Mile by Mile: A Half Marathon Survival Guide

Despite the wind that cut like a knife, I felt pretty good about the half marathon I was about to embark on. Bundled up, I began my trek to the starting line. I had a general idea of its location, but decided to follow the pack of people migrating across the street just to be sure.

As we began to line up, I engaged in some small talk and exchanged well-wishes with other runners. I started to feel even more at ease. However, once I looked to my left, I swear my heart faltered. Doubt began to creep into my mind. The participant next to me looked in Olympic shape. She could have been Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 NYC Marathon winner, in the flesh. I began to think, “What am I doing here?”

13.1 miles may seem daunting; however, I think it is a distance anyone can conquer with a solid training plan, determination and quality running shoes. The training really doesn't take up exorbitant amounts of time which is nice because you can still maintain a work/life balance (if there is a such thing!).

Training Tips

1. Get Fitted

Any journey starts with great shoes! Not only is it an excellent excuse to purchase new kicks (yay!), but it will make reaching your goal much easier. By purchasing proper kicks, you will reduce your chances of injury and say "yes!" to happy feet. Currently, I am rocking Saucony Freedom ISO in Blue / Citron. The vibrant colored sneakers perk me up on even the gloomiest day and carried me through my workouts with a pep in my step. The right pair really does make a world of difference. Just keep in mind that the right pair for me may not be the right pair for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Go to a specialty running store so they can watch you run and find a shoe that will offer you the support your feet need.
  • Don’t be cheap! $120 now will prevent visits to the doctor’s office because you injured yourself jogging in the wrong sneakers. In the long run, you are saving money.

2. Find a Training Plan that Works for YOU!

I selected a plan formatted with the freedom to choose which workout I wanted to do on any given day. I don’t like assigning a specific number of miles to particular days of the week. I know myself, so in order to succeed I wanted a training plan with flexibility. I knew some days I would be in my Energizer bunny mode and dash through longer runs; however, I also realized there would be days I needed to rest or only felt capable of running three miles.

I felt comfortable with a six-week plan since I run regularly; however, there are so many plans out there ranging from six weeks to six months. Just gauge where you are at and select a plan that suits your body best! Your preparation is what will get you to the finish.

Key Takeaways:

  • Set yourself up for success!
  • Stay focused and put in work!
  • Give yourself time to relax!

Okay, so Race Day is here! Give yourself plenty of time to eat, park, line up and use the restroom. I often eat peanut butter toast the morning of and make sure I am properly hydrated. I also bundle up because earlier start times often chill me to the bone.

It’s go time! Let’s get it!

Mile 1: Throw off your extra layers because you are about to warm up! Que up a fire playlist full of motivational tunes! I usually act like I’m in my own movie. I start with songs that will keep me running a comfortable pace. Slow and steady wins the race! Don’t burn out at the beginning.

Mile 2: Alright, alright, alright! I’m feeling good and I hope you are too! I’m taking in the course and getting in my groove. I’m starting to adjust my pace accordingly. Sometimes I follow a pace-group, sometimes I prefer to ride out the journey solo. If the group works for you, keep with them. If not, do your own thing! It is good to challenge yourself, but be reasonable and listen to your body.

Mile 3: At mile 3, I usually experience excitement. It’s surreal that the race is underway! There is something in the air, (I’m not talking about B.O.) it is determination. Nothing is cooler than running alongside others who made the same pledge as you. We are all working towards that finish line! It is crazy what your body can do.   

Mile 4: Keep an eye out for water stations! You don’t have to stop at every one, but it is important to stay hydrated. Also, watch your pace! You are approaching the middle of the race!

Mile 5: My music switches to songs with slightly quicker tempos so I hit the pavement at my goal pace. You might start to encounter some doubt. Push those thoughts away! To keep positive, I mentally chant “Just keep swimming!” Yes, the famous saying from Finding Nemo. I grew up with that movie! Judge me if you want, but it works and it makes me giggle (Dory is my spirit animal TBH). The key - keep confident with your running.

Mile 6: Right about now, I realize that I am prepared. I trust myself and my training. I am in control. I just keep on swimming... I mean running!

Mile 7: Okay, now I find a running buddy. He or she doesn’t even realize that I have chosen them. I decide I am going to try and keep with them. They will keep me cruising to the end!

Mile 8: Right about now I may take an energy gel shot if I feel like I need it. They are often offered along race courses, so just be sure that you know how your body reacts to them before ingesting one. You could also bring your own if you aren’t sure where they are at or if they are offered.

Mile 9: I’m starting to hurt, but the race is mental at this point. Physical pain is temporary! My feet may be screaming and my legs are tired, but my mind yells louder. Reminder: You will finish this race! You are almost there!

Mile 10: I dedicate my fave bops to the final few miles. These are the songs that make you want to head bang or bust a move. I run like my life depends on it. I also envision the yummy snacks at the finish!

Mile 11: Closer! Woo hoo! I take a deep breath and try to keep my form controlled. I have nothing too loose, so I give it my all. I’m breathing heavy, but it’s not forever!

Mile 12: I am hurtling for that finish line! I’m just kicking it. My dad always pops into my head hilariously enough. At the last leg of my XC or track meets in high school, my dad was always standing there cheering me on. Therefore, I always finish strong because his finish line words of encouragement stuck with me. I also owe it to my speedwork while training.

Mile 13 / The Finish: REJOICE! You did it! I always grin so much my face hurts. Time to load up on refreshments and snacks. Just celebrate because you are a winner for crossing that finish line.