I’ve never considered myself a real runner. Over the years I’ve gone through stints here & there, as a means of trying to stay fit, but I never really loved it or covered any significant distance. Then a few years ago, I was talked into running my 1st 5K race. It was right in my town, it was for a good cause & I’m pretty sure my friends “made me” do it. It was not fun. I definitely had to walk a few times & it was really difficult to catch my breath. But I finished, and proudly chalked up the accomplishment.
Fast forward a few years & a few 5ks later… My friend suggested that we do the upcoming New Jersey Half Marathon. My immediate response was absolutely not. The farthest I had EVER run was about 3.5 miles so there was no way a distance in the double digits was anywhere in my future. But then I started thinking… imagine if I could actually do it… how cool would that be???
I went to my trusty friend Google, and started looking at training plans. I texted my serious runner friends and asked for their thoughts. I was slowly being swayed… but the self-doubt was still heavy. Ironically, timing is what eventually forced my decision. There was an upcoming registration deadline and the race was just about 12 weeks out – the exact amount of time needed for the training plan I’d been studying.
So I bit the bullet and registered. I only told a few people and decided to keep my plans off of social media (because posting it there meant I actually had to do it!). I would start the training, see how it went and make my final decision closer to the race date. It was a safe, practical, & commitment-free plan. 🙂
And then I started running… 3 miles, 4.5 miles, 6 miles… I couldn’t believe I was actually making it so far. At 7 miles, I seemed to hit my breaking point and around the same time, I started having some crazy foot & heel pain, commonly known to runners as plantar fasciitis. It was awful. Some days I couldn’t run 2 miles before the pain stopped me from going any farther. I was halfway through my training plan and should have been up to 8 or 9 miles for my weekend “long runs” but I just couldn’t do it.
I finally went to a trainer who tortured me with a process called the Graston Technique, which breaks down the muscle & soft tissue in your legs that is causing the foot pain. It was absolutely horrible (sorry Chris!), but it must have helped because that procedure, combined with regular epsom salt foot baths, icing, inserts & wearing a plantar fasciitis compression sock at night helped me to recover enough to return to my training.
With my maximum distance still at 7 miles, I committed to a 10-mile training run, hosted by volunteers from the NJ Marathon group. It covered part of the actual race course and landed on a perfectly crisp, sunny, Sunday morning. My foot held up, and my confidence was boosted. I kept being told, “if you can run 10, you can do 13” and I believed it. So much so, that I posted that training run on Facebook. 🙂
I continued with my 3-6 mile runs, not wanting to overstress my semi-healed foot. Four days before the race, I posted my official announcement that my training was done, and that I was indeed about to partake in my very first half marathon. I worried that I hadn’t done enough, but hoped the pure adrenaline & cheers from the crowd would pull me through.
The night before the race, I ate my big bowl of pasta, set my alarm for 5am and hit the hay. Unbelievably, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages and I woke up feeling confident & excited. I made my coffee, tried to eat my one piece of toast with peanut butter and banana, settled on an outfit and packed my race-issued, clear plastic bag with enough supplies for days.
Our arrival at Monmouth Park, where the start would take place, did not go so smoothly. There was a huge traffic jam leading into the venue, which forced us to hop out and walk the remaining distance. Once inside, the lines for the bathrooms were over 20 minutes long and we ended up missing the start with our intended pace groups. Remaining optimistic, we worked our way into a random spot with the rest of the herd and started our slow jog out the gate.
I won’t bore you with my 13.1 miles of life or death thoughts (only a few of death… mostly related to thirst & my ability to make it to the next water station!), but for just over 2.5 hours, a lot went on in my head. Luckily, the race route is lined with funny & encouraging signs, people blowing horns and playing music, and tons of little kids offering high fives. I will say this, to all those people who said, “if you can run 10, you can do 13” – it’s a bit misleading. Miles 10 to 12 were the most challenging by far, and I did have to walk a few times. A more realistic statement would be, “if you can make it to 12.5, you will find the strength to sprint that final stretch!”
And sprint I did… Crossing the finish line with a surge of energy and a huge smile across my face. I don’t know if you get the same feeling with subsequent races, but as a first-timer, the sense of accomplishment is amazing. You’re not concerned about your time or your place, you just know that you made it without dying, and you’re still able to walk! And I’m not embarrassed to admit it, but I definitely worked my way into a good position at the last minute for a clear, unobstructed finish line photo… After all, I just completed a HALF MARATHON!!!
12 TIPS FROM A FIRST-TIMER:
- Sign up with a partner. Even if you don’t always train together, having someone to keep you accountable & motivated is a huge bonus. (Thanks Sam!)
- Commit to your training plan. But don’t be afraid to make adjustments to fit your schedule. Typical plans include 2-3 shorter runs during the week & a longer run on the weekend, but the actual days are really up to you. Get the miles in, with rest days in between, to gradually increase your distance and endurance.
- Get used to drinking lots of water. It’s going to be a constant during your training, and essential in the days leading up to your race.
- Find the right shoes. Scoring that perfect sneaker can be a huge challenge but running 13 miles is very different than running 3, and you’ll feel it most in your legs & feet. Start with a free evaluation of your technique & requirements at a specialized running store (we went to Road Runner Sports) and let them guide you. However, use common sense and don’t get roped into overspending.
- Wear cool, comfortable clothing and don’t try anything new on race day. Unfortunately, you won’t know what the weather will be for your run until a day or 2 beforehand, so you need to have a few options ready based on the temperature.
- Rally your troops! Encourage your friends & family to come out & support you and then space them out along the race course. It’s great to hear the roars at the finish line, but seeing a familiar face cheering you on from the sidelines along the way is priceless. Extra bonus if they have water for you!
- Plan to arrive AT LEAST an hour early. You need time to check your bag, warm up & stretch, and make one final trip to the bathroom. The lines can be long and you don’t want to stress yourself out.
- Start SLOWLY. You’ll be chomping at the bit by the time your group takes off, but a cautious beginning will help you to finish strong.
- Take advantage of the water stations. Even just a sip at each stop, will help you to stay hydrated.
- Don’t get discouraged. You might have to walk a few times & that’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up – take a drink, refocus and continue on at a comfortable pace.
- Get ready for your photo finish! You just ran a half marathon – show that photographer at the end just how excited you are to be crossing that line!
- Most importantly… have fun! You’re not going to win, you’re not going to break any records, and you don’t want to end up getting hurt… so pace yourself & simply enjoy your time on the course!