SPRING! It’s right around the corner! You know what that means? It means it’s time to bust out those running shoes and get your heart pumping as you train to reach this year’s goals. What are your goals this year? Is this the year you run your first half marathon?? Are you aiming for finishing in under 2 hours?! Well if so, then continue reading because I’m about to take you through tips for race day success, the health benefits you will reap from incorporating running into your health and wellness routine, and a training program to get you off the couch and out the door! I not only ran cross country and track in high school, but I’ve also ran races from 5 miles all the way up to 26.2, with my first attempt at the ultra distance 50K coming this summer! (Hopefully! -Stay tuned for that!) I’ve been there; I’ve mastered my nutritional needs to keep my energy levels up, and I’ve figured out the training technique to reach my weekly goals while staying injury free! Now I’m here to help YOU reach your goals and keep you healthy in the process. Ready for this? You can do this. No, we can do this!
Running is something very natural that everyone, despite what they may believe, can achieve if they put in the proper effort. The human body was meant to run and explore, move, bend and stretch! Don’t deny it of this! Here are some health benefits you may experience from running:
- Increase in endorphins which make you feel HAPPY! 🙂 Runner’s high anyone?
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increased self-esteem
- Strengthened heart and lungs
- Toned muscles and possible increase in bone density
- Increased endurance and aerobic capacity
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved quality of sleep
- Immune system boost
- Increased joint strength and stability
- Despite what you may think, it may actually increase your energy levels!
I know training for a race can be intimidating. It’s hard to look at a distance of 13.1 miles and think that you will be able to run that whole distance. It takes a lot of dedication and willpower to complete it, but I know you can do it! I’m going to share with you a few training tips that have worked for me throughout the years. These tips actually work for any race all the way up from a 5K to marathon or greater.
Make sure to check out my half marathon training plan AND my full marathon training plan!
Training tips to get you well on your way to a successful half marathon:
1. Research the race you want to do at LEAST 6 months before race day.
This gives you optimum time to prepare yourself. Also, there’s usually a discount for early birds ;). Doing this also pumps you up and makes your goal a reality. You didn’t pay that much to not be prepared, right?
2. Make sure you train for the terrain you will be racing on.
If it is a road race, do most of your training on the road. If you know it will be a trail race, definitely train on trails! Trails work different muscles than road races and usually provide less pounding on your joints compared to pavements since dirt and grass provide more cushioning. KNOW YOUR TERRAIN. It’s a big one.
3. Read through the event website top to bottom!
Are they providing discounts on hotels and a shuttle to the start line? Where are the best spots for spectators? Is it an out and back or a single loop? Are you allowed drop bags? How many aid stations are there and what will they be serving? Is there a cut-off time? Is there a staggered start? Dog’s allowed near course? Outhouses throughout course or just at start and finish? Previous years weather conditions? If inclement weather, do you get a refund or are you eating that money? If you cannot make it for some reason are you allowed to tranfer your spot to someone else? Where and when is packet pick-up and do you have to be present or can someone else pick up your packet for you? These are things you should pay attention to!
4. Cross train, cross train, cross train!
Running nonstop for all of your workouts will get you to the finish line, but it will make you more prone to injuries. To keep your muscles balanced, you want to incorporate different workouts. Focus on balancing activities such as yoga or activities that work other muscles such as biking or swimming. And don’t forget about weight training! Strong arms will help propel you through to the finish when your legs get tired, while a strong back and abs will keep your posture upright.
5. Practice your nutrition during your training runs.
Play around with different foods and get yourself used to eating on the run. Do you know how hard it is to breathe, chew, and run at the same time? Takes a little practice. When first starting out you kind of sound like a rasping bird! Figure out when you should be eating and how often is best so you beat the crash before it hits. Don’t forget to refuel within 30 minutes of returning from your run either! You have to get your energy back and put protein and nutrients into your body! Don’t wait on this!
6. On your long runs, don’t focus on speed.
Focus on feeling relaxed and comfortable with very little labor in your breathing. If you can have a relaxed conversation while you run, that is ideal.
7. Run your longer distances with a pal.
Having a buddy on those long runs makes the time go by so much faster and is WAY more fun! Plus, extra laughing just builds your endurance and ab muscles.
8. Get to really know your body.
Tune into your muscles, your joints, your digestion, everything! Be aware and take note of any changes you may notice as you are training. If you think something is off or notice any sort of discomfort, don’t push it.
9. Invest in a GPS watch, but don’t use it all the time.
I say not to use it all the time because I don’t want you focusing on time. I want you to focus on your effort and be more in tune with how your body is feeling. Constantly basing your runs on a GPS watch may make you push yourself farther than you should or may even hold you back from improving if you think you should be going slower than what your body is actually capable of doing. I usually use my GPS watch for my long runs and maybe my interval workouts if I’m trying to hit a certain speed. Other than that I just wear a regular watch to track time or go watchless. It actually feels freeing not being a slave to the clock!
This is basically the watch I have, except mine doesn’t have the download capabilities. It is a very basic watch that allows you to track your distance, pace in minutes per mile, speed in mph, and calories (which I don’t really use). You can personalize it to track your pace every mile and look back at those stats later to see where you felt the best and where you energy was waning.
10. Mentally prepare.
It’s been proven that athletes that envision themselves succeeding in their goals get less discouraged and feel more prepared than those that don’t. Try and picture anything that may go wrong on race day and plan out how you will respond. This builds your mindset so you don’t feel lost and discouraged if everything doesn’t go as planned on race day.
11. If you think you may be injured, rest!
Your body needs time to heal. If you continue training while injured you can end up injuring yourself even more, possibly putting you out of the race for good. If you are feeling more tired than usual during everyday activities, that is a sign that you are running yourself down. Take a few days off to recoup and you will come back stronger.
12. Don’t run every day of the week.
Take rest days! You will need them! Running every single day doesn’t necessarily make you a better runner.
13. Switch up your running.
If you do an interval workout one day, have the next day be an easy, slow day. After your long run, take a day off to rest. Hill work one day? Cross train the next. Mixing up your workouts confuses your muscles and keeps them from getting accustomed to a single pace or movement.
14. Take time to warm up your muscles!
If you are doing speed work, take time to warm up your muscles before by doing a light jog followed by some drills such as butt kicks, toe touches, skipping, or walking on your toes and heels. Don’t forget about the cool down at the end either! And STRETCH!
15. Invest in a foam roller!!
I never thought I would need a foam roller until I could barely walk after my first half marathon. Then I used one and later that day I was walking completely fine. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re sore it hurts like a b**** to use it, but it feels oooooh so good at the same time. A muscle massage body stick also works extremely well for working out tight knots in muscles. Using these even before your run works great because it keeps you legs from feeling sore, which frees up your mind to focus on form and strategy.
16. Keep a training journal
It took me a while to start using a training journal, but now I can’t imagine NOT using one! It is sooooo important for improving. They make it easy to track your progress, and it’s fun to look back on the following months or maybe even years to see how much you have improved since you started.
17. Decide on a mantra
You will have days where you just don’t feel like running. You had a distance goal to meet for that day, and you just don’t feel like completing it. Your energy is waning because you’ve completely invested yourself into training for the last several months. What can you do??? What usually gets me through my runs is coming up with a motivating mantra. When I’m just not feeling like reaching for my full potential on a given day, I use the mantra: “Do what you won’t regret!” Because I know that if my legs feel fine and I”m just feeling lazy and turn around early, I’ll regret not pushing myself that extra distance later. However, if ‘I’m feeling really sore and run down and then push myself to go that extra distance, I may end up injuring myself. So in this case I won’t regret turning back early. So that’s why I say to do what you won’t regret. You need to access your condition in that moment and decide what’s best for you!
Tips for race day success:
1. Get up early, eat your normal breakfast, and get to the race at least an hour before start.
Getting to the race early gives you ample time to use the rest room, possibly pick up your packet, meet some new friends, and give you time to relax and mentally prepare before the gun goes off. And then use the rest room again!
2. Come prepared for all weather conditions.
Just because it’s July doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a big thunderstorm with crazy winds and freezing rain. You will be happy if you pack a bag with all sorts of crazy weather gear just in case you find you need it.
3. Line up in your speed bracket at the starting line.
You don’t want to be in front of people that are running faster than you because you will slow their start down. At the same time, you don’t want to get stuck behind a huge group of people going slower than you would like. The race usually has areas to line up based on your expected finishing time or pace, so line up accordingly to get your best possible start.
4. Bring your own fuel!
You trained with this stuff, and your body is used to it and will be looking for it. Don’t eat the cookies or other junk at the aid stations! One of my friends learned the hard way with that one. It may look tasty, but your body will not be thrilled when it’s looking for something nourishing and you give it a sugary processed snack. Same with pretzels: dryer than dry! Stay away. I think it took me like 5 minutes to chew a pretzel one time because my mouth was dry, and then I ended up just spitting it out anyway! Wasted energy!
My go-to running fuel usually includes bananas, dried apricots with salt, sometimes peanut butter sandwiches with honey, or green tea with honey. Most recently I’ve been drinking cherry juice, coconut water, honey, and chia seeds on my long runs. While the cherry juice helps with post-race soreness, coconut water provides electrolytes, honey is a good antioxidant and source of potassium, and chia seeds provide numerous nutritional benefits while helping keep your energy levels up.
5. Start fueling before you think you need it!
I usually aim to start fueling around 45 minutes into the run and then every 30 minutes after that. I’m not talking about fluids here. I’m talking about some form of energy from food. Consuming fluids should be a more constant occurrence.
6. Drink early and drink often.
If you are feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated! If you aren’t getting the proper fluid, you will definitely start to notice it in your energy levels.
7. Plan for your spectators.
If you have people coming to watch you, discuss ahead of time where they will be standing just in case they can hand you more fuel or you can pass off a sweatshirt or something. Also, just knowing someone is at a certain location can be huge motivation to keep yourself pushing along.
8. Only compete with yourself!
You are running this event for YOU, not anyone else. Don’t try and kill yourself to beat the person next to you because it’s definitely not worth it.
9. Set little goals for yourself
While you don’t want to compete with people, it IS okay to set a goal for yourself during the run to “pick off” the person in front of you if you are trying to increase your pace. Setting little goals throughout the race is important to keep yourself going. If you feel like you need to walk, set a goal for yourself to walk two minutes, run a mile, then walk again if you need to. Or run to the next aid station and allow yourself time to rest a bit before you pick it back up again. In my first half marathon I was SO tired by mile 11 that I wasn’t sure I could keep running. So when a group of 3 people passed me I forced myself to stick with them until the end. It worked out great!
10. Focus on form!
Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle, and keep them pumping! If your legs start to get tired, it’s amazing what proper arm movement can do for you! Make sure not to drag your feet either! Lift those knees! Going up a major hill? Lean slightly forward and focus on picking up your knees and landing/pushing off on your toes.
11. Make new friends!
The running community is such a friendly group of people always looking for a good time and new companions. Soak up the energy at the race! This is my absolute favorite part! Everyone is there because they love running and love what they are doing. You can see it on their faces and feel it in the air. Everyone is thrilled to be there!
12. Enjoy the scenery!
You didn’t come there to just stare at your feet or the ground in front of you. Take in the views and breathe the fresh air! The earth is a beautiful place. 🙂
13. Thank the volunteers.
They are taking time out of their day to serve you fuel and offer words of encouragement. Flash them a big smile, and give them a “Thank you, you are SO AWESOME!”
14. Don’t lose your morals.
If you notice someone suffering, give them a helping hand. Simply asking if they are ‘okay’ may be enough, or maybe they would like you to tell the volunteers at the next aid station that they need help. Just because you are trying to get a good time doesn’t mean you have to simply ignore someone hurting. You wouldn’t want someone to ignore you, would you?
15. Cross that finish line with your arms up and a huge smile on your face! YOU DID IT!!
As always, make sure to talk with you doctor and get the “okay” before starting any exercise regimen.