You guys! I did it! I finished my first half marathon this past weekend and it was INSANE. I have learned so much about myself while training for this race, and I knew I would share my journey here. I decided not that long ago to make a bucket list of things I wanted to do, and then pick something and plan it. The first idea was to do a half marathon, and my amazing sister-in-law jumped in with me and we decided to train together virtually (she lives in New Hampshire, I live in Alabama), and then meet and race. This was the best, I think making a crazy goal and having someone do it with you is the best way to go. It took me a couple of weeks after committing to feel scared about running, but we committed and that was it, no backing out! Which is probably a life metaphor…do the hard stuff no matter what, bonus points if it makes you scared. Just do it! Now that I’m done I am looking for the next big scary goal (not a whole marathon lol), so stay tuned. This is just the beginning!
As promised, I’ll outline how I prepared and how the actual race went, and I’ll have some bonus content at the end.
When I decided that I was really doing it, I looked up “couch to half marathon” and wrote down the suggested program. The program I found was a 12 week program, and since I had a vague idea of what race I wanted and when it would be, I counted back 12 weeks and filled in what I thought I could do in my calendar. I had a 1 week window before I started training, so I just ran about 2 miles a couple of times as that was the max I had run before that.
Note: you do not have to be a natural runner to run a half marathon. I could barely do 1 mile when I started and built myself up. If you are consistent, your running and endurance will improve, I promise!
I also took into account that I was doing workouts besides just running (CrossFit,) and wanted to be careful not to over- train. So while this program suggested I run 3 times a week with rest days, I modified it to fit how I was feeling. When my earlier runs were shorter I could still do 3 CrossFit workouts a week, but as my runs got longer I did more active recovery workouts and stretching on the days after running, and didn’t push myself as hard during the WOD’s and strength portions of CrossFit. For example: I wouldn’t try to PR a Backsquat the day before a 9 mile run. I was also super careful the last two weeks of training not to overdo it and get injured. Here’s how I trained—>
Week one: 3 mile run + 1 mile run + 1 mile run. 3 CrossFit workouts.
Week two: 4 mile run+ 3 mile run + 3 mile run. (Vacation week.)
Week three: 3.5 mile run + 5 mile run + 1 mile run + 1 mile run. . 2 CrossFit workouts.
Week four: 6 mile run + 5 mile run + 1 mile run. 3 CrossFit workouts.
Week five: 7 mile run + 2 mile run. 3 CrossFit workouts.
Week six: 8 mile run + 4.5 mile run. 2 CrossFit workouts and 1 active recovery workout (rowing.)
Week seven: 6 mile run. 3 CrossFit workouts.
Week eight: 9 mile run. 2 CrossFit workouts and 1 active recovery.
Week nine: 10 mile run. 2 CrossFit workouts, 1 active recovery workout.
Week ten: (week before race!): 4 mile run. 2 CrossFit workouts.
Week eleven: Race Day! Ran 13.1 miles in 2:30:13 at a 11:28 pace.
What I ate before/during/after training
I quickly learned while training that I had to step up my game when it game to nutrition, and in particular, adding more carbs. I tend to eat smoothie’s, lean proteins and vegetables, with small amounts of pasta and breads, yet as I began running I found I needed more carbs for energy. There were many days where I thought I had eaten enough, but would either go to bed with my stomach growling, or wake up STARVING.
Before a ran I would have a piece or two of peanut butter toast and a banana, which worked out well, as long as I ate at least an hour and a half before running. After a run I found I needed carb heavy meals to recharge. Anything with potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, and pasta worked well. It was a departure from my normal eating, but necessary to keep up my energy.
Once my runs got longer (over an hour), I needed to have something while running. I tried energy gels, which were a turn off (the texture reminded me of flavored toothpaste…), and in a pinch I’d grab an apple sauce packet. I attempted to bring a Z bar when I had nothing else, and found running + chewing + breathing not possible to accomplish all at once lol. I do think it is important to have something to give you a surge of energy, because you can definitely tell when your reserves are gone. I also run with Gatorade in a water bottle and sip on it the whole time, which I think helped me a lot with energy and endurance. During the race I used Gatorade chews.
More details on the gear I used while training are HERE
Race Prep and Race Day
The race was an hour from my house, so I drove over the day before and met my sister-in-law at a hotel (we raced together!) We had burgers and fries for dinner and it was delicious. There was also a margarita as well, which was super YUM and since it was early when we ate, I wasn’t worried about having it. We both went to bed really early, and were awake about 4:30 on the day of the race. I just wanted to do the damn thing! The anticipation of it was really fun.
That morning I wanted to do all the things I normally did before running. I had packed a peanut butter sandwich from home and ate that, along with a banana and half a cup of coffee. I taped up my knees and hip with KT tape, wore my typical gear, and made sure I had my water bottle filled with Gatorade and had my energy chews. We got to the race start line at 6:15am and were ready. It was chilly and dark, so I stretched a little and we just waited for the race to begin at 7am. In hindsight, I wish I had warmed up better, though.
The actual race
When the race began I had a lot of numbness in my right leg and foot, which was pretty bothersome, but went away after 2 miles or so. I think I was just really cold and stiff and it took a bit to warm up! Also, right away I had to fix how my shoe was tied, and that made it better as well. After that I hit a rhythm with running and it was easy till about mile 9. I had brought a pack of 6 energy chews, and started eating them one at a time at the hour mark. I started eating them about every mile or so, and went through the whole pack. At mile 10 I hit a wall and grabbed two energy gels at the water stations as I was running by, so I was fueling as much as possible as I felt I had no reserves left. The whole race I ate about 6 Gatorade chews and 2 packs of energy gels, and drank an entire bottle of Gatorade I had with me.
The last three miles were the hardest for me. I felt every step and evrything hurt, and the whole thing was mental at that point. I couldn’t even really pay attention to the music I had, I just focused on how much I had left to run and looked for the stations where I could grab the gel and stretch for two seconds without stopping. The last three stations I slowed for about ten seconds and stretched my knees, did a couple deep knee bends, and then kept going. That helped so much! My original goal was to never stop running, but I did need to slow down a second to stretch and then kept moving. My knees thanked me for that lol. The last mile ended up being uphill and against the wind and was so freakin’ hard! Every step hurt, and at one point I wanted to die and walked about 10 steps and my sister in law said “Let’s go!” and I picked my pace up again. She motivated me at my lowest and I am so thankful. We turned a corner at the very end and it was downhill and then we were DONE and it was so surreal. I am just so happy and proud of us, I couldn’t imagine doing it without her by my side. My husband and kids were at the finish line and having them there also motivated me. I want to show my children that there mama can do hard things, and they can, too.
Running a half marathon felt a little like childbirth to me. You have to make your body do something you aren’t totally sure you can physically do, but you CAN. You can do so much more than you think you can. Those last three miles I kept thinking, “I am NEVER doing this again!” Yet after it was done, and I rested, I can see doing another. Just not anytime soon;)
Finally, I want to encourage anyone who has ever had the thought of running a half marathon, DO IT. Don’t overthink it, just sign up and tell the world and commit to training. You don’t need to do anything fancy, I just suggest being able to run 1 mile to start and build from there. Running is very mind over matter, and if I can do it, you can, too. Promise!
Now for the bonus I promised you! I wrote a guide with all the gear I used to train for and run my first half marathon, you can grab that HERE or below in the graphic. It has everything I bought and used to make my runs successful and that helped me train and run. And it’s FREE!