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I’ve run countless races in my life, ranging from 100 meters on a track to 13.1 miles through downtown Orlando. Although I’ve enjoyed a long running career, the half marathon is my favorite distance to date. Even if you’ve never been a runner, consider starting with 21 kilometers — an impressive yet attainable distance.

My freshman year at college was spent cultivating friendships, enjoying late nights, and adjusting to a totally new schedule: my own. This schedule didn’t include regular exercise or running, even though I had previously participated in varsity cross country and track from 7th through 12th grade. I’m currently a sophomore in college, so when I started training for my first half marathon, it was after a whole year of virtually no running and 10 weeks before race day. And yet I still achieved a 1:50:08 time (which is about an 8:24 mile pace) and smashed my original sub-2 hour goal. These facts alone show that you can get off the couch and onto the sidewalk 10 weeks before race day, and at least cross the finish line. I have run over 25 5k’s in my life because of my cross-country background, and you’re probably wondering why I’m recommending a seemingly more advanced distance to new runners. However, the perception that long-distance races are far more difficult than short distance races is absolutely false. I can remember 5k’s when I felt more pain in my body after about 22 minutes of running than I did in the entire two-hour span of my half marathon. Running at a moderate pace for an extended time is far more comfortable than pushing yourself to your limit for a shorter period.

Although training for any race is not easy, certain competitions are simpler to prepare for than others. In order to begin training for a half marathon, the only essential “gear” you need is a quality pair of running shoes and access to a sidewalk or treadmill. As far as a training plan goes, recommendations will vary depending on your age, health level and fitness background, but the general running plan for your first half marathon will be something like this: 1 distance day a week (which progresses in length weekly or bi-weekly), 3 moderate running days (with speedwork on some and easier runs on others), and 1-2 days of cross-training (yoga, swimming, cycling, dancing, weights, etc.). By following a simple, flexible and customizable plan like this, you can achieve your goal without the help of a running coach or professional trainer. Because you’re not necessarily training for speed, but are instead building endurance, you don’t require days at the track while a man with a stopwatch screams times at you, or hours in the gym squatting hundreds of pounds.

If a positive race experience and an easy-to-follow training plan don’t have you convinced, maybe vanity will. Yes, you will probably shed some pounds and tone up as you train, but I have another source of vanity in mind: pride. I have impressed countless people with the mere fact that I ran 13.1 miles in one go, and I didn’t even mention my race time. In other words, a frat boy named Chad may have run a fast 5k, but your mediocre half marathon is sure to wow all your classmates because your distance includes the word “marathon” in its title. Truthfully, Chad’s 20 minute 5k was probably more painful than your 2.5 hour half marathon, but no one needs to know that! By embarking on this endeavor, you gain clout that no 3-mile runner can claim.

My future athletic goals include running a marathon, achieving a sub-20 minute 5k, and completing an obstacle 10k. One year ago, pre-half marathon, I may not have set these goals for myself or believed that I could achieve them. But pushing myself out of my relatively short-distance comfort zone allowed me to realize that with grit and determination, no distance is unachievable. Whether I attain any of these ambitions or not, I know that I’m going to try. If you’re intimidated by the idea of running 13.1 miles straight, good. That means you’re sane. But, as Orison Swett Marden said, “All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.”

Kristina is a senior majoring in Finance with a minor in Psychology. When she's not at a coffee shop or going for a run, you can catch her suffering at the library questioning her life choices. She loves watching college football and writing for HerCampus!
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