Tips I wish I knew when I ran my first Half Marathon

A year or so ago, I decided that I wanted to combine my love for travel and fitness, and attempt to run a half marathon in a different city each year. After running the Philadelphia Half four times, it started to feel different. I was anticipating the hardest parts, and I missed that feeling I had when I ran my very first race of not quite knowing what to expect. So I kicked off this goal last year by signing up for the Seattle Half Marathon. I made a trip out of it, and ended up seeing so much of the city during the race that I probably would have never seen in just a short weekend. Just as any other race, there were definitely challenging parts of the course, but I was more focused on enjoying the views around me than I was on the hills that might be somewhere ahead. I trained last year during an extremely busy and stressful time in my life, so I didn’t get to do as many training runs as I would’ve liked, but as I said in my post on why I like this lifestyle, I felt like training kept me disciplined and focused anyway. I sign up for these races because I truly do enjoy running in them, but I also really like having something to work towards. I didn’t set any PRs during the Seattle Half, but it was still an awesome experience, and CJ and I still consider that to be one of our favorite trips.

Now that I’m living in ATX, I decided the Austin Half would be an appropriate next race to try. I officially sealed the deal last week, and registered for the race in February. School is about to kick up ten notches in a few weeks, but I think running will be a good release for me during the rest of my hectic schedule. I’m actually shooting to hit a PR this time since I have lots of time until Feb to train, so I’ll be creating a little training schedule for myself pretty soon. However, after having run several half marathons in the past, there’s a lot I’ve learned about training that I wish I knew when I first started out back in 2009.

If you have never run a race before and want to start out, it’s not as intimidating as it might seem. You’d be surprised what our bodies are capable of when you just put your mind to it. But if I were to give any advice to anyone beginning, or even runners that are looking for suggestions, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Don’t overtrain.

You may feel like you need to run every single day, do two-a-days, combine runs with all sorts of other exercises, or never take rest days, but you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter what goal you’re trying to reach, overtraining is not going to get you there. If you start feeling mentally and physically exhausted, you begin losing motivation, you feel irritable and sometimes depressed, and your muscles don’t seem to be recovering, you may be experiencing symptoms of overtraining. Always be on the lookout for this and make sure to recognize when it’s time to ramp down.

2.  Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

I can’t stress enough how much of a difference I’ve seen in my performance once I started paying attention to the amount of water I was drinking on a daily basis. Especially living in Texas where it’s extremely hot, water plays a huge role in my ability to push through my workouts. I carry my water bottle with me everywhere to easily make sure I’m drinking enough.

3.  Run OUTSIDE.

As boring as it may seem, I’m a treadmill runner. Don’t get me wrong, I do love running outside when the scenery and temperature is great, but I’m all about efficiency and sometimes it’s just easier to get it done on the treadmill (especially with the TX heat). I like having control over my incline and speed, not worrying about crossing the street or not knowing where I’m going (literally the WORST with directions), and being able to stop whenever I feel like it. BUT.. treadmill running alone is not sufficient training for a long race. You can put the incline up to resemble a road, but the only thing that prepares you for running on concrete, is running on concrete.

4. Be flexible, but do at least one long run each week.

Everyone has different preferences, but I prefer following a training schedule that sets a weekly mileage target (i.e. 30-35 miles/week), rather than one that specifies how many miles you should run per DAY. Many of us live really busy lives where meetings come up last minute, sometimes it takes longer than usual to get home, and that 5-mile run you were supposed to do at 6 pm turns into a 0-mile run at 9 pm. I find it to be a lot less stressful when I know I can switch around my days according to how my week is going. When it comes to long runs, I don’t think it’s necessary to do any more than one per week, as long as you increase the mileage gradually as it gets closer to race day.

5.  Cross-training can be extremely helpful in improving your endurance and speed.

My best performances have been when my training incorporated lots of cross-training. When you give as much attention to other muscle groups in your body, as you do running, you start to notice that your body performs a lot more efficiently. Makes sense. The stronger the core, the better running form you’ll have, and the faster you’ll be able to go. I try to offset running with resistance workouts, either using light weights, kettlebells, or resistance bands, and non-running cardio workouts like spinning.

6.  It’s okay to slow down during the race.

When you see the people on the side of the race slowing down, sometimes walking, and then you see them dust you later on in the race.. yeah, there’s strategy there. I used to feel like if I stopped, I’d be messing up my time, but that’s not the case. When you’re feeling sluggish or you don’t feel prepared to sprint up the hills, jog, slow down, walk for a sec, do what you gotta do. Taking that time to slow down and breathe can help you propel forward even faster.

7. Take it easy after the race.

Once you finish the race, have an epic brunch, take a nap, celebrate, do whatever you feel like doing, because those races aren’t easy and you deserve it. DO NOT feel like you need to pick up running again the next day or week after. It’s okay to rest and let your body recover for a week or so.

8.  Learn how to properly fuel yourself while training.

By far, probably the most important aspect of training that I’ve learned over the years, but also the hardest to figure out. As you know, I’ve had my fair share of stomach issues so learning what I could/couldn’t eat was a struggle. I used to run on empty in fear of having something that would make me sick and unable to run, but this wasn’t good. Since then, I’ve learned how to incorporate foods that provide my body with the right amount of energy and nutrients to sustain the workouts I do, and it has helped me so much. I recommend playing around with different meals and pre-workout snacks while you’re training, and take note of what works and what doesn’t. Everyone’s body is different, so it’s important to figure out what works best for you. I don’t recommend trying any new foods a week or less before race day! The more consistent you are, the better. Oh, and don’t forget to refuel after your workouts! It’s just as important as the workout itself.

That about sums up what I’ve learned over the course of the last 8 years through lots of self-experimentation, so I hope it’s helpful! I’ll be sharing lots on Instagram about what workouts I’m doing to complement my running, and I’m sure I’ll have another blog or two to elaborate more as well!

xo Erin