runners decided to start at the front, which is pointless, but whatever.

The First Few KM

I’m having a good time, looking at people around me (some of the women are in great shape, if you know what I mean), talking to myself about my pace, trying to feel what’s going on in my legs.  I’m experiencing a bit of pain in my left calf and ankle, nothing major.  I find that sticking to the right part of the road is easier, due to the crown in the asphalt.  I find a few people that have a satisfying rhythm, but mostly I’m sticking to the 4:45 pace Runkeeper is giving me.  I check a few times to see if the GPS-given distance is congruent with the real km markers, and it is, more or less.

The first, say, 12km go by so incredibly fast!  What would be a long-ish training run feels like barely a prelude to the real race itself!  I take an energy gel about 45 minutes into the race, timing it right before one of the spots where people are handing us glasses of water or sports drink.  The taste of the energy gel hasn’t gotten better, that’s for sure, and I learn that trying to drink from a glass while running at cruising speed is a heck of a balancing act.  Good thing my breathing is well under control, as I cough a few times when water goes in the wrong hole!

12km – 17km

Now it’s getting a bit harder, psychologically rather than physically.  I’m not suffering overly, everything feels pretty good, but the initial rush of excitement has passed and it’s now feeling like every km is longer and longer.  I stick to my pace, without crashing, down my last energy gel around the 1:15 mark just to give me the extra kick I need before the final stretch, and keep hydrated.  I put aside any pain I’m feeling, whatever, I’ll suffer the consequences, I want to give my all, no matter what.

17km to the Finish Line

Alright, now it’s tough.  Every. Single. Km. Takes. So. Long!  I’m maintaining the pace, more or less, but it feels like time has ground down almost to a stop!  I use every mental trick I can think of, which isn’t much, keep telling myself this is the last stretch, and from 17km on I start pushing a bit more, making longer, more powerful strides.  In fact I’m only compensating for what would have been a slowdown, because my pace doesn’t improve.

I was planning to increase my effort with every passing km, but around 18-19k, I start feeling like I really am on the limit.  I wouldn’t mind vomiting if it wasn’t for all those people lining the course… they would probably think something’s wrong with me.  So I just maintain the pace, which is already taking every effort.  I try to draft other runners, but I’d have to be too close for it to really work, so I jut use them for mental drafting.  They’re suffering too, so results are marginal.  I should be forcing myself to put a smile on my face and think positive thoughts, but I don’t.  Gotta think of that next time.

The last 1-2k are really tough, people everywhere, I can’t seem to accelerate to the sprint I wanted to achieve…  I even let one guy past, which really isn’t like me, about 500m-1k before the finish line.  You don’t actually see the finish line early, which doesn’t help.  Once I see it, it’s about 200m ahead.  Somebody’s coming up on me, fast.  Music is blaring in my headphones, I’ve been listening to a Laurent Wolf podcast for the whole race, but I can still hear people cheering and the announcer saying my name and my hometown.

There is NO WAY I’m letting that guy pass me.  I don’t have time to barf before the finish line, so I’m good.  SPRINT.  And sprint I do.  I annihilate whoever that was, he never catches me, and I cross the finish line.  In a bit of a blur, people offer me those cool aluminum blankets, which I decline (STUPID, STUPID, this would be great in the glove box of a car).  I do take the bottle of water and bag full of goodies, thought.

Eat the banana, eat the apple, drink the water.  Runkeeper is telling me 1:40:54 and I think I started it a bit before crossing the start line.  I look for official results, but they aren’t posted yet.  I walk around for a bit, stretch, and then start walking the course in reverse.  I want to meet Melissa on the course and run the last few hundred meters with her to give her a bit of a boost.

I get to about 1km out, see her coming, then give her a few encouraging words, take the jacket she tied around her waist, tell her to enjoy the view for a while, then let her know when she can start to sprint, which she does.  I get out of the way, don’t want them beeping my tag twice, and then meet her at the arrival area.  The walk back up the hill to our hotel is brutal.

Official results:
1:41:05 official time (from when they started the race at 10am)
1:40:44 chip time (which is your “real” time, starting at the starting line)

This is about 12.5 kph, which is faster than I’ve ever averaged over any significant distance.  It’s faster than my sister in law’s 1:48 time (she trained much more than me, but her race was way tougher, in the heat and with hills, whereas my race was basically flat).  I’ts also faster than my objective of 1:45 by a good margin.  I’m very happy. *Phil’s Note = Great job man. Very impressive*

I’m 133th of the men, of 863 entrants.  23/121 in the 30-34 age group.  Not bad for a bit more than two weeks’ training!

The Aftermath

First, a shower.  Then, some more walking around being tourists in Niagara on the Lake.  Then, about 3 hours in the back of a car crossing the Toronto area before picking up my track Corvette in Oshawa. I had to drive five hours in a very uncomfortable car back to Montreal, which wasn’t the ideal way to spend my evening, but had to be done.  I stopped once when I started feeling really sleepy, but other than that nothing major on the way back.  Late lunch, skipped dinner.
The next day (this morning), I feel… great, actually.  No major pain, tender knees when going down the first flight of stairs but nothing much.  I could definitely go for another run, but I don’t want to push my luck.  I wanted to get some form of workout into my day, but it’s not happening, too many things to do and I think I’ve earned the day off… but yeah, I feel great, not exhausted at all.

Parting Thoughts

A half-marathon is something that is doable by anybody.  I saw a variety of people finish it yesterday, and not all of them were super fit.  I would recommend everybody try it once.  It’s manageable, you can do it without risking serious injury (unlike a full marathon), and it doesn’t require crazy levels of preparation.  Yes, having a good baseline fitness level will help, this is how I was able to get away with so little training.  But there are many training programs on the Web catering to beginner runners who want to do their first marathon.  They usually call for 3 months of training or more, of course, so it requires dedication.

Will I do it again?  Yeah, I think so.  A more challenging one, like the Montreal race, could be cool.  I’m not going to make it a regular feature, though.  Running is too high-impact.  I would love to do a running and swimming combined race, I would rock that, but it doesn’t seem to be a very popular combination.  What’s with everybody and the bikes?  I would love to try some more intense, shorter races.  5k, 10k, that kind of thing.  Cross-country races, too, that would be fun.

Over the winter, I’ll try some weirder stuff, like Phil’s Intermittent Fasting program, meditation, and the like.  My goal is to put on some body mass by doing weight training, but keeping relatively lean.  Good nutrition will help.  If I can rope in Phil, we could be a great duo… I’ve got the weights and the intensity, he’s got the out-of-the-box thinking, and I think we could really push each other.  We’ll see.  I like my added leg strength; I really want to avoid my usual mistake of focusing too much on the upper body, and not enough on the legs.  I think it’ll help me with skiing.

Well, that’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed this, I certainly liked sharing my thoughts, it’s put a bit more motivation in my training for sure.  I guess the lesson you could take from it is: if you put your mind to it, even in a short amount of time you can achieve something impressive, if you put your mind to it, and without sacrificing much.  I didn’t put myself through a crazy diet, didn’t sacrifice on work or my social life, and I’m not walking with crutches.  It was just a few extra hours a week of dedication, for two weeks.  So, what would YOU like to accomplish?  Let us know in the comments.  Just writing it down already makes it more real, and you can start visualizing how to get there.

Ciao for now!


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  • Seb, thanks for an excellent series, and I gotta say I'm not only impressed by your running feats but also by the quality of your writing. Made me laugh several times, and I loved the race car analogies.

    Good to see the "Challenge" format worked for you as well. I don't know what I'll be doing after the Anaconda, but I'm starting to think it might be something to challenge myself to spend less time on the computer. Last few weeks in Australia, gotta enjoy the great outdoors, all this website building stuff can wait, or.. be achieved with more productive work :)

  • J'ai bien aimé suivre ton parcours pendant 2 semaines et demi. Nice work !

  • i can't imagine how the competition will be, am waiting to see who will be the the winner. Great work for real.

So, what do you think?