Conquering the Half Marathon

There’s a well known expression in the running world – “the half is all the fun, but none of the pain.” And it’s true! The half marathon is totally doable, super exhilarating and very, very good for your health. Heart, strength, abs, legs, butt, arms. . . you want to improve these pieces of you? Run a half marathon. That’s the answer. You can train in a year, six months, twelve weeks or, if you’re a ninja and refuse to plan ahead, one hour. Up to you. As the weather turns nice and we have more time on our hands (possibly) than usual, take advantage of this opportunity and run. We’ll talk about how, quote experts in the field and stand at the finish line (figuratively, of course) when you cross it. We. Want. Pics.

After running several half marathons, I can tell you that there are only five things you need. Think of these five “steps,” so to speak, and your training will be clearer and your race will be “funner.” FIVE STEPS: Gear, Motivation, Running, Course and Playlist. Here we go.

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conquering the half marathon 
right shoes

Gear. This means the right shoes and socks, right shirt and shorts and the right bra. Don’t mess any of these up. You’ll know if you’re wrong with any choice when you take a shower afterwards and you’ve chafed, blistered or bled in spots. Shouldn’t happen. Treat those runs like dress rehearsals. Wear what you’ll wear on race day. Nothing new or fancy or shiny that you’ve never broken in. Michelle Walker, a marathoner and mom of six, says, “Not only should you try out what you are planning to wear during the race, but you should also practice race day nutrition during your long runs. Race day nutrition includes what you will eat for breakfast, as well as what you will take in during the race.” Great advice!

You can find 1,000 articles on “what real runners wear.” Irrelevant (IMO). You need to put on your own unique body what feels good to you. Make sure it’s wicking material (no cotton) and not too tight or loose. My suggestion? Go to a running store and ask those guys to help you with shoe selection, if you’ve never run or walked more than 3 miles and you really aren’t sure what’s best for your foot type. The men and women who are running shoe experts can make a huge, important difference in how your foot feels in a shoe. I was fitted for ASICS years ago, and have tried other brands since then – because they look cool, feel like a cloud, come in neon colors, I don’t know – and none feel as competent (on my particular feet) as those good ol’ Kayanos.

Run for a Reason. I’ll be honest, I’ve never done this. Straight up. I find running for my health and my pride enough of a motivation, plus I actually just love to run. But lots of people run for a charity, and I can’t think of why we shouldn’t. Benefit others? Give back? Raise awareness? All big Yes. Most charities now have a convenient little button on their website that says something like “run for us” or “let us be your charity of choice.” Well organized and established races have those options right on their web page, so look there, as well. Another bonus? Running for charity can often guarantee you entry into an otherwise closed or sold out race.

conquering the half marathon

How to Train, including how to eat. This one is easier than you’d think. You just have to start running. And I don’t mean that flippantly. You just have to start. It’s like writing a paper or completing homework or doing. the. laundry. Just start it. I am a visual person, so rather than staying strapped to a measuring watch or fitbit or phone or whatever, I look forward and mark the distance visually with little victories. And, I literally congratulate myself – out loud – when I reach my marker. “Woo hoo, Katie, way to GO! You made it!” That’s me, that’s what I say. In case you need a script. lol. Look for a stop sign. An intersection. A mailbox. A school. You get it. Just get there. Once you start running, build up to one mile, preferably two. THEN, and only then, find a running plan online that you can follow. If you look for the plan before you can run a mile, you’ll feel overwhelmed and discouraged. That is not what we’re going for. Empower yourself FIRST, then plan.

These are my favorite half marathon guides:

Jack Rabbit’s 12 Week Plan

Really Simple One

Runner’s World (this is a very comprehensive list, with lots of options for plans)

Shape Magazine. I really like this one. But, I’ll say: my most recent half in October of 2019 was my PR for time. And it was the first time I’d incorporated these different kinds of runs into a training schedule: tempo, race pace, easy, hills, hard. It made a huge difference in my efficiency, time and energy. But if you don’t care right now about time, don’t read this link. It will be too much, you’ll that overwhelmed, unconfident feeling that we’re trying to avoid. Just breathe and get miles under your belt.

Unfortunately, it’s not true that “runners can eat whatever they want because they burn it all off, anyway.” You have to fuel this machine you’re pushing, and every written piece, every professional athlete, every trainer you’ll ever meet will tell you the same thing. Trust me when I say alfredo and morning long runs ARE NOT FRIENDS. So bad. But, never made that mistake again.

Lean proteins everyday. Not just the day before a long run. Chicken, not fried (that detail is for me, not you). Sandwiches are a perfect combo: whole wheat bread, fats, lean meats, veggies. All in a few bites. So efficient. Sugars found in fruits, lots of good carbs and water.

conquering the half marathon

Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate but DON’T be one of those people who adds weight to themselves by carrying water around their hips in little belts. Why? Don’t do that. You’re not crossing the Sahara and the last thing you want is additional, unnecessary weight. To pick up and put down thousands of times with every step. Just don’t. I trained for a marathon while living in Arizona. Literally. And never carried water. And I’m still here, telling you about it.

Lay low on alcohol, especially the night before a long run. And long is relative, obviously. Whatever that means for you and your body today, avoid alcohol 24 hours prior to running. Again, you’re welcome for the tip. I’ve lived that one out.

I like GU, but some runners don’t. Once your runs get past 6 or 7 miles, I think one GU around mile 5 or 6 helps me. But it could just be my mental game. Who really knows. But maybe try it, or something like it? A fuel-replenishment trick isn’t going to be bad.

conquering the half marathon

Choose your Course. You want flat, friendly (as in well-supported, lots of water stations, outdoor bands, cheering fans, etc) and cool temps. Not necessarily in that order, but close to. And, now that you know how long it will take you to train, plan for a race that’s held right when you’re ready for it. Runner’s World is a great resource for all things running. They keep a pretty accurate calendar on races for the upcoming year, so I start there and look for what’s available. (I hope this goes without saying, but just in case it doesn’t. Always check the actual half marathon website. Confirm dates – especially now in our new reality – locations, registration deadlines, etc. Never rely on a third party like Runner’s World to provide perfectly up to date information.)

Flat means flat. And, learn from my mistake – look closely. You don’t want relatively flat. You want definitely flat. Austin, TX is a great city, and a great race. But it’s not flat. Yes, it goes down relative to sea level, gradually over the course of 13.1 miles. But within that decline are hills that make you want to curse the gods. So just don’t. Train for hills, work on endurance, both physical and mental. But if we’re going for fun, which beginners are, and we’re not trying to win (which my kids can’t understand why I NEVER do), then look for easy, flat and scenic.

Check out this 2018 article by halfmarathons.net and this one by dailyburn.com for great suggestions on flat courses. Ironicially, dailyburn lists Austin as a first choice, though in the description it mentions “hilly urban course.” Sneaky!

Some people like to make a long weekend out of it, like my friend Betsy. That can, of course, be super fun, especially if friends or spouses can tag along. The top most scenic half marathons include Napa (great idea for post race!) and Disney (has been a huge favorite for a long time for both half and full marathon runners). Avoid high altitude locations. Colorado sounds great, but Olympians train there, which should be a huge red flag for all of us Average People. Altitude sickness is real and that’s the last thing you want to tackle prior to a race. Or ever, really.

conquering the half marathon

And, once you find the race you feel fits your plan, register. Waiting until last minute and paying twice as much to register is dumb. Sign up for the race. Click through all the buttons, get your card out and commit. Just do it. You’ll get a bib number, official communication from the race and you’ll feel more confident and competent!

(Huge Caveat HERE: I don’t know why we call it a race. It actually intimidates the hell out of me to refer to the thing I’m running as a “race.” Because I’m not racing, actually. I’m just running and praying I finish. So. Yeah, drop that lingo and don’t let it frighten you. It’s just a run, that you’ve trained for, that you’re excited about. No more racing. That’s for Molly Seidel and cute kids in potato sacks at the end-of-the-year fair. Not me in my wicking gear with GU stuck down my pants.)

Playlist. This is a biggie for me. I build a workout playlist on Spotify and then don’t listen to it. Ever. Except when I’m running. So it makes it kind of special. Spotify shuffles the songs, so it keeps it interesting, and the beat and lyrics make me happy. I used to train with a guy in Houston who listened to entire concertos while running. You know – you do you. Some intense runners listen to their heartbeats and wind in their hair and their rabbit like feet grazing the pavement. But I’m not an intense runner, and I like to enjoy myself while chafing under my arm pits. So music. Make a playlist that’s fast, happy and motivating. I promise it will make a difference.

What do you think? Make sense? What did I miss?

I’d love to know the runs (not races!) you register for, and if you’re out in Idaho and need a partner, let me know. I’m totally in.

XOXO Katie

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