Last week, I ran my first half marathon. Getting through half marathon training and crossing that finish line was a huge personal accomplishment, as I struggled with running the mile in growing up when we had to do it for gym at school (I believe I had to re-run it twice in both elementary and middle school for having too slow of a time). I ran my first 5K less than a year ago and I’m living proof that training can get even the most athletically inadequate people like myself in shape for something like this. After talking to some other girlfriends who were also running the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon at a New Year’s party, and after the inspiration of a few beers, I decided to jump on board and signed myself up. Between January and April, I trained and here are the 13.1 things I learned that I would like to pass on to any other beginner runner who has ambitions to run a half marathon:
1. Have A Plan
Training is definitely important. If you don’t train, you will burn out and will not enjoy the race. Or worse, injure yourself. I used the Runkeeper app’s training program. I entered in when my race was and my level of experience. It laid out your runs and gave tips on your rest days – like, eating pineapple or sushi to help ease your sore muscles. Though I didn’t follow the training program down to the tee every week, I could look at the runs I needed to do that week and try my best to plan my schedule around it or fit in my runs somewhere in the week. I would generally do my short runs during the weekdays and then my long run on the weekend with yoga on Sunday. As you can imagine, this did dominate and control my schedule quite a bit – especially as the longer runs got longer. It would take nearly half a day or more to do the stretching, pre-hydration, nutrition and digestion before the run – not to mention the cool down, stretching and showering. But I can tell you that all the time dedicated made it that much sweeter when I crossed the finish line.
2. Seek Out Mentors
A wonderful lady and avid runner sat next to me last year at work. She inspired and encouraged me to run my first 5K. When I decided to run my half marathon, I sought out her advice several times and we even talked the night before when she gave me more pointers for race day. She was an amazing source of support and positive encouragement through all the training, sending me emails and texts to check in on how I was doing and applaud my success. Mentors like her and my other more experienced running friends that I sought out for advice helped me get past the finish line.
Excuse my language, but foam rollers are the shit. When I started running further than 3 miles, my muscles were so unhappy. I was so flipping sore! My muscle / foam rollers made my unhappy muscles so much happier.
4. Missing A Run Won’t Kill You
Don’t beat yourself up over missing a run or two. I went into the training program knowing that my demanding work / outside community and business involvement would be difficult to work around and I did miss a run here and there.
5. Don’t Miss Too Many Runs
Though I am very proud of my 2:26 time, I think I would have done SO much better with more adherence to my training program.
6. Nutrition Is Key
My 6 mile run in my training program was the day after I had gone out, drank a fair amount and had gotten little sleep. I also had done all this on a poor dinner. Sounds like I’m setting the stage for success, right? Up until this point, I had been doing pretty ok even without taking much notice of my nutrition. But this day, I had the worst run ever. I lost my breakfast and felt like crap for the rest of the day. So, remember, kids – nutrition is key.
At the beginning of this training, I was very self-conscious about running with just my sports bra. Even as sweat poured down my face in my apartment building’s poorly ventilated gym or on the trail in my neighborhood, I didn’t take off my athletic top. On my mile 7 day, I wore a pullover and sports bra not realizing how much the wintry weather had warmed up overnight. It was when I got past mile 6 and breached mile 7, that I started to just not give a crap. I took off the pullover and tied it around my waist. I was always so gross and red-faced during and after the long runs. Once I reached past that point of not caring how I looked when I ran, it was liberating. I continued to be a gross, sweaty mess, but found a certain beauty and bad-assness to it. And to this day, I don’t give a crap how I look when I run.
8. Lean On Your Community
On social media and among the friends who were running the race with me, I found a terrific spring of support. Sharing my success and challenges with my social community and receiving so much encouragement back was a big part of helping me push myself to run further and further each week.
9. Stretch For Success
Stretching is another awesome and wonderfully helpful thing in training. I stretched before and after runs, most nights before bed and also tried to do a yoga class once a week. I could see a huge difference in how my body felt after proper stretching and not enough.
10. Have Some Fun With Your Training
To keep things lively, I tried to plan my runs to see my favorite parts of the city or explore new places. One of my favorite runs was my 10 miler when I ran to Kaw Point Park. This beautiful little park is at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers and is where Lewis and Clarke camped in 1846. I also found a new trail that I had never run down in the industrial neighborhood by my apartment. I felt like the Dora Explorer of half marathon training!
11. Document Your Success
With the Runkeeper app, I was able to track all my runs and see myself improving over the weeks. Seeing the mileage rack up and seeing my results brought me a lot of excitement and pride. I also took before, middle and after pictures which helped encourage me to continue the training and not become a total couch potato post half marathon. 🙂
Having my friends and family cheer me on during the race and/or celebrate after was the most awesome thing ever. My boyfriend rode his bike along the course from mile 4 on periodically stopping to cheer me on. I also had two other friends join him on bicycles complete with cowbells later on and it was so fun to have my boyfriend, family and friends at the finish line. It made me feel so proud and so loved – I can’t thank them all enough.
13. Gatorade vs. Water
At the hydration stations, they will hand out Gatorade and water cups. Turn down your music and take notice of what they are handing you before you dump it on your head. This could have happened to me. That is all I will say.
.1 Enjoy It!
Take pride in your training, take pride in your successes, no matter how small. After weeks of training, when it came to race day, I put on my “13.1” playlist and just enjoyed it. It was one of my most proud moments to cross that finish line. I’m considering signing up for another one in the fall. Yep, I’m addicted.