Four months ago, I was not a runner. Sure, I was in good shape – I went to the gym frequently, did yoga, etc., but running was certainly not my forte. I considered two miles on the treadmill a pretty good workout. But yesterday, for the first time in my life, I ran 13.1 miles. I still can’t believe I did it. On that fateful day in August, when I first started training, I was skeptical that I would ever complete my goal. But here I am – over 130 miles of training later – with my goal finally accomplished.
Here’s how the morning of the race went down: at 5:00 am on November 25th, my friend and I groggily rolled out of bed, stuffed some GoLean Crunch and toast with peanut butter down out throats, and hit the road. We cruised down the deserted LA streets to Venice Beach where the start/finish line was. I was relieved to find that the race was super low-key – there had to be less than 100 people running and the people hosting the race (Rocket Racing Co.) were super friendly. It was just the kind of atmosphere I need for my first HM.
I was delighted to discover not just that the course was completely flat, but also that the entirety of it was on the bike path along the coast. We ran 1.3 miles south first (i.e. into downtown Venice Beach), looped back to the start/finish line, then did the loop again. We then ran 3.9 miles north (along some of the most beautiful coast I’ve ever seen) and looped back and finished there.
I’ve got to say, the 1.3 mi dip into Venice Beach was so entertaining. I passed homeless guys in drum circles (one of them even reached out to give me a high-five), ran around bicyclists, waved to gay couples walking their dogs, smelled strong evidence of marijuana wafting out of apartment buildings, etc. That street has got to be one of the most eclectic in all of Los Angeles. Luckily for me, the first 4 miles of the race were so distracting that I didn’t even notice the distance I was covering. As I ran north, the sun was just starting to break through the early morning clouds and fog. It was the most beautiful site. I can’t imagine a more scenic location for a race.
Physically speaking, the last two miles were incredibly painful. Remember, the most I’ve run before (in any one stretch) was 10 miles. I was surprised at how much I really felt each additional mile past that. 11, 12, 13…the balls of my feet were hurting, my hip joints ached, my thigh muscles felt really tight….ouch. The good news? I didn’t experience any chaffing (thank you Body Glide!) and I didn’t feel like I was running out of energy (Shot Bloks, thank you as well). I felt that the only thing that kept me from running further was the pain in my legs. My running partner stashed some Advil in her pocket before the race and popped them during the race. Maybe I should have done the same?
I know a lot of people don’t like to listen to music during a race, but because this race was so uncrowded and low-key, there were many times when I was pretty much alone. For this reason, I did bring my iPhone along and listened to the Songza playlist “Sunshine Indie Pop.” I’ve been running to this playlist a lot recently – it’s the perfect mix of energetic and interesting.
I finished in 2:05:50, so I realized after the race that I’d been running at a pace much faster than I’d been training at.
What’s next? Definitely a few more half-marathons, and who knows, maybe a marathon? I guess I have some time. After all, there were two fifty-year olds running in the 50 mile event at the race…
Well, folks, I’m halfway there. Just completed my first ever six-mile run, and I am proud to say that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I anticipated.
To be completely honest, what I was most afraid of with this run going into it was the monotony. Six miles is a long distance, and at 10 mins a mile, that’s a full hour of running. I was getting really bored on my treadmill even on the shorter runs, and the high school track is equally monotonous. So I ventured out into uncharted territory – that is, a nicely paved path about half a mile away from my house – and just started running. Since I knew the road would be relatively flat, well-paved, and straight, I just ran and ran until my Nike+ Running app alerted me that I had run three miles, at which point I turned right around and ran back toward where I came from.
I also had all conditions working in my favor: it was a beautiful, 72º evening, I was well-fed (having had toast with peanut butter a half hour before) and well-hydrated (I even brought along the nifty water bottle I won at my last 8K!), and I had Songza to keep me company. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve been on so far.
I feel so empowered. Four weeks ago I never would have thought that I could run six miles without a break. Now that I’m halfway there, the half marathon is seeming much less daunting.
12 miles, here I come!
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was actually pretty nervous about my 8K yesterday. Not only had I never run 5 miles straight before, but this was my first actual race (even though most people would probably start with a 5K). To increase my mental stress even more, as soon as I got on the trail, I realized it was far more difficult than I had anticipated.
The race was called “Into the Wild” – and they weren’t kidding. The trail wound though steep hills, and the terrain alternated between soft sand, rocky river beds, and pavement. At some points the trail was a foot or less wide, making it nearly impossible for runners to pass each other.
I also decided not to wear my Vibram FiveFingers for fear that I might get blisters, so I wore my other minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus. They worked well and were super comfortable.
One thing I really loved about the race, however, was the sense of camaraderie among the runners. Maybe it was especially pronounced since the trail was so tricky, but many of the runners chatted during the race about how difficult it was and cheered each other on. Since I’ve largely been training on my own, I’ve missed this kind of community, and it was nice to find it here.
At around three miles, though, I definitely started to feel like giving up. I had just conquered an incredibly sharp incline and I thought, “Okay, that will be the last of it,” only to encounter a similarly difficult slope right after. The course felt like it was never going to end. Had I been running on my own, I would have stopped at this point. Luckily, I had incredibly buff, seasoned runners passing me by, and that was enough to keep me motivated. (Or maybe it was the approaching nightfall and the fact I was in the wilderness that kept me going…)
This race was really helpful because it taught me a few things to consider about before the actual half marathon:
- Don’t rely on your iPod. I usually use Songza (an app that uses internet to find playlists) but because there was no internet, bringing my iPod along ended up just being a burden.
- Take a TUMS before the race, or bring one along. I don’t know what happened – I didn’t eat anything strange at all before the race, but I kept getting indigestion and it made running very uncomfortable.
- Bring gum. This might be TMI, but I kept choking on my saliva since my throat was getting really dry.
- Wear longer shorts. I experienced some pretty uncomfortable chaffing between my thighs and this made the last mile even more difficult.
All in all, I felt that my cardio was pretty strong, and that if it were not for the points mentioned above, I would have had an even faster time.
For beginner runners, I would highly recommend registering for a short race before the actual half marathon. Not only is being around the other runners inspiring, but it was great to get a feel for a typical race environment. Not to mention, I now feel that much more inspired to keep training!
When I made the commitment to start training for a half marathon, I knew it was going to be physically difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were the emotional hurdles that would inevitably get in my way. That is, life.
I recently went through a tough break-up. When I woke up the morning after, I was emotionally wiped out. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my pajamas all day, hide in my house, and eat chocolate. Inevitably, my half marathon training schedule flashed open on my desktop, reminding me I needed to run 4 miles that day. Naturally, I resisted. I was so laden with mental and emotional stress that I felt drained of all energy and motivation. And in a way, I think I told myself I couldn’t run because I was “in mourning”, and continuing with life as normal would insult the magnitude of the situation.
Even though running always cheers me up, I spent the day moping about and as a result, felt even worse. The next day, I acknowledged how counter-intuitive this kind of behavior was. I knew I needed to force myself into action. I started small: I laced up my shoes. I stepped outside, and I told myself that even if I managed a ten-minute jog, I would be proud of myself. Almost within minutes of being outside, however, my spirits lifted. I ended up running far more than I had anticipated (4 miles at 9 mph – a personal best). When I came back home, though I still felt sad, I felt more empowered to deal with and process those feelings.
When we are going through an emotional low period, whether it’s the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or simply being in a funk, getting out the door can be the biggest challenge. We might tell ourselves “I’ll take one day off – it won’t make a difference,” or with feelings of futility, ask ourselves, “What does it even matter anymore?” This kind of thinking is dangerous, however, because exercising not only provides a space for us to process and think through whatever we might be going through, but physically speaking, it releases endorphins. It allows us the freedom to move on with a clearer mind and lighter heart. You don’t have to run that 8K on an especially rough day, but don’t let your emotions keep you inside, as that might simply prolong those negative feelings.
What are your tactics for powering through with tough days? How do you rally the motivation to get out the door?
Here’s the 12-week training schedule I’ll be following for the next 11 weeks (I’ve already completed Week 1). In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post an updated chart at some point in the future of what I actually ran, my pacing for each run, and what activity I did on my cross-training Sundays. Hopefully the distances will be pretty similar, if not identical!
Join me on my journey to run a half-marathon. In this series, I’ll be outlining my training program and loggin my progress along the way in order to (1) hold myself accountable, (2) seek help/advice from any readers who may be more experienced, (3) connect with any readers who are also in training and looking for support/encouragement.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert in the slightest degree. I’ve only been running seriously for the past few months, so I’m still new to the whole thing. If you have any advice, I would be more than happy to hear it in the comments below.
I’ll go into the specific training plan I’m using in the next post, but for now, here are some fundamental tips I’ve picked up about training wisely for a half-marathon:
- The Shoes. Choosing the right gear is important, but the shoes are perhaps the most essential. I decided to do the barefoot thing all out for this training program so I’ll be alternating between my Vibram FiveFinger Sprints and my New Balance Minimus. Since I feel fairly educated about the risks and adjustments associated with barefoot running, I think I can make these two shoes work for the long distance.
- Cross-Training. I will devote every Sunday to cross-training, which for me will probably be swimming, a yoga/pilates combo, or maybe just a visit to the gym where I will rotate between spinning, weights, the erg, etc.
- Mid-Week Training. My base distance will be 3 miles. During my mid-week training, I will stick mainly to this distance while slowly increasing my pace, elevation, etc.
- Race Pace. Since my ultimate goal is a half-marathon, my race pace will be 9:00/mile. One day a week, I will run the assigned distance at this pace.
- Rest Days. The rest days are as important as the running days. When I first started running, I tried to run every day of the week. To my surprise, I ran stronger after my first rest day that I had been running previously. Rest days are essential for our muscles to regenerate and get stronger.
- Indoor v. Outdoor Training. I’m conflicted over how much training to do on my treadmill v. outdoors. While I enjoy running on the treadmill because it tracks my distance, pace, and elevation exactly, I recognize that the treadmill is somewhat easier in that the “conditions” are always perfect: no wind, average temperature, humidity, etc. In addition, the treadmill provides more “give” and is thus a little gentler on your knees and ankles, you never have to run downhill (which I find very hard on my ankles), and instead of learning how to keep your own pace, the treadmill electronically determines it for you. I’m going to try to strike a balance between the two – maybe three treadmill and two outdoors days each week.
- Races. A lot of sites recommend running shorter races (5k or 8k, for example) before your half marathon in order to (1) have a concrete goal for the near future, (2) make sure you are comfortable in the race atmosphere and you know the proper protocol, and (3) check your time/progress. I’ve just signed up for an 8K (“Into the Wild Rockin’ Summer Race”) on September 5th, so I have 15 days to prep for that.
Training begins tomorrow – see you on the track!
Sites I’ve found useful: