Last March Jim and I ran our first half marathon here in Raleigh – the Tobacco Road Half Marathon. Although we have both worked out consistently for many years, neither one of us are big runners. At first when Jim pressed me to do it with him, I thought I could never run that far because I get really bored doing one exercise for more than 20 minutes. I thought “how the heck am I going to run 13.1 miles without wanting to poke my eyes out halfway through?” However, I have never been one to shy away from a challenge so I pretty quickly agreed. We signed up for the race in early November and the big day was in late March. So we had a little over 3 months to prepare and that was plenty of time.
Since we are in “racing season” down south I thought I would share some of the things that we did to get ready for ours. Now granted, I am still not what I would consider a big runner so please don’t read this thinking that I am an expert. However, I did learn a bit from the process and I thought I would share this info for anyone else thinking about running a race, whether it is a 5K, a 10K or a half.
1. Find a good training plan. Like anything in life, its good to have a plan when you are getting ready to run a race. A good training plan will slowly but surely build you up to the distance you will be running for your race. You can tailor the plan to fit your schedule and you can decide when you want to do your long runs. We did ours on the weekends, but if you wanted to do your long run in the mornings on a weekday that is fine as well. I used this plan which incorporates certain days to do cross-training. Your body will need a break from running so this is your day to ride the spin bike, swim or take a yoga class. I did some of my shorter runs at the gym on the treadmill and some outside near my house. All of my long runs were outside.
2. Get fitted for some good running shoes. You will find that when you are running this often, having good shoes will make a huge difference. This doesn’t mean that you will end up spending too much more for your shoes, but it does mean that you will end up buying the right shoes. Having well fitted sneakers can help prevent injuries to your foot or knees (or other parts of your body.) I can tell you that I was having some issues with my knees, but once I got fitted for the right sneakers those issues went away pretty quickly.
3. Run at a comfortable pace. My goal for this race was to purely finish it and I wanted to run the entire way. I knew that I needed to run at a pace that would allow me to run the entire way and if that meant it was slower than somebody else I wasn’t concerned at all. I figured that I could worry about times in any future races. I wanted to run the entire race for my goal, but there are plenty of good walk/run plans out there and if that is more your style go for it.
4. Don’t get discouraged about a bad run. I found that when you are running this often and this far you are bound to have runs that are not as strong as others. Some days your body just doesn’t feel like running, let’s be honest. However, just put those days behind you and know that your next run will be different. What I did do on bad run days was to think about what might have made it a bad run. Was it the time of day? Was my body tired or did I not eat enough? Did I eat too close to my run? I learned by doing this that I am definitely a morning runner and I run best in the cold.
5. Fuel your body for your run.. One thing I always struggle with whether it is running 8 miles or lifting weights at the gym is determining how and when to fuel my body for peak performance. If I go too soon after a meal I get sick to my stomach and that negatively affects my workout. If I go right before a meal I am hungry and less energized. Well, that doesn’t really leave a lot of opportunities in the day for a good workout. My best run is in the morning after a very light breakfast and a cup of coffee. The key is to make sure that you have just enough food in your system that you have energy but not so much that your body doesn’t feel like moving. Also, this sounds obvious, but make sure you are hydrated. For long runs I took along some gel packs and a bottle of coconut water that I would hide along my route. I would also pop a date right before runs and I really think that gave me a lot of energy – the natural way:-)
6. Tell people about your race. The day that we signed up to run our half I told everyone at work. The reason that I did this was because I knew that once I told people, I was locked in. It’s one thing to promise yourself that you are going to run in this race, but it’s a whole other thing when you start telling friends, co-workers or extended family about your goals. I didn’t want to have to go back and tell anyone that I backed out of it so this really sealed the deal for me. Plus, it was kind of nice because people would ask me how my training was going and it kept me excited and engaged in the process.
7. Don’t EVER think that you can’t do it. I think sometimes we underestimate how strong our bodies are and how much we are capable of. I will admit, in hindsight, the half marathon was not nearly as hard as I originally thought it would be. Now don’t get me wrong, it was not a piece of cake and it was A LOT of work, however once I started running I never once thought I couldn’t do it. I knew deep down that the only person that I would let down if I had doubts was myself so I never once thought that this half marathon was not going to happen. I think its important to visualize yourself finishing the race or running the race with ease. I kept reminding myself that I knew I could walk thirteen miles so there was no reason I couldn’t do a moderate paced run for the race. I kept thinking of myself crossing the finish line and that definitely got me through some of the tough runs.
8. The race itself is lots of fun. If nothing else gets you through race day the adrenaline and the atmosphere of the race will get you through to the finish line. I had no idea that it would be as much fun as it was and I honestly finished wanting to sign up for another race. The signs along the road will make you feel like a million bucks and the people cheering on the sidelines will keep you going during those last few tough miles. Have fun – you deserve it.
9. Take the reflective blankets that they are handing out at the end of the race. I didn’t actually take one because I was so hot after running that I thought I wouldn’t want one. Jim had taken one and he actually ended up giving me his because after about 15 minutes my body cooled down significantly and since I was a bit sweaty I was freezing. This is a really bad combo after your body has just run 13.1 miles and I was really happy that he let me wrap up in the blanket. What a nice husband, right??
I could probably go on and on about more lessons learned from my first race. We are going to sign up to run the same one this year and I will probably use the same training plan again. I am definitely not a running expert and I probably never will be, however, I highly recommend running at least one race just for the experience and the sense of accomplishment you will feel. If you like to mix it up a bit you can look at doing some sprint triathalons or obstacle course type races. There are lots of options out there now and you will be glad and proud of yourself for trying them out!
Photo Credit – http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php – Sayan Samana