I recently finished my first half ever marathon, something I've never done to this point in my life, until now. Having an athletic background in mostly fast-twitch dominated type sports such as baseball, basketball, olympic lifting and golf, I had almost no experience with running long distances.
It wasn't fast, and it wasn't pretty, but I got it done.
I trained for about 12 weeks as much as I could physically and mentally fit in, and learned several things along the way.
Here are the top 5 things I learned about running a half marathon, as essentially a complete beginner.
There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Training
When I started my first week of training, I was super motivated and excited to finally be attempting to tackle this goal.
I did four separte runs in the first week, and kept up with my 3x a week CrossFit routine that my wife and I had been doing for the year.
I thought I would be fine because it wasn't all that much running just yet, but I ended up being wrong.
My legs were just not used to going even over one mile at a time. Towards the end of the week, my right leg was in horrible pain while I was running, and my knee was swelling at night.
I was OK, but I had to dial it back a bit for week two, and ramp up my training slowly over the course of the next several weeks.
Once I built up some leg endurance around the end of week 4, I was able to run much longer distances with less pain. I also paused my CrossFit activites to focus specifically on running. My body was clearly telling me not to try to do both.
Don't Compare Yourself to Seasoned Runners
As I was progressing through my training schedule, I found myself getting pretty discouraged at my times. Why could my friends and co-workers run times in the 7s and 8s per mile, and I could barely break 30 minutes for a 5k?
Even after finishing the full 13.1 miles, I still found it frustrating that I got annihilated my girls half my size, which is a pretty immasculating thing.
What I've tried to keep telling myself is that those people have been running for years, some even their whole lives. It's not a fair comparison.
If you're just starting out or don't have much experience, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is yourself. It's just not possible to build endurance that fast. Once you've got a few races under your belt, then you can worry about getting faster.
If You Fall Off the Horse, Just Get Back On
I admit it. There were a few times during my training that I got pretty bored, didn't feel well, or got away from my routine and missed several days of training.
The little voice inside my lizard brain tried to rationalize this into a reason to hang up my running shoes, but I managed to get back on the horse, keep training, and finish my race.
Stuff happens. You'll probably miss some training days. You may even miss a week or two.
Even the most successful people in the world have off days every now and then.
But don't let a little bit of a lapse get in the way of achieving the goal you set out to accomplish. Just forgive yourself, get back on the horse, and pick up where you left off.
Have a Goal Each Time You Train
Some of the best advice I got early on in my training was to have a goal each time I set out to run. Whether it was to run a slow 5 miles to build leg endurance, to run 2 miles broken up into 8 x 400m intervals, or to run a mile as fast a possible to break through mental barriers, there was always a goal to each day of training.
This not only helped me work on my weaknesses, but also kept training interesting and goal-oriented. Had I just set out to run 4 days a week without these small goals, I would've had a much harder time staying committed.
Learn How to Relax and Breathe Deeply
It's kind of funny to say, but breathing has never been a strong point of mine. I struggle with exercise-induced athsma and often get winded during prolonged activity - basketball, CrossFit, etc.
During one of my longer runs a few weeks into my training, I noticed that I was clinching my teeth and cheeks together, which was causing me to significantly reduce my airflow.
Being out of breath to the point of needing to stop is incredibly frustrating. Once I relaxed my jaw, I was able to breathe much more deeply. This one little adjustment was HUGE for my training.
The Right Gear Really Helps
When I started running, I was holding my phone in my right hand with my stock iPhone headphones - yes, with a 3 foot cable attached and dangling all over the place - not good.
All it took was one hot day for that sucker to slide out of my hand and land on the road. Thankfully I have a really solid case and screen protector, and it was fine, but I wasn't going to make that mistake again.
I picked up a cheap iPhone Armband and set of Bluetooth headphones, both of which are now stocked in The Active Living Store, and never had that problem again.
It's worth mentioning this case also saved my phone another time when I got caught in a pop-up shower on a longer run. It kept my phone dry enough to avoid damage, which I doubt would have been the case otherwise.
I also picked up a Garmin Vivoactive HR Smart Watch, which was awesome to track my runs without messing with my phone. It has several other pretty awesome features as well.
In hindsight, I could have done without the GPS watch, even though it is super cool, but the armband and headphones were basically a necessity for my sanity, especially during the longer runs.
Here are direct links to all three, if you're interested:
You Gotta Start Somewhere
Any size journey starts with a single step.
If you want to start leading a more active lifestyle, you don't have to run a half marathon, a 10k, or even a 5k, or even run at all.
Do whatever you want to, as long as it gets you moving. Just start as small as you can and work your way up to larger goals.