When Jillian asked me to “guest blog” on her fitness website I had my reservations. I’ve never seen myself as much of an athlete and the idea that I might offer valuable fitness advice is still outside my comfort zone. That said, when she told me people might relate better to someone that was “just like them” the idea made sense to me and so here I am sharing my adventures in half marathon training. Hopefully someone out there can connect with my story and glean some useful advice as a result!
Before the summer of 2010 I could probably count the number of times I had run more than a mile on a single hand. I tended to avoid running mostly because I wasn’t good at it. I had heard experienced runners say things like “run at a pace where you can hold a conversation” and lucky for me I did not take this advice too seriously or I may have never gotten started.
My first running goal was to finish a 5k, something that seemed difficult but achievable. There are many people out there who could pick up and run a 5k – I trained for something like 3 or 4 months. My training program was self-constructed and followed the general guidelines of running 3 times per week and trying to increase mileage before a break. When race day came, I finished the race without stopping (my goal) and achieved a time well below what I would have thought possible (credit to training in the summer heat and horrible hills of my neighborhood). While I still had something of a love/hate relationship with running I realized that I loved races!
I ran the same 5k the next year and wanting to build on my momentum I also signed up for a 10k about a month and a half later. It was after two 10ks that I had a strange realization: that I may actually be able to complete a half marathon! What I would have never thought possible just a few years earlier now seemed the next difficult but achievable goal!
HALF MARATHON TRAINING:
One piece of advice I’d offer to half marathon rookies is to select a training plan that is appropriate for you. Many people would have considered 3-4 months training overkill for a 5k but it was what I needed to feel adequately prepared. That is why after browsing through the Hal Higdons and Jeff Galloways of the world I decided to customize my own half marathon training plan. I included it below for reference but perhaps more importantly, here are a few of the things I thought about in putting it together:
• Overall Length: I decided that a relatively long training program (20 weeks) was right for me. Contributing factors 1) I was not planning on doing a ton of running before my training “officially” began, 2) the longest run I had ever done was not much more than a 10k, and 3) I wanted to increase mileage gradually as a preemptive approach toward avoiding injury.
• Number of Runs/Week: In my previous experience I’d had a lot of success running 3 times per week; however, looking at the experts' plans I decided this was probably not going to cut it. I stuck with 3 times per week for what I considered the “bonus” work (the first eight weeks since many plans started at twelve) and upped it to 4 times per week after that.
• Supplemental Exercise: I debated this one but ended up adding a cross-training exercise once per week (usually Zumba). It was all I could get myself to commit to as far as additional time (I’ve never been willing to sacrifice my social life or other hobbies in the interest of training), but I figured a little variety would be in the general direction of goodness.
• Max Distance: I’ve never been able to have confidence in my ability to run a certain distance until I’ve actually completed the goal so I added a 13.1 practice run 2 weeks before the event.
• Tapering: My research on tapering before a half was inconclusive – some plans included it and others did not. In the end I picked what I considered to be something of a happy medium.
I made my plan generic as far as what days I was working out and always ran for distance rather than time. When I got to the higher mileage I tried to take the day off after my long run, and in general I tried not to have four days of running back to back; however, allowing the maximum amount of flexibility was key for me in sticking with the plan.
Looking back, I think it’s probably a good sign that I wouldn’t change much about my approach. A more experienced runner could surely get away with less training and I’m not sure how crucial that extra Zumba workout really was but it wasn’t until my 12 mile run that I first had that feeling of “I think I’m going to make it”
The other piece of advice I’d offer to half marathon rookies, or any runners for that matter, is to find a support system. I’ve been very lucky in that ever since that very first 5k I’ve had training support both at home (my husband) and from afar (my sister, her husband, my dad and various friends have all ran with me in various races). I’ve found this to be good not only for perseverance (you don’t want to be the first one to skip a workout) but also just for general enjoyment. In half marathon training my husband and I always did our long runs together and these actually became my favorite part of training.
I loved exploring new places around town and it was great to have someone to share in the excitement each time I passed a new distance goal. My dad was also training for the same half marathon a state away and so it became a fun source of conversation when I’d call him on the phone (“that 11 miler was KILLER!” or “have you tried gels?”). It also gave me a new inspiration for gift ideas (hydration belt, ipod holder, running mix, etc.).
In 2006 my friend Kathryn and I went on a road trip to support our friend Peter who was running in the Cincinnati marathon. I very clearly remember a conversation we had promising that if either of us ever ran a marathon the other would come to cheer them on no matter where the location. We made the agreement with ease thinking that this was such impossibility it would be the last time it was ever discussed. I bring this up only to emphasize that those of you who are not runners should not feel that a half marathon is an unachievable goal. I may never run a marathon and it took me three years to be ready for a half, but I did it and I sport a 13.1 magnet on my car with extreme pride! Start small, dream big and you’ll get there eventually!