I remember it like it was yesterday – My first Half Marathon. Actually, my first running event ever. I had NO clue what I was doing. I had no clue about the course, I only knew I wanted to cross that finish line alive and hopefully with a good first half marathon story to tell.
Back in 2009 my mom was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, and I just so happened to get a Team In Training brochure in the mail around the same time. I headed off to a meeting at the local coffee shop. Even though I was 30 lbs overweight, totally out of shape, and had no clue really what would be required of me in the coming months I signed up not only to fundraise but to run 13.1 miles with the 2010 Flying Pig Half Marathon that coming spring.
I was eager to get some running shoes and meet up with the team every Saturday morning at a local park even though it was December. I had no clue about pace, no clue about pacing myself, and even less clue about nutrition. Heck, I didn’t even realize how important it was to respect and follow the training plan. I think the maximum I ran was 8 miles three weeks before the event.
My training was far from perfect and at that point I couldn’t even run the full 8 miles. There is no shame in a run walk program, as I soon learned. I winged it, in more ways than the lack of training and I have some lessons to share so read on!
My goal was just to finish the half, I had no time goals, as I did not know what to expect both mentally and physically. Now, after doing 17 half marathons and 2 full including the Goofy Challenge since, I can tell you it is 99% mental, but the physical training is crucial to prevent injury and speed recovery.
BTW Goofy Challenge = RunDisney Half Marathon on Saturday and a Full Marathon on Sunday for 39.3 miles of GOOFY fun!
The morning of the race it was pouring rain, I put a hat on for good measure to keep the rain out of my eyes and a running rain coat and headed out. Needless to say, up until the night before, I never really considered the course map – I think miles 7-10 or something like that are pretty much straight up hill. It is a good idea to look at the map before you sign up FYI 🙂
This is where proper training comes in. Had I studied the map well in advance, it might have dawned on me that some walking/running hills might have helped me. It may have motivated me a bit more to take my training seriously, and respect the distance and course so I could avoid a week or two of pain.
I headed out in the rain and remember crossing a bridge into Kentucky, running past a drive through liquor store and then back on another bridge into Ohio. Bridges are killer on the legs! Both uphill and downhill I soon learned. I persevered in wet shoes but by mile 6, I wanted out. I also wanted some band aids to help my soaking wet feet in my soaking wet socks.
Remember I only went 8 miles before? Well that can become a huge mental block when being faced with a much larger distance on race day. I knew I could go 8 walking and running, but could I go 13.1? There is a reason the majority of the running plans bring you at least 1 mile (for the half distance) within the distance of your chosen event. Mentally knowing you just have 1 or 2 more miles to go is a huge relief.
Looking back, I should have had some sort of race plan like I do today. Do I walk for 1 minute and run for 5 minutes off and on, do I plan on just walking the entire 3 miles up hill, do I run and then walk at the water stops? There are a lot of options for the beginning runner, but most of us fail to think that far ahead and this goes for any distance. From your first mile race, a 5K all the way to a marathon or beyond.
Nutrition is another crucial element to plan for before your first race. I am a big fan of honey stingers and those organic applesauce packages, but always use any sort of nutrition supplement in your training first as no one wants an unexpected outcome on race day. Plan out the timing as well, what mile will you take a supplement, will you alternate water and a hydration drink, at what mile will you stop supplimenting?
This lack of planning just did me in and I was literally at a walk the entire last half of the race until I saw my family waiting for me to cross the finish line. I mustered up the strength to run so at least I might have a cool picture to show for it all.
After close to 3 hours, 2:56 to be exact, I crossed the finish line. I was in the worse pain ever. My legs were stiff, I was cold and wet and I was tired but my goal was achieved.
Getting that medal around my neck was a huge achievement, not to mention the fact I became part of a team to help find a cure for cancer. There was something bigger that day that occurred inside me when crossing the finish line, I realized I could do something I set my mind to and succeed. It was a start to a major life change, loosing 30 lbs, falling in love with running and now becoming a certified Run-Fit running coach to help others achieve their goals as well.
The 4 hour ride home was hell, I had no clue what compression pants were but would never leave home without them today. I also wish I would have had the courage to try an ice bath, they really help!
I took a break from “running” for a bit after my first half marathon, but soon enough another challenge came along and I ended up falling in love with the freedom running gave me and the sense of accomplishment.
There is only one way to complete a race. Running is something that only YOU and I can do, sure we can have pacers and trainers but at the end of the day only YOU can muster the strength and courage to get over your struggles and accomplish your goal.
Tell me about your first race or are you wanting to do a race but not sure where to start? Comment below and let’s chat!