Deciding to run a race is arguably one of the hardest parts of the entire experience, so give yourself a pat on the back! In my opinion, the entire experience from decision to race day is extremely humbling, exciting, and rewarding! Hopefully this guide will help you to better prepare mentally and physically for the adventure ahead of you!
SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
- IT’S A PROCESS. But really. You are not going to start today and be able to run 13.1 miles tomorrow, so get that out of your head before you even lace up your shoes. If you are fairly new to running or maybe just not a confident runner yet, just know that this is meant to be a journey. Every week you will notice results and every week you will have the thought “I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m not where I started.”
- IT’S HARD ON YOUR BODY. This one probably came as the most surprising to me. I was fairly fit my entire life, I even ran track, but I never expected training for a half marathon to have such an impact on my body. Be prepared to take ice baths and not wear high heels for weeks (even months). If you are prone to shin splints, start avoiding them from the start. Be prepared for blisters, chafing and (really) sore muscles. Trust me, it is all worth it!
- IT’S AN INVESTMENT. Sure, there are costs involved with racing… You have to purchase your way into the race, you have to buy good shoes and probably some new headphones or other gear. However, the investment I’m referring to is of your time. I spent on average about 4 hours a week actually running, an additional 4 hours lifting, 1-2 hours meal prepping, 1-2 hours researching things about running and 1-2 hours talking about running. From January to May my life is pretty consumed by racing. You can of course choose how invested you want to be into training for this race, but it’s one of those things that you get out of it what you put into it.
- IT’S WORTH IT. So worth it. It may not seem like it when you’re waking up early to run ten miles in 19 degree weather (or is that just a Pittsburgh thing?), but it is. You will watch your body do things that it’s never done before. You will reach goals that you thought you would never accomplish. You will build muscle, feel great about yourself, eat healthier, sleep better, and have a sense of purpose about yourself. You will become more disciplined and you will most likely find running to be your new passion. Oh, and race day… Words cannot describe the feeling that you will have when you cross the finish line. It is an indescribable high that you will crave again once the race is over!
SOME TIPS I LEARNED ALONG THE WAY:
- FIND A PLACE TO PARK YOUR BRAIN: The reality is, you are going to be running for 2 to 3 hours… That is a long time to have to focus on doing only one thing without stopping. For me, music was my saving grace. I created a playlist that was twice as long as my expected race time so that I could skip songs if I wanted to. I also recommend listening to a podcast or audio book… I sometimes even made up games in my head (I know, I’m weird). I would try to predict how long it would take me to get to a certain mile marker or how many steps I could count before losing track… Really anything to keep my mind busy as the time passed.
- GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TRAINING TIME: It is so important, especially if you are new to running, to increase your mileage slowly. If you start training too close to the race, you’ll end up increasing your mileage at the rate of 2-3 miles per week when it should only be increased by 1 mile per week.
- DON’T SKIP OUT ON WEIGHT TRAINING: Your entire body will thank you if you weight train in addition to running. Your body will need the extra muscle strength to get you through 13.1 miles. Exercises such as lunges, squats, box jumps, calf raises and wall sits are just a few really beneficial things that you can do to improve your endurance and time.
- SET A GOAL: I highly recommend setting a goal time for yourself. You can try basing it off of your starting mile time minus about 30 seconds (or whatever you are comfortable with). In addition, set a race day goal… For example, I really wanted to run the entire race without stopping to walk. Setting that goal helped me to structure my training. I refused to stop running during any of my training runs because then I would be more tempted to stop on the day of the race. Treat every practice run like it’s the day of the race! It will help your confidence on race day.
- CARB IT UP: How strict you want to be about your diet during training is really up to you. The weekend of your race, however, I highly suggest treating yourself to any and all carbs for a few days leading up to race day! This really worked well for me. Don’t be afraid of carbs, you’re going to need them for your body to go the distance! You’ve also worked extremely hard to get to this point, so you deserve it.
- BE PREPARED: This one may be worth a separate blog post! The only thing you should be thinking about on race day is running your race, so eliminate everything else beforehand! Figure out parking, your corral location, your start time, etc. all beforehand. Share your bib number with your family and friends that are coming to support you beforehand so they can track you via race apps. Pack a bag with sandals (trust me, the last thing you’ll want on your feet when you finish is your running shoes), candy, bandaids, extra clothes and headphones, your race day info, water, etc. to give to someone to hold onto for you for when you cross the finish line.
- RUN YOUR RACE: This is important for two reasons; One – While you’re training, it is important to recognize that you’re going to have bad runs. Some days you will feel like you could run the race tomorrow and other days you will feel like you’ve lost progress. It’s OKAY. Give yourself some grace and stay focused on training for YOUR race. You’re doing this for you, remember? Two – On the day of the race, you will be so tempted to immediately compare yourself to every other runner there. You’ll question yourself… Why you signed up for that corral, why you didn’t train harder, why you decided to wear what you’re wearing, why you got yourself into this in the first place. One thing I did to calm my nerves and help to stay focused was constantly telling myself “run your own race.” It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, all that matters is you. So stay in your own lane and run your own race. Just do you!
Just remember, the entire experience is a journey and you CAN do it.