Run your first Half Marathon

Next to getting married, graduating from college, and having my first child; completing the half marathon was one of the most fulfilling moments of adulthood.  The satisfaction I felt when I crossed the finish line in under 2 hours was amazing.  If you’re considering running your first 13.1 miles, then you came to the right place.  This article is going to give you the tools to successfully cross the finish line.

Why Run?

Half Marathons have become the most popular long-distance run for several reasons.  There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes with running the distance.  Only a small percentage of people will be able to finish the task.  I noticed my personal confidence dramatically improved upon completion of the race

The distance is manageable to train for on a regular schedule.  30-60 minutes daily is a sufficient training regimen for most people.  Staying active is important for everyone, but a slight push to your limits, intensity, and consistency is enough to push you into running shape.

You will appreciate the training benefits almost immediately.  You’ll feel more energetic and focused, and your sleep will improve.  Naturally, as you ramp up your training you will lose weight and build muscle strength.  Your respiratory and cardiovascular system will become more efficient.  I actually lost 20 pounds and felt like I was in the best shape of my life.

You’re desire to complete the task, will help you eliminate unhealthy vices.  Focusing on your goal makes it easier to skip junk food, alcohol, and other vices.  There are many reasons why people want to get fit, but having a tangable, reachable goal is very helpful.

How to Start?

You might be asking yourself, “I’m not in great shape, how could I every complete such a task”?  Let me assure you, YOU CAN DO IT!  During my first half marathon, I was blown away by the variation of ages, shapes and sizes.  There was a great sense of comradery as we all came together to reach a common goal.  I promise, if you want it, you can do it.

The first step to running a half marathon is simple: SIGN UP!  Look, every day, month, and year that passes by is a missed opportunity.  Go online, find a run near you and sign up!  If you’re in excellent shape you could run as soon as 8 weeks, however I recommend a training time of 16 weeks for most people.  It’s important to give yourself time to get in shape.  If you push too many miles too fast, that can lead to injury.

Choose a Plan

Now that you’ve signed up and committed to completing your first run, it’s time to talk about how you will get there.  There are a lot of different plans to choose from, so find one that fits your lifestyle.  I would encourage you to stay consistent, but sometimes you may have to miss a day.  Even if you stray from your plan, you absolutely must keep your body moving every day.  Stay active!

Every plan will have these 4 factors: ten mile run, taper runs, cross-training, and rest days.  All of these features are important.  You should make sure that you’re noting and checking off all these parts of your plan.

You run distances will vary throughout the week, however it should be steadily increasing as you progress.  You should expect to be running about 10% more each week, leading up to about 20 miles per week as you approach the race.  During training, you should plan to do a 10 mile run.  It’s important for your body to adjust to the long distance, but you don’t want to risk injury.  If you can run 10 miles, you can rule 13.1

Run variety and tapering is important as well.  Not every run should be the same pace or distance.  You want to mix up your runs.  Some days might be shorter, faster paced and some may be longer, slower paced.  These variations help strengthen your heart and are crucial to maximizing your ability.  As race day approaches, your plan should begin tapering your distance.  You want to give your body a chance to recover as you prepare for the final push.

Cross Training is another aspect of your plan that should not be ignored.  Running too much can lead to shin splints and other discomfort.  There were days in my plan that I decided to do gym work or body weight exercising instead of running (even though my plan called for a run).  I can’t understate how important this was.  Taking a couple days off running allowed me to mitigate painful shin splints.

Lastly, your plan should give you days of rest.  Now a rest day doesn’t mean you should go out, get drunk, and eat junk food.  It simply means you should let your body recover from the stress of training.  Eating light, doing stretches or yoga are great ways to help your body recover and prepare for more intense workouts.

Get the Gear

Having the appropriate gear is important, but not a reason to avoid running.  As you go through the process, you may find yourself wanting new equipment.  That said, there are a few things you should plan on getting:

Running Shoes are probably the most important piece of equipment.  Look, you don’t need a $300 pair of shoes, but you should take the time to find a pair that fits properly and are made for running.  I’ve been running in an $80 pair of shoes for the past year and they are great.

Compression gear was surprisingly relevant for my success.  As my training amped up, I started to feel pain in my ankles, shins, and knees.  I was concerned I would be sidelined, however I purchased some compression gear and was amazed how effective it was.  The next section will go into more detail on preventing injury, but having good compression equipment is a big deal.

Headphones should fit comfortably in your ears and stay there.  You want headphones that can handle sweat and water.  You also want to make sure they don’t fly out as you run. 

Light-weight running shorts and shirts will also be important and if you’re running during the winter, make sure to have leggings. 

It should be mentioned, that you need to purchase and use ALL equipment prior to race day.  Showing up to the race with an unknown piece of equipment is asking for trouble.  This may sound obvious, but it is an easy mistake to make.  Try out your equipment prior to the race!

Staying on your Feet

This may sound obvious, but the key to crossing the finish line is keeping your feet moving.  There are a variety of challenges you will face; from boredom, to distractions, to injury.  Being aware of these issues ahead of time will increase your chances of success.

Running long distances can be tedious at times.  Listening to music and running are perfect together.  I especially love music on short-fast paced runs, however listening to the same playlist over and over can get stale.  During my training someone recommended I try listening to podcasts and it completely transformed me.

Podcasts are excellent for distance running.  They give your mind a chance to escape the repetitive nature and explore new ideas and concepts.  I found myself enjoying long runs more and more.  I found runs to be an excellent source of distraction free education.  I was able to learn about new technologies, business ideas, and life hacks all while improving my body!  No matter your interest, a podcast will keep your feet churning for hours while engaging your mind in a profound way.

There are a ton of runners out there and the internet is an awesome tool for finding them!  Talk to friends and relatives and find people that also like to run.  Running with a partner helps pass the miles and keep your accountable.  Sometimes, I run with people that aren’t at my physical level.  In these cases, I may start my run 30 minutes before them, or mix in bursts of speed and burpees.  Run clubs are another nice option.  A simple google search will allow you to find out when and where people meet for these fun runs.  Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help ensure success.

Stretching is a frequently neglected part of the process, however it is also important.  Stretching gives a couple key benefits.  Stretching keeps your muscles and ligaments limber, which helps prevent injury.  Stretching also give you a better range of motion, which helps improve your speed.  Think about it like this; longer strides means less steps and faster speed.  Make sure to stretch before and after your workout.

Don’t be too proud to walk!  It’s better to keep your feet moving than to completely stop.  If you feel like you can’t push the pace anymore, walk for a minute, than pickup your run.  Just keep those feet moving!

Don’t push through a lingering injury.  If you feel soreness or pain on your ankle or shin, don’t push it too hard.  You’re better off taking a rest day, or doing some cross training.  Mixing up your workouts is a good way to let certain joints recuperate.

Race Day

Congratulations, you’ve gotten through the hardest part, now it’s time to reap the rewards.  Race day is a culmination of all your hard work, and the feeling of crossing the finish line is euphoric.  That said, there are some things to keep in mind before you cross the finish line.  If there is one word to summarize the key to a successful race, it would be consistency.

Before you head to the event, make sure to fuel properly.  You shouldn’t be eating foods you’re not accustomed to.  Eat a light, energy packed meal.  I’d recommend a mix of oatmeal, raisins, bagel, and banana.  A nice mix of carbs and calories.  As you go through the race, you may want to refuel with goo, gummies, or banana, but again, be wary of introducing new foods to your diet.

You should definitely arrive plenty early to the event, at least an hour.  Depending on the size of the event, traffic and parking could be a nightmare.  Reach out to organizers or past runners for an idea of what to expect.

If you will be running during cold weather, you’re going to want some prerace clothing to keep warm.  Just get a cheap sweater and sweatpants for cheap.  You won’t want to run with all this gear, but you also don’t want to freeze while waiting to begin.  Most race organizers collect all the gear and donate it, so think of it as a charitable donation. Win-win.

When the race starts, you will feel a surge of energy, but fight the urge to sprint ahead.  Keep a nice solid pace that is in-line with your training.   It is better to start slow and finish strong, than vice versa.  Try to find another racer with a similar running speed and just keep up with them. 

As mentioned before, don’t be afraid to walk.  If you feel yourself over-exerting, walk for 30 seconds to regain your breathe than pick back up again.  The most important thing is finishing the race.       

You shouldn’t need to refuel during a half marathon, but hydrating is important.  It’s a good idea to prehydrate, however you probably want to avoid the first severl water stations.  Wait till you find a water station that isn’t too busy.  You don’t want to wait behind a bunch of people while the clock is ticking.

Congratulations!  The end is in sight!  Just keep moving!

Finishing Strong

If you follow the steps outlined in this article, there is no doubt you can complete the half marathon.  Completion of the half marathon was on my bucket list for a long time, and I’m so proud I was able to accomplish it.  I really hope you get the opportunity to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line.  Stick with it, stay consistent, and be smart.  I’ll see you at the finish line!