Tips for conquering your first Half-Marathon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Okay so 'conquering' may be a strong word, but how about tips for finishing your first half-marathon well?!

Before I started training for my marathon, I had never run more than 3 miles at one time. And that was on a treadmill. It's amazing how you can work your way up to 13 miles of outdoor running (including hills) in just a few months.

Being a new runner this year, and first time half-marathoner, I've compiled a list of newbie tips for anyone thinking of taking on the challenge!

1. Find a training plan that works for you. I ended up taking ideas from two different sources and making one that worked well for me. The two plans I looked at were Hal Higdon and Train Like a Mother. Don't be afraid to adjust to what works for you. I didn't log every single run that the schedule called for. And that's ok. You have to allow margin for injuries, scheduling conflicts, and just knowing what your body can handle. If my knees couldn't handle a scheduled number of miles, I dialed it back as needed.

2. Don't start too early with training or you'll get burnt out. I got pretty excited early on and started running too far too fast. Not only did it cause some pretty major knee issues, but I ended up feeling burnt out about 4 weeks too early. Twelve weeks is more than enough time to prepare for a half-marathon and it's designed to work your way up in mileage without injury. Don't jump the gun!

3. Sign up for a 5K or 10K before your Half. Races are such a fun atmosphere. It's nice to get a feel for how you'll pace and feel at an actual race as opposed to the roads around your neighborhood while no one is watching. And it's a great sense of accomplishment to cross that finish line, no matter what the distance is. 5K's are great confidence builders early on in training.

4. Buy a watch or use a GPS app to track your progress. I ended up just using the Map My Run app on my iPhone. I preferred running with my iPhone because I could access both my playlist, as well as my pace & distance info all in one device.  It's important to track your progress after each run. Not only does it build confidence, but it helps you to know how your body adjusts to the rhythm of the run at each mile. Even at the height of my training, the first 2.5 miles were always my hardest. So after tracking my runs for so many weeks, I just knew this about my body and was able to anticipate the fact that I found my rhythm by the middle of mile 2. Get to know your body. When do you hydrate? When do you need an energy supplement? When do you need to pull back on your pace?

5. Make a great playlist. Music is a huge motivator for me. I changed up my playlists often to keep it fresh. And I pretty much exclusively used Spotify. Here's the playlist I used for my half!

6. Have fun planning your routes and switch it up often. I loved planning out my running routes for various different mileage goals. I would try new ones all the time to keep the scenery new and interesting. It's little things like this that kept me wanting to go further. Don't get stuck in a rut with the same old route. Try reversing the direction, or taking a side road you've never taken before. Always let a loved one know where you'll be going before you leave the house! I also enjoyed driving to great trails in my area even if they weren't necessarily close. The new surroundings energized me.

7. Invest in great shoes and cute running clothes.  Hands down, your most important investment is your running shoes. I went with Asics this time, but I will admit it took a while to break them in. Try on lots of shoes and don't settle for a pair until your feet are very happy. And I personally think that buying cute running clothes that flatter your body and make you feel comfortable are a very important part of the equation. It's hard enough getting up at 5:30am to go for a run, might as well buy some fun tanks and shorts that you look forward to wearing. I rewarded myself on race day and bought an Under Armor tank that I had been wanting. My other favorite workout tanks are from She Is Clothing.

8. Have a running buddy to consult with. Sign up for a race with a friend to keep you motivated or at least have a seasoned runner to consult with. This helped me tremendously when I had setbacks in my training, or questions about fueling correctly.

9. Choose a destination city for your race and make it a whole weekend event. Pick a race where the destination is a place you're excited to visit. Get there a couple days early, see some sites, carb up at all the best restaurants, and enjoy some time with the loved ones who have come to watch you cross that finish line!

10. For your first race, run for distance and fun, not for pace. You define your own success. I considered my first half a huge success because I finished and felt great afterwards. I certainly didn't break any pace records! But what I'm more proud of is that I didn't feel too sore or beat up afterwards. I had just spent many months training so that my body was ready. This is honestly more of an accomplishment than the race itself! The fact that I dedicated myself to a goal and put in the hard work to make it happen is what I felt most proud of. It's all about the journey.

11.  Find a mantra to repeat when the going gets tough.  The day before my race, I was texting with a seasoned runner friend of mine and told her I was nervous about the weather and some predicted winds. These were variables I couldn't control! But she simply texted the phrase, "Dig deep." How perfect! That immediately clicked for me and I decided to make it my mantra while running. It's a short phrase that helped me focus and I could repeat it over and over in the moments when I felt like stopping. The whole race is a battle of wills. Find your mantra.

If you're on the fence about signing up for your first half, may I just say YOU CAN DO IT! Running has meant so much to me these past few months. After having babies and spending years pushing my own health to the bottom of the priority list, this experience has reminded me how important it is to stay active. The benefits trickle down to every aspect of your life. It's been so wonderful to have something to call my own. My running time is sacred. It's a time to focus on myself physically, mentally and spiritually.

I can't wait to do another one!



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