** This is a Guest Post**
Hi folks! I’m Cyn from over at the Daily Cynema and I’m here to share my experiences and insights about training for (and racing in) your first half marathon. To give you a bit of back story, my journey towards becoming a distance runner was kind of accidental. It all started shortly after my son’s first birthday during a trip home for the holidays. My brother and I had happened to be talking about marathons and my father (in good humor) said to my brother, “Son, you don’t have the build to be a marathon runner. You should probably stick to basketball.” Now, my brother, who happens to be 6’3” and was about 215 lbs. at the time, took this as a challenge. The next thing I know, I heard myself agreeing to run with him in the Disney Marathon approximately 12 months away. And just like that, we were signed up within the hour.
That night, I was lying in bed thinking, “Holy #&$#! 26.2 miles.” Um, I was barely able to run 2 miles at that time (1.8 to be exact) before hyperventilating and spontaneously combusting on the spot. Frankly, I had no idea how I was going to get from 2 to 26.2. The truth is (and I learned this point over and over again over the next year), there is only one way to do it. That, my friends, is to get there one mile at a time.
So, I started running. And icing. And Advil-ing. And running some more. Slowly, those 2 miles became 4 and a couple of months later, those 4 became 6. The first time I ran 10 miles in one stretch, I felt like Superwoman. I chronicled the whole experience back in the early days of my blog and I still get goosebumps when I think about how strong I felt breaking that 10-mile barrier.
If I had been training for a half marathon instead of a full (which would have been the rational and normal person thing to do), a 10-miler would have been all the training I needed to be successful in running a half. Part of the purpose of building your mileage (and doing so slowly) is so that you don’t burn out your legs during the race. Now, before you think that I’m one of those people who is ready at the front of the starting line ready to start my GPS watch (that I don’t yet own), I’m not. Ha! Not by a long shot. I look like I should be fast (since I’m tall and on the thinner side), but I am 100% a turtle. In other words, these tips are for finishing the race and not necessarily caring how fast you do it. Okay, without further ado, here are my tips for starting and finishing a half marathon.
IN THE MONTHS LEADING UP TO THE RACE:
Get in your mileage. This seems obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people show up to start a race they haven’t trained for. Will they finish? Possibly. Will they ever enter another race? Probably not. Heading out to run, walk, or crawl 13.1 miles on untested legs is brutal. Now, before you think that you need to run every bit of your training runs, you don’t! Walk breaks or even purposefully setting out to do a run/walk program are both perfectly acceptable. The important thing is that you do multiple training runs that will put you out there for about the same duration as the race (2-4 hours or so). About 8 weeks before the race, start doing 5 or 6 milers once a week. Then, add a mile for each subsequent week before taking it easy with short runs for the week or two before the race.
Run in your race day clothes/accessories. You want to make sure that what you’ve chosen to wear is comfortable for 13.1 miles. There’s nothing worse than breaking in something new on race day. Everything you race in should be tested multiple times before the race.
THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE:
No new foods. This is a bad time to experiment with your digestion. Stick with foods that are light and that you know your body responds well to.
Rest your legs. I spent the entire day before the marathon walking around Disney. That’s definitely a mistake that I won’t make twice! The day before your race would ideally be a day of relaxation.
Get some sleep. Tuck in early and try to fight off the pre-race jitters. Make sure that you lay out all of your clothes and gear the night before so that you can wake up and get ready in a pinch. The moring of a race is not the time to be running around looking for a second sock.
BEFORE THE RACE BEGINS:
Stretch those legs. Warm up by walking around and doing some light dynamic stretching.
Empty your bladder. Then empty it again. You’ll be amazed at the lines you see in the first couple of porta-potties!
DURING THE RACE:
Hold back. There is such an incredible energy at the start of the race that you will be tempted to start off by running your fastest. Try your hardest not to be sucked into the forward surge of speed. While it may seem like everyone is going faster than you, I promise that you will probably catch up to (and pass!) a lot of those same folks who surged ahead.
Take it easy. If your goal is simply to finish, you will have a much more pleasurable run if you take it nice and easy throughout the race. I learned this lesson the hard way. In order to emphasize this point, please read this recap of my experience in the OUC half marathon and compare it to this one in the Disney Princess half a mere 3 months later. Those two races couldn’t have been more different.
Drink up. For the first half of the race, I usually drink a cup of water at every other water station and then kick it up to every water station for the second half. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s important to stay hydrated.
Get some Gu. During the race, I find it virtually impossible to eat anything solid. A great alternative is an energy gel called Gu (there are other brands available, too). My preference is to consume a gel every 5 miles or so. It really helps to give you a little kick, but like with everything else, try these out during your training runs to see how your tummy tolerates them.
Stay positive. There are very few races where I have at some point not thought, “This was a very bad idea.” Do you best to quash down thoughts like those and instead fill your mind with positive thoughts like imagining how great it’s going to feel when you get that finisher’s medal. Just focus on getting done with one mile at a time.
ONCE THE RACE IS OVER:
Keep moving. You may be tempted to sit down, but you really need to cool down your legs and get in a good stretch if you’d like to be able to walk easily the next day. Periodically throughout the day, get up, move around and keep stretching out those calves, thighs and hamstrings – it will really help your recovery.
Refuel. One of the best post-race drinks is chocolate milk, so drink up! Get in a good meal, drink a lot of water and taking a couple of Advil probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Celebrate! Take a moment to congratulate yourself for a job well done. Regardless of how the race went, you finished what you started and that kind of effort ALWAYS deserves a medal. Now, sit back, relax and start planning your next race!
** Huge Thanks to Cyn for this fantastic guest post.