If you’re considering training for your own half marathon, here are some things I learned along the way during my 12 weeks of training and on Race Day:
01. While conditioning is important, mindset is crucial. To me, the mental side of running far exceeds the physical. The thought of making your body do something rigorous for an hour, hour and a half, or even two hours straight is daunting. Negative thoughts, feelings, and distractions can feel like you’ve added 100 pounds to your legs when you’re trying to run. Get your head in the right place and the body will follow.
02. Plan ahead. When life gets busy, it’s difficult to find time for longer runs. Also, it’s difficult to get up on a Saturday morning to do a 9-miler after going out Friday night!
03. Track your progress! Even if you don’t have something fancy, you can still track your pace and distance. I haven’t splurged yet on a Garmin because yes, it’s a bit expensive; however, I wanted to make sure I would keep running. Yeah…I have a love/hate relationship with running! I used RunKeeper – and love it!
04. Make sure you’re doing enough cross training. I went through some periods when I didn’t do any strength training exercises – and it is something I want to focus on for future races. Strength is key to a successful race, especially when you start to get tired and your running form starts to fail. That’s when stronger muscles will help propel you to the end!
05. Timing is key! I always tried to start my runs before 7:30 AM. I don’t handle the heat well – so the earlier, the better. Especially in this southern summer heat! Besides, it also helped me prepare for my 7:30 AM race start time on Race Day.
06. It’s OK to train your own way! I started off with one training plan. Then I moved to another training plan because the # of days didn’t mesh with my busy life. And then I may have altered one or two days. And there were times when I was on the elliptical up to four days a week. And I even skipped a few days. Oops! But I realized that I’m not an Olympian or pro-athlete runner. Those people have to worry about following precise running plans. So I decided that as long as I did one long run per week, I’d be OK. Running is supposed to be fun, right?
07. Make an awesome running mix. Even if you don’t normally run with music, make a fun mix to take on one of your easy runs. Sometimes just the beat or the lyrics will get your smiling and not thinking about the actual process of running. This is also helpful if you are not motivated to run. You can set up the music while you stretch and warm up. I try to plan my more ‘upbeat’ songs for the end of my runs to give me a little more motivation and kick. Oh Yeah – hello Spice Girls…and Britney Spears…and Jackson 5!
08. Stay hydrated. I make sure to carry a bottle of water bottle around everywhere. Trust me, it is very difficult to run when dehydrated. I become sluggish, and grumpy, and slow. When training during the summer, I take my handheld with me on anything over 4 miles. I also like to sip on Gatorade during longer runs, and to refuel after a long run.
09. Wear proper attire. You don’t want to wear a different outfit on race day than your normal training day. It can be a painful mistake. New materials and seams can chaff in places you don’t even want to think about!
10. Don’t push yourself too hard. Make sure you’re taking enough rest days! If you’re supposed to run 5 miles and your body just isn’t feeling it, swap that day out for an easier one. You always want to listen to your body to prevent injuries!
11. Support network. Having your family or friends watch you makes it that much better! Seeing a familiar face in the crowd gets you pumped up and excited all over again. They snap pictures, give you high fives, and you are on your way again – fully revived!
12. Clock time does not equal your actual finish time! Although I always knew this, I was excited to see the clock at the finish of my race and know where I was in relation to my goal. I was EVEN MORE excited to find that my time was a wee bit faster due to the delay in my start. AWESOME.
13. I’m a badass! The real thing I learned is that after all my years of running for sports and exercise, that had NOTHING on this race. The real challenge was between me, myself, and I. Just me and 13.1 miles between the Start Line and the Finish Line. It. Was. Awesome.
13.1. I’m only half-crazy! That’s right folks…I ran 13.1 miles…for fun…and I will do it again!
And ALWAYS have fun! Enjoy the process, and feel proud of yourself for all you’ve accomplished.