Friday, May 31, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 5 // Beginning Half Marathon Training


 Thank you for checking out Part 5 of my first running series! If you haven’t checked it out, you can find Part 4 here.

At the end of 2012, I had spent the prior 9 months training for my first 5K, and continuing to train for faster 5K times. I PR’ed in November with a time of 31:20, and I was feeling a little burned out from the stress of trying to get faster and faster.

In December, I decided to switch gears and start training for my first half-marathon. At first, I was pretty reluctant to train for a half-marathon, which at the time seemed like an impossible distance. I set my sights for the Knoxville Covenant Health Half Marathon in April 2013. The idea of just getting in the groove at an easier pace and just running longer sounded refreshing and nice.

That was a nice thought full of unicorns and rainbows. It lasted until my first half marathon training practice.

The half-marathon training through RunKNOX technically started up in December 2012. However, since it fell during the busy holiday season, we received a schedule to follow on our own, and had the option to meet up with community group runs on Saturdays.

I remember when my husband, Brandon, and I received the December running schedule in our email. As per his usual character, he glanced at it and said something like, “Hmm, that’s cool,” like it was nothing. I, however, took a look at the schedule, which included one long run per week and varying shorter runs throughout the week, and wanted to pass out! Our goal at the end of the month was to reach 8-10 miles.

Speaking of impossible dreams of unicorns and rainbows…

Luckily, I emailed my coach, Darren, and he assured me there was no pressure. There were people of all levels in the program, and the more experienced runners would reach this point. I just decided I would work to the best of my ability, and see where I ended up at the end of the month. We met up with the weekly community runs on Saturdays, and ran on our own (sometimes together, sometimes individually) during the week. What a process that was…

It was cold, and often dark.

I realize this is whiny of me, but one of my biggest hurdles was getting over my fear of running in the cold. I grew up in a much colder part of the country, but I’m pretty sure I lost my tolerance to cold the first year I lived in Tennessee. I’m that girl who has an extra jacket or cardigan and fingerless gloves at the office during the winter. I sleep under an electric blanket and sit by the fireplace at home a lot.

I remember B and I getting in the car to go to one of the few semi-lit greenways during evenings after work. It took everything I had in me (as well as B practically dragging me) to get out of the car and start running.

I invested in running tights, layers of long-sleeved running shirts and pullovers, a warm band to go over my ears, and gloves. I considered getting a running coat or jacket, however...

To my complete surprise, I discovered once I got a few minutes into my run, I wasn't nearly as cold anymore. In fact, sometimes I even got hot. I discovered I hated wearing gloves while running. It turned out that the cold didn't bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.

Oh the mental hangups we have about such minor things.

It was hard, but in a different way than shorter distance running. I was tired a lot.

With the shorter, faster 5K training I’d been doing, I basically felt like this:

During the run: Can't...breathe...must push faster...legs fading...try to keep running until I count to 10...I can't hold on...
Immediately after: Recover! Need water! Need oxygen! Now!
30 minutes later: Feelin' back to normal! Let's cook breakfast, play with kitties, go shopping, whatever!

Longer distance running felt completely different. I started out running 4-5 miles on my long runs and gradually working up. I'd go really slooow, like 12+ minute miles. It never got intensely difficult, like my lungs were about to explode like before. That doesn't mean it was easy, though. Far from it. Although not intense like before, my legs would start to feel wear after 4 or so miles. I don't know how to describe it. Just stiff, sore, and tired. Each step started hurting a little towards the end. Instead of bouncing back like after 5K training, I could barely walk the rest of the day.

Any rapper would have been proud of my gangsta lean. 

Mentally, long runs were draining. As before, I'd spend half of the run worrying about the next half of the run.

You know, I like to plan ahead.

Also, running 15+ miles a week was draining on my overall energy throughout the day. It was Christmas time, and I had to drag myself off the couch to go shopping or decorate (some of my favorite activities). I later learned that I could reduce this through nutritional supplements before and after running. I'll get to that.

But then…big things started happening…

Over the first month of training on our own, I didn't make it to 8 or 10 miles, but I got up to running 7.5 miles! I remember that day clearly. I was flustered and late to the community run, annoyed that it was less than 30 degrees that morning, and I just had a bad attitude. Once I got a couple of miles in, however, I got in a groove, felt more positive, and surprised myself. I couldn't believe I got so close to the 8 mile goal that seemed so daunting at first!

In January we began our structured practices. As in the 5K program, we did everything from running hills, working on running certain paces, and yes, increasing distance. Everything was just set at a longer distance. Like I said, it was hard, and I'd go home exhausted sometimes. I was one of the slowest runners in the program, but that's okay. I found another girl close to my pace, and we ran together throughout the program. Luckily, neither one of us were big talkers while running, so we didn't feel pressured to chat.

I mean, running is hard enough. Do I have to think about social conventions, too?

Over time, the results kept slowly coming, and that kept me motivated. We ran our first 10K, the Strawberry Plains 10K, in February. I really enjoyed the 10K distance. It wasn't so long it was miserable, but it wasn't so short that I felt pressured to run too fast. I ran with my new running partner, and finished in 1:12! My first 10K PR! :)

B and I after Strawberry Plains. He finished in a crazy 52 minutes! Go B!

At this point, I’d gotten to running 8 miles. Although training was going well, I still hadn’t registered for the half marathon as I still doubted myself a little. With about two months left until my half marathon, my next steps were to increase my distance to 10 miles, then 12 miles, then taper down to prepare for the race. And despite my doubts, I did all of those!

If you’re ready to train for a half marathon, here are some things I would consider:

  • Make sure you’re ready to train for a half marathon. I trained for 5Ks for months so that I would feel completely comfortable at 3 miles before increasing my distance.
  • Just like in training for a first 5K, I personally recommend finding a training program or group. Increasing distance and all of the challenges and complications that come along with it is daunting. A good program will guide you through not only increasing distance, but also focusing on running better. It will also provide you a support network as you encounter challenges, have questions, or need a pick-me-up.
  • Revisit tips in articles 1, 2, 3 and 4, including making sure you have good running shoes and comfortable clothes, believing in yourself and your training, asking any and every question (especially ASAP if you notice pain or injury!!), staying patient, and accepting that the process will have its good and bad days.
  • Try to get out of your head and not focus on the little things. I struggled (and still do) a lot with this. I’d stress about how cold it was at first, if my hair was falling out of my ponytail, if I was feeling tired, if my clothing wasn’t comfortable for whatever reason, etc. Try to let these things go. I tried to get a good playlist on, settle into a comfortable pace, and zone out. It doesn’t always happen, but feels great when it does. 
  • Do all of the “extra stuff”! I can’t emphasize this enough! This long distance stuff is no joke. You can’t blow off stretching, hydration, good nutrition, rest, etc, and get away with it, trust me. I went to bed early (usually not by choice, but because I couldn’t keep my eyes open) and drank a ton of water. I discovered later on that nutritional supplements could make all of the difference in my energy and recovery, which I’ll cover next time. To reduce the soreness in my legs and hips, I did stretches, specifically in my legs and hips, after running, and started dabbling in a yoga class here and there. There are great options here, here, and here.
Check out the final article in this series, as I share lessons learned from running my first half marathon last month.

What tips helped you as you trained for a half marathon?


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*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in this article are solely my own. Also, I'm not a health or fitness professional of any kind. See my Terms and Conditions page.

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