I Foolishly Let My Twitter Followers Dictate My Training for a Half-Marathon

Which has its ups, but also very much has its downs.

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May 21 2018, 5:55pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

It's been more than two years since I last ran a half-marathon, and the events of that day can probably help explain why it's taken me so long to get back out there. About three seconds after crossing the starting line, I felt my ankle buckle. I'm not a doctor, but I'd guess the typical advice after experiencing something like that would be something like this: "Stop running immediately and head off to the side for an ice pack and sit down."

I did neither of these things. Instead—maybe because of my stupidity, maybe because I'd travelled from London to Cardiff for the race—I ran 13 miles on my busted ankle.

After hobbling to the pub, screaming internally for the entirety of the three-hour train journey back to London, and shuddering at the sight of stairs for a full week, I came to a decision: If I was going to do another one of these, I wasn't going to trust my own terrible decisions—I would need to pin the blame on everyone else.

So when I was offered a place in the Hackney Half, which took place this past weekend, I settled on a plan: I'd let my Twitter followers dictate every feasible part of my preparation. It could have ended up as a fantastic use of the Twitter hive-mind, bringing in the expertise of people with far more running experience than me. Of course, this is absolutely not what happened at all.


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On the plus side: a) I can get from my apartment to the starting line in less than an hour; b) I've found a pub that's offering free pints to finishers. On top of this, the route looks pleasant enough, involving a run around the Olympic stadium and taking in a good chunk of east London. Even if I don't end up getting a great time, I ought to at least enjoy the experience.

The main negative comes from the fact that the majority of my Twitter followers are sadists, something I learned with my first poll:

In fairness, putting this to a poll was, broadly speaking, more helpful than my general call for advice. The only responses that elicited were multiple cries of "keep running" and a selection of tips clearly plagiarized from Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen."

It probably says a lot that the one suggestion I was most willing to listen to was both extremely helpful in isolation and completely useless in 99 percent of contexts.

You might argue that I should have realized what I was dealing with and managed the questions to prevent especially vindictive or irrelevant voting. But, at this point, I was still on the precipice between serious preparation and self-sabotage, which meant I thought it would be funny to tweet stuff like this:

Which, obviously, resulted in stuff like this:

If there's one area where I can trust my Twitter followers, though, it's music. So, after hopelessly misjudging how long a playlist I'd need to see me from start to finish, I asked for a bit of help.

My friend Ben has actually completed a half-marathons before, so I'd told myself I'd listen to any suggestion of his, only to be greeted with:

I am Walter White. Victoria Park is my log cabin. Andrew W.K. is my Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

There was still space for one more, though, and when someone asks so nicely, how can you refuse?

I've read a couple of running blogs before, so I know the week before a half-marathon is meant to only involve a couple of shorter runs. I've had enough of experts, though, so it was time to propose a couple of options which are categorically a bad idea:

"An ultra-marathon friend of mine has just told me running any further than ten miles this close to Sunday is a spectacularly stupid idea," one reply read.

Still, my ten-mile Thursday run wouldn't even register on the stupidity scale compared to my next question. By this point, I definitely should have known better, but I know my followers are good people deep down. I sensed they'd have a change of heart at the last minute and help me ease my way through the race on Sunday, even when presented with such a tantalizing way to ruin it all.

I should point out at this stage that the official Hackney Half paperwork recommends you not drink for the 48 hours ahead of the race: It's sound advice, and something I'd have been duty bound to listen to—if only they'd tweeted it to me.

Still, fresh off no sleep and nursing one of my worst hangovers in weeks, I made it to the starting line.

I don't know if you have distinct "hangover playlists" and "workout playlists," but the crossover on the two is pretty much zero. "Party Hard" (twice) might help me go faster, but it wouldn’t soothe my head. I was surprisingly grateful for Dido, though, and for the people who'd told me to wear sunscreen.

At the halfway point, I looked down at my running app and was greeted by an alarming sight: I was somehow on track for a personal best. I made a mental note to google "is vodka a performance-enhancing drug?" while remaining grateful that, in among the terrible advice, I'd been urged to stay off class for the sake of my heart. At least my friends cared enough for me not to die, which I guess counts for something.

Ten miles in I was still on course, before hitting a wall—but that could have been down to a general lack of fitness more than the hangover. I struggled to the finish line in just over one hour and 35 minutes—two minutes off my PB.

This is generally the point at which you get the moral of the story—where you find out what I’ve learned from the whole experience. However, that would require me to have learned anything.

I recommend delegating responsibility, I guess. If you fail, you have someone to blame; if you do well, you can claim all the credit. Lovely.

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