Improving my half marathon time AND running and drug addiction

Hi, I ran my first half marathon on Sunday in 1.34.59. I'm doing another at the beginning of November and I'm aiming to run under 1.30.

This may seem unrealistic but I only started running four months ago - I'm a 28-year-old male - and I've had no proper training plan at all. The personalised plan I worked out as I went along basically involved four or five runs a week of different distances - 2, 4, 6 or 8 miles, plus one long run of 12-16 miles once a week. I push myself pretty hard each time and record my times, trying to beat them each time I go out. I haven't done anything special with my diet and I don't really know anything about how to rest or eat or train for races. So I'm hoping that if I start training in a more systematic way, I can make a big improvement in the next five weeks and knock five minutes off my time.

There's another factor. My health was in pretty bad shape four months ago when I started running. This may shock some of you, but I started running when I was in hospital receiving treatment for the effects of heroin, crack and methadone addiction. It was at this time that I found running was simply the best way of boosting my mood and staying clean. I smoked 10-20 cigarettes a day and anyone who knows crack will know the devastating effect it has on your lungs. In the last four months I've quit smoking, drinking, all drugs and medication and made running my addiction. If I've made this much progress in a few months, I'm thinking I can make even more in five weeks and record a really good half marathon time. Some friends who knew me during my addiction will be running or supporting at the race, and I'm desperate to post an unbelievable time and show them I'm back to health.

It may also help if I remember to go to the toilet BEFORE the race this time - finding the gents after 1 lap probably cost me a minute or two.

Thanks for reading and any tips or links for a novice runner would be appreciated. Also if anyone would like to share their stories of running as a way of overcoming addiction, I'd be very interested to read them.


  • First off, well done on sorting out your life-styleimage. Has your GP cleared you for doing all this training? Being fit isn't always the same as being healthy, so make sure you do it carefully and with the correct advice.

    Secondly (YD image) ...  take a read of this for an initial basis for devising a basic training regime.

  • You obviously have an addictive personality. So easier to switch all your negative addictions to a positive one. Your'e not the first addict I've known who went on to be a successful runner. If anything you need a programme to stop you overdoing it and running too much too soon.
  • Hi Dr Dan,

    Yes, I've spoken to my GP about what I'm doing. Obviously I wasn't running half marathons as soon as I started off - four months ago I couldn't run to the end of the street - but I've built up my training at a rate that's worked for me, and my health is pretty good. Although I haven't exercised for years, in my youth I played a lot of sport so I guess I had something to draw on.

    I had a look at the link you posted. This may sound like a dumb question, but what are 'quality' runs? Am I right in guessing that means running as hard as you can and trying to set a good time?

    At the moment I try and run as hard as possible every time I go out. Sometimes I cover less distance because I'm frankly exhausted from yesterday's all-out assault on my 6-mile record, say. So I'm probably sacrificing distance for quality.

  • Sussex Runner,

    Yes, it's absolutely true - I am thoroughly addicted to running now. I've had to take a few days off post-HM as my legs feel like concrete, and I haven't been very happy as a result.

    Still, as you say, it's a much more positive addiction to have!

  • Hi Matt, you got a time for your first half that the majority of runners would envy, so you've already made a massive achievement.

    Based on what you've said, you have the ability to break 1.30

    What you need to do to improve is get a bit more structure to your training, and I think you've already realised you can't run full speed everytime you go out.  This may be the hardest part for you, as you may not get the same immediate buzz from an easy or steady pace run.  So it may be worth doing a bit of googling to understand the benefits of mixed-pace training where the easy paced runs give your body time to adapt to the changes introduced during the harder paced runs.  The "advanced marathoning" book by Pfitzinger explains how the different sessions contribute to overall improvement, but this might be a bit heavy going for a new runner. 

  • Hi Matt,

    well done to you for coming this far, you have really turned your life around.

    I use running as a distraction from an eating disorder that had control over me for 15 years. It is still, and will always be, difficult, but the buzz from a good run is a real help in my lowest moments.

    My one piece of advice - and I don't want to be the one here sounding negative, when I am generally a positive thinking person, is to have some kind of a coping strategy in place if things don't go to plan.

    Are you the type of person who will have a crashing low if you are disappointed with your time? How will you keep your spirits up afterwards? Even if you run an amazing race, it is possible that you will let your guard down and bad thoughts can sneak in.

    Like I said, I really don't want to sound negative or make you worry, but I know from experience that if you have a plan in place, plus at least one back up plan, then you will be much safer. Have someone at the finish line that knows how to support you, and fill the rest of the day with distractions so that your mind is busy.

    Hopefully you won't need any of this advice though. You will fly round the course and show all of your friends just what you can do - and then you will be walking on air for ages afterwards.

    One more thing; see if you can get someone to take a photo or two of you during the race, or on the finish line. It will be a great reminder to carry with you every day, and a great way to boost your mood if ever you forget just how far you have come.

    Best of luck Matt!

  • stutyr,

    Thanks a lot. Yes, you're right. Running flat-out every day means I end up running shorter distances, or taking extra rest days, because my legs sometimes just aren't cooperating. I'll do as you say and look up mixed-pace training. I'm excited to see how much progress I can make if I train in a more focussed way.


    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Eating disorders are a lot like addictions - some would say they ARE addictions, in a sense - so I sympathise. It sounds like you're doing really well to keep your problems under control.

    Great advice re. coping strategies. When I first started running, I was definitely using the endorphin buzz like a drug. I would run like a lunatic to try and get as big a hit as possible, and I'd be disappointed as I felt it wearing off over the next couple of hours. This was in the very early days and weeks of recovery, when my mood was very fragile and the endorphins were all I had to keep my spirits up. (Opiate detox plays havoc with your brain chemistry.)

    Right now I feel much stronger, partly thanks to running, but you guessed right - I am mildly vulnerable to low mood if my running doesn't go as planned. I do have backup strategies in place in case things don't work out, or if I get complacent. So, bearing in mind what you've said, I'll probably arrange to get to an NA meeting the evening of the race if possible.

    And I love the photo idea! Good luck to you too.


  • Well, the nearest I can relate to your experience is giving up smoking tobacco (not all that long ago). They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin but I doubt the withdrawal symptoms are a fraction as awful.

    Good luck to you Matt. You've scored a time in your first half that is faster than anything I've done in over 50 of the buggers image

    Two thoughts from me.

    1 - cast your mind ahead to a year or two down the line and imagine how much better overall you will feel as your druggie days fade into the distant past. There's the immediate feelgood effect and then a more gradual incremental effect that you don't notice day to day but it accumulates and over time it makes a big difference.

    2 - all runners get injured at some point, and if they're like me they get grumpy and listless when they can't run. For ex-addicts, that's a dangerous time. So find a cross-training sport to alternate with the running, which you can revert to if you are on the bench. Eg, I use a rowing machine, but swimming, cycling, anything will do.

  • Mr Hill, echo the others, great work on turning your life around.

    It seems foolish to warn about getting addicted to running compared to the other stuff, but "addiction" rather than "massive passion" is never a positive.

    I guess the sign to know if you're addicted to running is if you do it when you're injured or ill. If you don't, you're ok image

  • Matt, your first half time is very quick especially with no structured training. Well done. Also good effort on kicking various bad habits.

    I'll attach a link with some useful info and suggested training schedules! I would say "quality runs" are the interval sessions and tempo runs, so anything that involves fast paced efforts or holding a certain speed during a run. Don't be fooled by the name though, the long runs and steady runs are most important.

    Also this might help you with your training paces

    6 mins off your last time is a big ask in a few weeks, it's almost 30 seconds a mile!

    This info is really just to give you an idea of what is involved in getting your times into the sub 90 mins. I really can't give you anything more specific as I don't run that quick so won't pretend to really know. Apart from I am trying too and it isn't easy.

    If there is a running club in your area they will probably be able to help you with some more specific or personalised advise.

    From what you have achieved so far though I would think you can get into some quick times but it might take a little bit longer than a few weeks.

    One thing I can say is that the long runs are an absolute must and if you have to drop sessions don't miss the long runs.

    Best of luck.
  • Muttley,

    They're probably right about smoking being harder to quit in some ways - everyone at Narcotics Anonymous seems to smoke, which I always find a bit ironic considering these people are supposed to be the experts at quitting substances! Well done on putting down the fags. I did the same while I was detoxing from heroin/methadone - I figured the withdrawal was going to be unpleasant anyway, so I might as well roll all the symptoms into one.

    Re. my time: although I was in poor shape four months ago, I used to be hugely sporty as a teenager so I guess I had reserves of fitness waiting to be unlocked. I did work extremely hard though over the last four months, in my haphazard, amateur sort of way.

    Great advice about finding another form of exercise to replace the running when injuries strike. You're absolutely right, I can imagine finding it harder to stay clean when things aren't going quite so well. Right now I'm living day to day on the euphoria of having a clear head and not needing to put substances into my body when I wake up every day. It's still an amazing feeling.

    Stevie G,

    You're right - an addiction is a compulsive behaviour you have difficulty stopping even when the effects are detrimental. I'll keep an eye on it, and maybe find another physical activity to keep me busy in case of injury, as per Muttley's post.

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