Last weekend I ran my first half marathon. Well, technically it was my second but it’s the first I’ve ever tried to run completely from beginning to end – so in the grand scheme of things it’s my first!
Now, I trained hard for this half marathon, I had a plan that I followed for 12 weeks to get ready for it. Did I do enough to smash my first half marathon? Probably not. Did I give it a damn good shot? Hell yeah! The important thing is, though, that I learned a lot along the way and I want to share this with anyone else who’s getting ready for their first half marathon too.
Things I learned from my first half marathon: Training
Planning is EVERYTHING
There’s a saying I like, which goes:
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”
It’s so true! Whether it’s your first half marathon, 5k, triathlon, or anything in between – the most important thing you’ll need is a plan. Knowing exactly what you plan to do to reach your goal will really help you to hit the ground running and stay on track.
You don’t have to make a plan from scratch, there are plenty of routines that are freely available online for you to use. I used a Hal Higdon training plan and modified it slightly to better fit my schedule but kept the same basic framework. I really recommend the Hal Higdon plans as there are a variety of training options, from novice to advanced and from shorter races right up to marathon distances. You’ll definitely find something to suit you!
Motivation gets you started. Discipline keeps you going
Motivation is GREAT. It’s what gets you off the sofa and out pounding the pavement. It’s what gets you pumped up and ready to smash your next race and make your next PR.
HOWEVER – just motivation won’t be enough to push you through a training plan. Those days when you’re ready to smash that PR? Those are the easy ones, the ones where it’s a joy to be out there pushing yourself. What about the days when you don’t WANT to run? The days when you’re not feeling great, or have no free time, or it’s pouring rain and icy winds? Those are the days when you need discipline to stay on track.
This goes hand-in-hand with your training plan. On those days when you just don’t want to run, you need to suck it up and be disciplined and get out there and get it done. I promise you’ll feel better for it afterwards!
Don’t skip your long runs
In a typical training plan, you will do 2 or 3 shorter runs a week, perhaps one will be sprints or a faster, tempo run. At the weekend you’ll normally do a long run – a slow, comfortable pace but at a longer distance than your midweek runs. In my training plan, I basically added one mile to the distance each week, maxing out at 10 miles the weekend before my half marathon.
2 weeks before the half marathon, I skipped my long run. I was supposed to run 9 miles and I completely missed it. It made catching up so much harder! My advice is, if you really can’t fit all your training runs in one week, then skip a midweek run and find the time to get the long runs done. Long runs are where you are building endurance and truly preparing yourself to do that 13.1, so you’re sabotaging yourself if you don’t complete them.
You can’t out-run a bad diet. Take your training seriously
The weekend after my skipped run, 7 days before the race, I ran my last long training run. I hadn’t slept much the night before or eaten properly that day so it was a real struggle of a run.
This is such an important point, and the thing I need to work on the most in the future – it’s not just about running. It’s about eating the right foods and sleeping enough and doing everything you can to make sure your body is as prepared for your race as it can. You’ve put so much effort into your training plan, don’t fall short by not fuelling your body properly!
You might become insufferable
For the last 12 weeks, I have talked about ALMOST NOTHING EXCEPT RUNNING. Shout out to the people who’ve been subjected to my relentless running chat! That’s basically everyone that I work with, everyone that I’m friends with, everyone I’m in a whatsapp group text with, everyone I’m married to, everyone I’m related to, all my Facebook friends. Oh, Instagram and Twitter too! I can’t stop!
If you train for a race, you might become a very one dimensional person, and only have one topic of interest. But boy, will you love talking about it!
I always say – if you’re going to be obsessed with something, running’s not a bad thing to choose – it’ll keep you entertained for years and you will have a real passion for something that’s great for you. No harm in that!
Things I learned from my first half marathon: Race day
Arrive early and get ready to queue
The night before race day, I laid out my running clothes, bib, watch, energy gels, and everything I’d need for the next day. This means that when I stumbled out of bed the next day I had everything in one place, which meant I could be efficient with my time in the morning. If you’re like me, and really don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, then I recommend doing this to save those precious minutes.
On race day, remember to arrive at least 30 minutes before the race starts. If nothing else, you’ll miss the pre-race atmosphere and excitement if you show up at the last minute. However, most importantly – you’ll want to use the bathrooms before you start running! Give yourself plenty of time as there’s always a huge queue!
No matter how prepared you are, you won’t feel ready
This might be specific to your first half marathon, and not so relevant once you’ve got a few under your belt – but boy, did I feel unprepared for the race. Despite all my training, I didn’t feel ready. I was SCARED at the thought of running for over 2.5 hours. Could I even do it? I wasn’t sure.
Nerves really took over before I started – but then you get over that starting line and you simply put one foot in front of the other. Despite the nerves, if you’ve done the training it will get you through and you will be absolutely fine.
Gatorade is disgusting
But OH MY GOD ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR IT when you reach those water stations. It’s like a magic elixir that keeps you going that little bit further…
It’s not just a physical challenge, it’s an emotional one too
When I hit 10 miles, I started to struggle physically. When I hit 12 miles, I was also struggling emotionally. I really didn’t think I could get to the end, that last mile might as well have been 100 miles from the way I was feeling.
Running isn’t just physical, it’s emotional too. Make sure that you’re mentally prepared for what it takes to get yourself over that finish line.
When I saw the finish line after 2 hours and 37 minutes, I felt completely overcome with emotion. When I stepped across that line, I burst into tears. Real, big, ugly-crying tears.
I simply couldn’t believe that my training got me through the race and I’d done it. What an amazing feeling it was!
Things I learned from my first half marathon: Post-race
LISTEN to your body, and give it time to recover
This is such an important thing that people forget to do. It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in training that we forget that we’re actually putting ourselves through a lot of stress. Make sure you give yourself time to recover! After a half marathon, don’t go hard again until the following weekend. Does that mean you can slack? No, of course not – but keep your runs short and easy for at least the first 4 or 5 days afterwards to give your body a break.
The other big, BIG piece of advice I have is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right when you’re running, it’s probably because it’s not right. For me, I started having some leg pain right before the race, which I attribute to not stretching regularly and not taking the long runs seriously. Anyway, I ignored it and now I can’t run more than 10 yards without shooting pains and I’m on a 2 week ban from running. It’s driving me crazy!!! But it’s something that I need to do because my body is telling me that I need a break.
This leads on to the next point….
Mix it up! Running isn’t exclusive
Running is awesome, we all love it. However, if you ONLY run (like I’m guilty of doing), then you’re using the same muscle groups over and over and over, while neglecting the rest of them – and that makes it really easy to get injured.
Mix it up a bit! Why not try a yoga class, or some weightlifting? Elliptical is a great choice to avoid any impact on your joints. There really are so many things you can do, and I’d recommend adding at least one day a week of non-running training to make sure your muscles are all being taken care of.
Finally, the most important thing I learned in the past 12 weeks……
You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to
Seriously. If you work hard, and set goals, and stick to your training, you’ll do it. Easy peasy.
If I can do it, so can you!
What’s your best advice? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,