This past summer, I decided to sign up for a half marathon in my hometown. I had recently gone on a tough hike and struggled to keep a positive mindset during the long journey, and often questioned why I was struggling so much to keep going.
I decided I needed a goal to work toward to prove to myself that I could do a difficult thing. I was a three-season athlete in high school because I did Cross Country and Indoor & Outdoor track, but was always plagued with injuries that prevented me from having a smooth, successful season.
I rarely ran more than 5-6 miles in high school. Since then, I had just been running 3-4 miles a few times a week because I knew how fragile my body was, and didn’t want to injure myself more, especially when I wasn’t running for anything in particular.
So yeah, 13.1 miles was intimidating. Training completely alone was also going to be tough because I would have to rely on myself to build mileage and figure out a training plan, and wouldn’t have anyone to talk to or distract myself during the run. I knew that the biggest obstacle was going to be my own mind.
Despite all my anxieties and challenges, on Nov. 13, I finished the Richmond Half Marathon! Here’s just a few things I learned along the training process.
1. Good playlists (yes multiple!) can make all the difference
2. The Greenway in Raleigh and Cary is THE BEST
These segments are your spot for flat, shaded runs or when you want to do a simple, mindless out and back. Use the Greenspace app to find trails near you – segments are basically everywhere! It’s also nice to see other bikers, walkers and runners along the way.
3. Strength training and rehab is ESSENTIAL
As my training picked up, I started to get some aches and pains. With the help of my physical therapist, I began strengthening my hips and glutes. Keeping these strong makes sure no injuries develop in your knees, shins, ankles, etc. Taking just 10 extra minutes every night to do a few resistance band exercises helped me approach each run with more confidence knowing my body was stronger. Easier said than done though, I know…
4. Every run looks different!
A simple 3 mile easy run can feel easy and smooth one day and the next it can feel like the longest run ever. I learned to stop beating myself up about pace or having negative splits as long as I went out there and got the miles in. I had to remind myself that this was just my first half marathon. There was no need to obsess over my speed because the main goal was just finishing 13.1 and feeling good about it.
5. Stretch your calves ALWAYS
Shin splints plagued the last month of my training. It was incredibly frustrating to get ready for a run knowing I would experience pain. But I wouldn’t even realize how tight they felt until I would spend a couple minutes stretching, and making this a habit earlier would have saved me a lot of trouble.
6. Training is flexible and you should always listen to your body (and mind!)
There were some days where I felt guilty for doing 3 miles instead of 4. Other days I was too tired or busy to fit in a run. But a lot of times I was prioritizing my body and giving myself a break when I needed it. You don’t always have to stick to your training plan mile for mile. Take a day to cross train or rest! It won’t matter that much on race day.
7. Long runs > everything
No matter how much I had run throughout the week, I always made it a point to do my long runs as planned. A half marathon is a long distance! Most of my weekdays consisted on 3-5 mile runs; nothing too special. But when Saturday came along, I knew I had to push myself to go the full distance. I felt so much more confident at the start line because I had done every long run, slowly but surely increasing my distance up until my last long run of 11 miles. At that point, what’s two more miles, right?
Sometimes I dreaded the hour to hour and a half (or more) that I would have to spent running, not to mention having to plan a good route and making sure I wouldn’t get lost. But sometimes it was a nice time to be by myself and enjoy being outside, exploring a new area around Raleigh. The sense of accomplishment I felt after completing these distances was also what motivated me to go into the next week of training ready for the next long run.
I thought I already knew enough about running prior to signing up for this race, but I feel like I’ve grown so much as a runner now after completing this solo. This experience forced me to develop a healthy mindset toward running because I was the only person holding myself accountable for doing my runs. This recreational race was for nobody but me. Not a coach or a team, just me!
The presence of thousands of other runners around me and the energy from spectators along the course was so impactful as someone who was used to doing all of the work alone. Being cheered for by strangers every step of the way was a beautiful thing to experience. Most of all, running the same distance with people of all different backgrounds made me realize just how big the running community is, and how much I love this sport. I can’t wait to see what I run next.