I’ve never been a long-distance runner. Since high school, I’ve gone through periods of running two or three miles consistently for a few months interspersed with periods of doing absolutely nothing. I went through a CrossFit phase and a spin phase somewhere in there, too. I’ve always found that I’m highly motivated for short periods of time, and then once I stop, I have little-to-no motivation to start again.
As many of you know, I moved from Charleston to Nashville in October of last year. When I made the move, I remember briefly thinking (and texting my best friend) that I should run the Nashville Half Marathon in April to celebrate being there half a year. I didn’t give it much thought again until the middle of January when I was feeling the effects of the holidays. I knew I needed a goal if I was going to really get into shape—this time, hopefully for the long haul—and I decided on a whim to sign up for the Nashville Half. At this point in time, I had been running some intervals, but I hadn’t run a mile in about six months. The next day, I started training.
Because I hate running in the cold, I started out on the treadmill and I slowly worked my way up in mileage. I’ll never forget the day I was running on the treadmill (watching “How I Met Your Mother”) and realized I had forgotten I was running and run past my goal for the day. I would say it was the first “runner’s high” I ever experienced, and from that point forward I was hooked. Once it was just a little bit nicer out, I made it a goal to do every long run outside, and eventually I looked forward to exploring Nashville on foot. Plus, it was important to get used to those hills!
If you’re looking to run your first half marathon, these are my tips for making it happen:
- Get through the first mile. Still today, the first two miles of a run are what I dread most. It takes some time to get warmed up, so don’t let yourself stop until you’ve run at least one or two miles.
- Make a plan. And make sure it aligns with the race. I followed Hal Higdon’s plan, and I started it a little too early for my race. When I reached the last week of the plan (three weeks before the race), I didn’t know what to do. I knew it wouldn’t be good for my body to keep increasing the mileage, but I also didn’t want to start tapering. I like to think this contributed to the super rough race day I experienced.
- Find a buddy. I could not have done the long runs without a friend. Find a friend, coworker, running club, etc. that can do those long runs with you. This was incredibly important because it helped me through those first two miles, and I didn’t feel the struggle until much later in the run.
- Break it up. My two favorite runs of training were when I was running toward something. During my eight-mile run, I ran a mile and half to my friend’s house, she ran five miles with me and I ran a mile and a half home. Each leg felt like a new race. Similarly, during my 10-mile run (and favorite run ever!), I had two friends and my mom meet me and run anywhere between two and four miles with me. Those miles in between flew by because I was so excited to meet the next person. I only wish this had been the case during the race!
- Stretch. I’m serious! Do it before and after every run. You’ll be devastated if you’ve worked so hard and get hurt during the last few weeks of training.
- Make a killer playlist. I always run with music, and I had so much fun adding and subtracting songs from my playlist each week. I recommend changing it up as much as possible so you aren’t sick of your favorites come race day.
- Set a “why”. This is my number-one tip. Pushing yourself through the early mornings and the big hill and the last 20 minutes can be pure torture. For me, I had to have a goal in mind. Of course, getting into shape was one of the goals I was working toward, but personally I was more concerned about emotional goals. Maybe you’re running to prove to yourself you can do hard things. Maybe you’re in desperate need of unplugging every day. Maybe you are running in memory of a loved one. Maybe you’re getting over a breakup. Everyone has different reasons for running, but I found that I could tackle those really hard moments when I reminded myself of my “why.”
This day could be several posts in and of itself. All week, I researched the experiences of first-time half marathoners. I was overwhelmed and nervous and excited and unsure of what to expect. To be totally honest, I felt a little silly knowing how many people had run half marathons (and marathons and iron mans and more), and how worked up I was about that day. But, it is a large feat and something people spend months training for, so I reminded myself it was OK for me to feel however I was feeling.
The morning was so much fun! I woke up feeling like I could conquer the world. I started the race and I cried as I crossed the starting line. I was so excited for the hard work to pay off.
About halfway through the race, the heat and the hills started to catch up with me. I knew they had warned us about them both, but I never imagined they’d actually get me. I made desperate phone calls to my mom asking her to talk me through miles at a time, anxiously looked for my next cheerleaders along the race, stopped on the sidelines, grabbed every cup of Gatorade, cried a little and finally met my cousin for the last mile. There isn’t much I remember about the last three miles. In fact, a friend later mentioned that the race passed the baseball stadium and I quite literally thought he was playing a joke on me. However, I do know that while I didn’t achieve my time goal (not even close), I finished with a smile on my face and, by some miracle from God, running across the finish line.
The day may have ended with my body covered in ice in the medical tent to get my temperature back down, but I was already planning to run the next race. It was the most rewarding and challenging and exhilarating experience I’ve had to date. I can even say now that I’m determined to conquer the Nashville course next year—though I would have thought you were certifiably insane had you asked me that on April 30 at 10 a.m.
If you’re thinking of running a half marathon, I’d strongly encourage you to do it! That mind-over-matter thing really is true (most of the time), and I believe with the right training and mindset, anyone can do it.
Rapid Fire Questions:
What did you wear? I really prefer to run in leggings, so I wore these that have awesome, deep pockets for your phone and keys from Lululemon. I love my Gap sports bra, my Old Navy tanks and my Mizuno tennis shoes.
What did you eat before long runs? Toasted Ezekial bread English muffin with peanut butter, a banana and a big cup of coffee.
What did you listen to during the race? You can listen to my Nashville Half Marathon playlist here. I’m obsessed with it.
Is there anything you would do differently on race day? Slow down for the first half, not walk and run with a buddy.
Is there anything you would have done differently in training? I would have trained for more hills (big time) and I would not have skipped a single short run during the week.
Is the adrenaline rush real? Like, can I count on that? So, I was 100 percent counting on this on race day. I experienced it on my 10-mile run at home and during a few other runs during training, but it did not come when I needed it on race day. Most people will experience the adrenaline, but mine was at the beginning of the race and not so much at the end. I think I’m in the minority here because everyone told me that this would be the big difference on race day, but I wish someone had told me it might not be enough to get me through!
What was your biggest takeaway? I learned that I am capable of so much more than my mind wants to believe (in running and outside of running!); that I love running and that endorphins are so real.
Don’t feel bad, I had several friends who are very experienced runners run that race and had a difficult time because of the heat (and we’re from Mississippi, where it’s usually worse). Some even had to cut their run short.
That actually makes me feel SO much better, Alicia! It was definitely hotter and more humid than I expected – can’t wait to try it again next year! Thanks for your comment :)
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