7 Lessons Learned Training for a Half Marathon
Every year I write down my yearly New Years Resolutions and two years ago, maybe three, I wrote down the goal of running a half marathon. I fell so short of my goal and instead of trying again, I gave up (which is honestly really unlike me). For two years I barely ran more than 3 miles at a time because I had a terrible side cramp that would make me double over in pain (scroll to the bottom to hear about my “injury” and how I worked through it). However, this year was my year to get my sh*t together and do the damn thing!
I started out 2019 by cutting way back on my normal list of 5-7 new years resolutions and wrote the following two:
Run a half marathon
And ya’ll, I finally freaking did it! I went from barely being able to run a painful 3 miles to running 13.1 miles and feeling great. I ran the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Here is my advice for running your first half marathon (I am not a medical professional, please take this advice with a grain of salt). Also, feel free to drop any comments below! Okay, let’s go:
DON’T GO TOO FAR, TOO SOON, TOO FAST
I knew I couldn’t just start training for a half marathon after barely running for two-ish years, so I started off slow. I trained lightly by running and walking only low mileage (no more than 2-3 miles) for 12 weeks before I felt mentally and physically strong enough to start my training (mainly because I had to work through my cramps first, you can read more about that at the end of the post). When I started my training, I made sure to not make the mistake of running too much/too far/too fast/too soon. I knew from experience that was a sure way to fail. The last thing I wanted to do was get 5 weeks into my 12 week program and feel totally burnt out. In the end, it paid off to take it slow and my body felt great the entire 12 weeks of training.
IT’S 60% MENTAL, 40% PHYSICAL, ALSO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
I don’t think I’ve ever given myself more pep talks, more mental high fives or more compliments than I did in the 12 weeks I was training for this half marathon. Anytime I successfully ran a longer run I would be SO proud of myself. My mantra was, “you are so strong, you are so healthy, you are so capable.” Additionally, I gave myself a LOT of space to just be a human. If I was supposed to run 3 miles one day but just didn’t feel like it, I wouldn’t. Or maybe I would say, “okay, you don’t feel like running 3 miles, let’s walk 1.5” and that’s what my workout would be for the day. However, I never missed a long run- those were the runs that I always disciplined myself to do every week. But instead of planning to do them on a specific day, I did them whenever I felt great and like I could take on the challenge. Then, I’d adjust my schedule and take the next day off to rest and recover. I honestly contribute my success to my positive outlook and the fact that I was so supportive and proud of myself, while also listening to my body throughout the process.
MAKE 1 GOAL: TO FINISH
Don’t make a goal for anything else, except to finish. Don’t set expectations to finish in a certain amount of time if it’s your first half marathon. No matter if you walk the entire course or run the entire time (or both!), just make it a goal to finish the race. This took an unbelievable amount of pressure off and helped me really enjoy my entire experience. In the future I might work towards some faster times, but this first go-round was slow and steady and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
FOLLOW A TRAINING PROGRAM
I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Half Marathon Training. This was the perfect program for me because although I had been training for 12 weeks to get to a comfortable place, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had run more than 6 miles in my life and I was really nervous for the longer runs. Hal Higdon’s program really prepared me to start adding on the miles later in the training by starting off slow with 2-3 mile run/walks. I did my first 9 mile run in Forest Park, Portland. If you’ve ever run there before you know it’s all dirt trails and although it’s a city park, the elevation is gnarly; I felt SO good. Even though my heart rate was elevated, I was in no way gasping for air, fatigued or lethargic. My momentum and strength was the same at mile 8 as it was at mile 1. I knew on that run I had picked the right program, and I knew I’d be able to tackle 13 miles if I could do a 9 mile trail run and feel great. I highly recommend Hal Higdon!!
USE YOUR RUNS TO BETTER YOURSELF
I went sans music for [almost] every single one of my runs for the 12 weeks of training and I’m 100% better for it. Some of my longer runs lasted over an hour and with no music to distract me, I had a really good opportunity to use the time to better myself. I did a few guided meditations, but mostly I just picked something to think through and let my mind wander. Two big things for me were dissecting my privilege (this one was huge) and I also put a LOT of time into thinking through who I really am as a human being; what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, what I love, what I don’t love, who I am and how I want to be better. From this I allowed myself some space to process through the harder truths and it became pretty clear, pretty fast, that I needed to come face to face with a lot of lies that people (some of them close to me) and society have been trying to get me to believe about myself in the last few years. I noticed I’m a lot more confident standing up for the things I believe in, and because of that, my personal relationships are falling into a more authentic place for me. I’ve always been a pretty happy, confident person, but there is always room to grown and better yourself, no matter how content you are with your life! I highly recommend doing something similar if you’re training for a big race!
FOOD IS YOUR FRIEND
Eat your carbs, make sure you incorporate protein into your meals to build muscle and especially make sure you’re eating more calories on your “long run” days. Do not starve yourself, do not deprive yourself, if you do, you will burn out instantly. Nutrition looks different to every body, so do what’s best for you. Running a half marathon should be an uplifting, positive experience, not a torture routine to punish yourself. If you struggle with eating and nutrition, consider hiring a professional to help you navigate this aspect but, I repeat, do not starve yourself or use a half marathon as a torture routine to punish yourself!!! If you find yourself doing that, please stop and get help.
EVERYBODY* IS AN ATHLETE, * IF YOU HAVE A BODY, YOU ARE AN ATHLETE
Stealing this quote from Nike because I love it SO MUCH. If you have a body, you are an athlete and don’t ever let anyone make you believe differently! It doesn’t matter how big, small, short, tall, thin, thick, or whatever you are, YOU CAN RUN A HALF MARATHON! And if you’re looking for a half marathon that has a lot of diversity and is very inclusive, the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon is your race! The Bridge of the God half is great for first timers because they allow walkers so there is absolutely no pressure to run a fast race, which I personally loved because I’m slow as shit. That also means you’re not surrounded by a ton of ultrarunners, it’s very low key and most everyone is there to have a good time. Please don’t ever let what you look like get in the way of what you can accomplish, like I said above, training for half marathon is more mental training than physical. Even if you’ve never run a day in your life, you can do this! Just use a really good training program like Hal Higdon and start slow, you will be running in no time :)
my “injury” story:
Let me preface this by first saying I’ve been a runner my entire life. From playing soccer to running on the varsity track team for four years, and I just straight up love to run, I’m a runner. Anyways… For two years (2016-2017ish) I barely ran more than 3 miles because I had some stress and anxiety that was bubbling up during my training and manifesting into a terrible side cramp that prevented me from running half a mile before I’d double over in pain. If I was stubborn and ran through the pain, it would feel like I had been severely punched in the side for days afterwards - like my body was nursing a bruise. I tried going to a doctor, but he simply said he didn’t know what it could be and maybe it was a ripped abdomen muscle and to take 6-8 weeks off running to let it heal. I knew deep down that wasn’t true, but I clung to his advice as a way to avoid running for awhile and not having to confront my problems. After the 6 weeks had passed, I tried going out on a few runs and almost instantly my cramp would return. In tears, I knew there was a bigger issue at play and that I needed to figure something out. I LOVE TO RUN and there was no way I was going to let some bullsh*t get in the way of my favorite activity.
My mom recommended the book The Mindbody Prescription by John E. Sarno, M.D. to help kickstart my healing process. I knew that anxiety and stress could manifest itself in the body, but even with that knowledge I was having a hard time accepting the fact that it could happen to me, and even then, I had a hard time letting the anxiety and stress go. This book helped tremendously! I was able to work through a lot of shit and honestly, none of it was that bad, it was mainly job stress and anxiety about the unknown (this was before we moved to Portland and we were trying to map out what the next chapter in our lives was going to look like).
When most of the pain was gone I was still experiencing a little bit of cramping here and there (like, real running cramps) and after attending a talk with Susan Bass, Ayurvedic Educator from The Sarasvati Institute, I had found the last part to my healing - breathing. During the hour long talk, she dove into the importance of breath work and I realized I wasn’t breathing correctly when I ran and it was causing strain on my diaphragm where it connects to the bottom of my ribs, resulting in a painful runners cramp. After about a week of breath work, my cramps were gone forever. Occasionally they’ll pop up, but now it’s real running cramps and I’m able to easily work through them with some deep breaths.
I know this injury doesn’t sound like a big deal, but mentally it really f*cked with me. So many tears were shed and it really was mentally taxing to have one thing I love to do, be painful. Also, this was not truly a physical injury; I didn’t have a ripped abdomen muscle, or any other physically injured part of my body, it was all mental. This healing process is very unique to my situation and if you have an injury, do what you need to do to heal. If you’re experiencing cramping or other pain that isn’t something physically ripped/broken/etc. consider reading the book by Dr. Sarno above!