It’s been almost a month since I participated in my first half marathon. Not only was it my first organized half marathon, but it was the first and only time that I have ever run more than eleven consecutive miles. All things considered, the race itself went better than I could have anticipated. I performed better than I expected coming in just under the two-hour goal that I had for myself (1:59:28) and had no major issues. I walked away with all of my toenails and no chaffing and I consider that a success. This was a bucket list item for me and while I’m not sure I will sign-up for another half marathon, I am glad that I participated. Being the half marathon novice that I am, I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned through this experience.
- Training plan: optional. There are tons of half marathon training plans available, just search Pinterest and you will be overwhelmed. Personally, I didn’t follow a plan. I only like to run one day a week and most plans called for multiple running days. Instead, I decided to focus on building distance on my once a week run. Each week I either added a mile or worked to improve speed of the mileage that I had built up. Once I hit ten miles, I stopped adding distance. Probably a fail on my part, but the ten miles was long enough. My plan for the last three miles was to rely on the energy of the other runners and the finish line…and it worked.
- Closely monitor all water, activity and nutrition on the days leading up to the run. Running for two hours will leave you feeling pretty crappy towards the end if you aren’t careful. To avoid dehydration during the race, I started increasing my water consumption three days before. In addition, I tried to keep my workouts pretty standard. I didn’t add anything new or unexpected to prevent any muscle tightness or soreness leading up to the race. That being said, I didn’t stop working out. Keep things as normal as possible. This includes food too. Don’t eat anything new on race morning…you don’t want to deal with any unexpected side effects.
- Run a dress rehearsal. Make sure you do a fairly long distance run in the clothing you intend to wear to the half. This will prevent any unpleasant wardrobe malfunctions, think leggings that don’t stay up, chaffing or uncomfortable socks. I am super sensitive to these kind of things, and will fixate on anything that feels out-of-place so I keep a pretty standard uniform when running.
- Plan your entertainment. It was surprising to me how many people on the course weren’t listening to music. This would kill me. I know it is generally recommended not to use earbuds for safety reasons, but if I didn’t have something to listen too I am not sure that I could complete the course. Make sure you pick something that will keep you motivated. I’ve found that when I run to audio books or podcasts, my pace is significantly slower than when I run to music. For the half, I used music only to help with motivation. Rock My Run is my go-to.
- Establish Coping Strategies. I knew this would be a challenging physical activity for me. Knowing this, I established some tactics in advance to help me through it. First, create a mantra for yourself and use that mantra during the really tough parts of the race. I used my family motto which is “we can do hard things”. I adapted it to “you can do hard things” and would repeat this to myself during the tough times. It helped….a lot. Do not underestimate the power of a mantra. Another strategy I used was to come to an agreement with myself (ie my body) that I would go as fast as I could go in that moment. This gave me the freedom to slow down or speed up if need be, but always to keep pushing myself to do my best.
During the Race
- Find Motivation on the Course. You will find motivation in unexpected places. I had no idea how much the spectators would impact my motivation. It was reflected in my pace too. The areas where there were more people watching the race resulted in a slightly faster pace. Also keep an eye out for the posters. The posters for these larger organized races are fantastic. My personal favorite posters included: “Smile, If you aren’t wearing underwear” and “Worst parade, ever”. It seems small, but having something to make you laugh on mile 9 can really save you.
- Save a little juice for the last two miles. I knew that I would need to conserve a little energy to really push myself those last two miles. I wanted to cross the finish line strong. I had come that far and there was no way that I was going to shuffle across the finish line.
The best way that I can describe my post race experience (once I came down off the high of completing a half marathon) was the feeling of being hung over. I was dehydrated, I was exhausted, my brain felt foggy, I had a headache from lack of caffeine (I skipped the coffee that morning) and I. Was. Hungry. Two recommendations….have a game plan for brunch after the race. We ended up bouncing between three restaurants because we didn’t want to wait 20 minutes to eat and ultimately wasted too much damn time. Also, keep moving. You will feel inclined to sit on your butt the rest of the day and don’t get me wrong you deserve rest…but don’t stop moving all together. Your body will tighten up. Finally, Jason and I wobbled into Denny’s like two 90 year olds who just had hip replacement surgery. It was painful. Final note about post race, expect to be somewhat sore the next several days. Make sure to stretch and foam roll as soon as you can. The million dollar question right now is will I do another half? The answer…probably yes, but I’ve got a few other things that I am going to work on first and one of those just required me to buy a mouth guard. Until next time.