Clearly I am not a running expert by FAR, but within the past few years I’ve gotten quite intimate with the half marathon distance. I ran my 18th on Sunday, and will run my last one until after the death of summer heat wave passes through next Sunday.
The half marathon was my second race ever, after only an ill-attempted 5k where all I remember is consciously trying to take in enough oxygen so that I wouldn’t pass out. The pictures from that 5k were gems as I didn’t yet know what I was doing as a runner, so I overdressed by about 40 degrees, adopted the posture of an 80 year old, and drank so much water at every aid station that I’m still sufficiently hydrated to this day.
Despite that disaster and being afraid of what I was getting myself into, I somehow managed to run 13.1 miles a few months later. All in a row. Without crying tears of blood, stress vomiting, or crapping myself. And guess what. You can too, if you want.
Things you shouldn’t do:
- It’s probably not the best idea to pick a half-marathon as your first race. Had I not attempted that craptastic 5k a couple of months before my half, who knows what that race would have been like. You don’t want to deal with a porta-potty fiasco during your first race or try not to drown yourself when you take Gatorade from water stops.
- Go out without a plan. Especially if it’s your first, you’ll want some guidance. My obvious first half-assed attempt at running a half marathon didn’t exactly leave my mouth watering for more. I actually considered retiring my 4 month long running career at that point. The second time around it occurred to me that maybe I should use one of those handy training plan things and maybe try to stick with it. Who knew it would actually work and take a solid half hour off of my first time?!
- Skip your long runs. These coveted long runs are the bread and butter of long distance training. Do you think it would be a good idea to go out and run 13.1 miles without even having an 10 mile training run under your belt? Go ahead and ask me, I’ll give you an honest answer from experience. Yes, they suck, are hard, and take seemingly FOREVER, but these will prepare you for being on your feet for 2+ hours at a time. Only skip them if you want to hate yourself for it later on down the road.
- Ignore aches and pains. Soreness and pain are two very different things. Ignoring something as simple as calf tightness that doesn’t go away over a few days can turn into something like Achilles tendonitis. Injuries don’t mess around, so take time to assess how you feel every now and then.
- Give up. It takes a lot of time, effort and consistency to prepare for a half marathon. 13.1 miles is still damn far, no many how times you complete the distance. You’ll hit points in your training where motivation will fade and you’ll want to call the strugglebus to come pick you up. Fight the temptation to skip your runs and dig deep to power through.
(On race day)
- Go out to fast. Oh man, I am the guilty conductor of that train. Races are JUST SO FUN and you get SO EXCITED at the beginning because the energy of the crowd is amazing and oh man! My first mile was the fastest one I’ve ever done! Cool! Maybe I could keep that up for the entire race! Enter 40 minutes later when your body is pleading and begging with you to put it out of its misery. If you heed any of my advice about racing ever, please, heed this. You’ll want to bust out of that starting gate like a horse at the Kentucky Derby, but that is a sin for which you will most definitely pay.
- Try something new on race day. Also very guilty of this. Have you ever forgot your shoes or a sports bra or needed to buy shorts at an expo because it’s going to be 95 degrees during your race and all you brought were sweat-inducing tights? I have! And although I’ve somehow managed to escape the threat of chafing or otherwise, I still don’t recommend trying anything new on race day. Especially food. Now is not the time to try that new Spicy Sausage McBurrito for breakfast because you forgot your Clif Bar.
Things that you should do:
- Get fitted for shoes. You’ll want to invest in a pair of running shoes made for your foot type. I can’t stress enough how important this is and how it differentiates running on clouds vs running with bricks tied to your feet.
- Experiment with fuel. You can find more info on that here, but for anything longer than 8 miles I generally will carry fuel in the type of gels.
- Drink more than you should, and eat less than you think you should. And by drink, I mean water. Lots of it. Hydration is a huge key in having a successful race, especially if so smartly picked a race in the middle of the summer thinking that would be a good idea. Food? Please don’t adopt my mentality of I CAN EAT ANYTHING I WANT ALL THE TIME BECAUSE I RUN SOMETIMES. No. Yes, the longer and harder your runs, the more food you’ll need to support your training. But it’s easy to go overboard and 3 mile runs do not earn you entire boxes of cheez-its in single sittings.
- Join the masses. Look up some local running groups! It’s not that scary. I prefer running solo most of the time, but the times that I did join in for a group run did not disappoint. And no, you won’t be the slowest person there, and if you are in the back of the pack, I promise you there will be someone else right there with you.
(On race day)
- Have reasonable expectations. If it’s your first half, I recommend running without a time goal. It’s a lot of pressure to finish the distance alone much less have a self-set strict time to do it in.
- Trust your training. The best way to calm your nerves and anxiety is knowing you did everything you could (that is, if you followed your training plan) to prepare for your race. Rest easy knowing that the race is just the icing on the cake.
- Enjoy yourself! Take it all in. You only get one first race, and it should be a special one despite the fact that you might be cursing every choice you ever thought was a good idea in life. Soak up the atmosphere and take in the crowds. You’re doing something that not many people do!
- Celebrate the crap out of yourself. 13.1 is worth at least a week of smug bragging. Go ahead and eat that celebratory pizza and beer, nothing will ever taste so good. Round up your friends and family so they can oooh and ahhh at your achievements. Talk about how tough you are for enduring that near-death inner thigh chafing experience and how you almost blinded yourself with your own salty sweat. If that doesn’t impress them, then I don’t know what will.
***Bonus question: What other WIL posts would you guys like to see?