If you’ve been happily running (or run-walking!) about three miles a day, four days per week for several weeks, it might be time for you to aim high and run long.
Finishing your first half-marathon is amazing—there’s nothing like crossing the line and knowing all of your hard work has paid off. Still, I think the process of training for it can be an even bigger accomplishment. Here’s my advice for making sure the you have an incredible experience when you start training for your first half-marathon.
1. Get New Running Shoes It’s a good idea to buy a new pair at the beginning of your training. Especially, if you can’t remember when you bought the stinky sneakers you’ve been wearing lately! Don’t wait until a couple of weeks before your race. You need time to let your feet adjust to the cushioning, test them out with lots of different socks, and figure out how you like them tied.
2. Find a Plan and Be Realistic You’ll want to follow a half-marathon training plan. Most of them keep you active for four to five days a week. Don’t make this decision impulsively. Take a long look at your daily routine and then choose the plan that’s going to fit into your life most seamlessly. Proceed with caution if you intend to do your runs at sunrise and you’re not already a morning exerciser.
3. Slow Down I used to be a speedy, three-mile runner. I’d throw on my shoes, run as fast as I could, and then call it a day. My biggest adjustment when I started training for a half-marathon was learning to slow down. Running too fast is a sure way to make your runs feel completely painful and exhausting. Anytime you’re thinking, “I hate this,” you probably just need to ease up your pace and run slower. Your first half-marathon should simply be about getting your body used to the distance, even if that means running super slow. Save increasing your speed for your second half-marathon goal!
4. Use a Running App It’s totally cool to head out for a run without planning where you’d like to go first. But, when you’re sticking to a training plan and thinking, “I have to run 6 miles today,” things can get tricky. That’s where running apps come in handy. Simply turn one on and start moving. The app will track how far you’ve gone, so you can easily hit your distance mark as you go wherever the wind takes you. Two good ones that seamlessly connect with MyFitnessPal: RunKeeper and MapMyRun.
5. Create a Reward System After my long runs I like to treat myself to something small, like a yummy breakfast, an indulgent nap, or a long shower with a new body wash. Looking forward to these little rewards helps me get through a longer training run and keeps me motivated week after week.
A note on bigger treats: Many of my running buddies like to reward themselves with something big when they finish a race, like a massage or a new fitness outfit. I personally don’t find long-term rewards super motivating, but they are worth mentioning.
6. Tell People About Your Race This is important, because it helps you stay accountable. Your friends will remember your goal and ask you how your training is going. I’m always amazed by how many people send encouraging text messages, stay in with me on a night before a long run, volunteer to join me on shorter training runs, and come to my races to cheer. Better yet…
7. Enlist Someone to Run with You My running pals play such an important role in helping me stay excited about training. Create your own running group or join an existing one, and do your long runs with them. Some of my best relationships have developed during conversations while running, and miles seem to go faster with friends!
8. Expect Life to Get In the Way At some point during your training you’re going to be swamped at work, catch a cold, host a house guest, or wake up with an awful hangover. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Figure out what is still possible (if you can’t do six miles, can you squeeze in two?) and then shift your focus towards future runs. One of my favorite sayings about exercise: It’s not always how you complete a workout, it’s how well you recover from a bad one.
9. Don’t Forget to Stretch The jury is still out on whether stretching before a run is healthful or harmful, but loosening up on your rest days is really important. Find a super gentle yoga class and try to go once a week. I didn’t do when I trained for my first half-marathon and I paid the price—my entire body was as tight as a pretzel! I’ve made a habit of going to a Sunday night candlelight yoga during every half-marathon training cycle since, and it’s made a world of difference.
Are you running your first half marathon in 2014? I’d love to hear about it! Leave your comments below.