Saturday, June 8, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 6 // The First Half Marathon

Thank you for checking out Part 6 of my first running series! If you haven’t checked it out, you can find Part 5 here.

So, by mid-February I had been training for my half marathon for a couple of months, and the Covenant Health Half Marathon was only 8 weeks away. I had gotten up to 7.5 miles. It was difficult. It made my legs feel like they were going to fall off. I still needed to add almost 6 miles to that distance. I was still nervous about it, and still hadn't registered for the race.

Then one Thursday after a core class, my RunKNOX coach, Darren casually mentioned that on Saturday I'd be running my first 10 miles. Double digits. Whoa. This, of course, was terrifying. For a slow runner like me, this would take about 2 hours.

My worst case scenario I imagined was 2 hours of "Can I really do this?", "Is the next mile going to be terrible?", "Why is Pandora playing terrible songs?", "Oh no there's a hill", "My legs are going to fall off", and "When will this ever be over?"

I try to stay optimistic. The morning of the big goal, I couldn't sleep and woke up extra early. To calm my nerves, I worked on a crafting project. Finally it was time to go.

It was cold that morning - around 20 degrees. I met up with my running partner and we set out. To my surprise, the first few miles weren't bad at all. We ran in an area I was already used to running. Once I got to about 7 miles (at the time the longest I'd run), I started feeling the really tired, sore feeling in my legs I usually felt when I reached that distance. Only there were 3 more miles to go. Great.

I ran one more mile where my running partner dropped off, as she was only going to run 8 mi. Luckily, I wasn't alone. My husband, Brandon, had already finished his 10 miles (of course) and being the sweet husband he is, offered to run with me during my last 2 miles.

At this point it was getting really tough. My legs hurt with every single step. I wasn't sure how I was going to get through it. We were near UT, and we tried to choose a route that avoided hills (good luck with that). My motivation was wearing thin, and my inner drama queen came out to poor Beebs.

Can't...go...on...any longer...

Quick, say something motivational!

I think this is the end for me. Tell my family I love them. Give my sister her gift (the crafting project).

Luckily, I think the whining distracted me through those last 2 miles. Finally, I had achieved my goal of running 10 miles!!! Despite the fact that I had another gangsta lean all day, I felt great! Knowing that I had just pushed myself 3 miles beyond my current limit, I finally felt that going from 10 mi to 13.1 mi was doable. I was ready to register for the half marathon!

Over the next few weeks, I ran 10 mi a couple more times. In March, I got up to 12 miles. That day was also a memorable day. It was the day that I discovered that running long distances after only consuming a banana and plain water isn't a good idea. That story is a post within itself (and will be!), but long story short, after some dizziness and mild confusion, I was inspired to explore "running candy." These are all of the gels, jelly beans, candies, etc that have magic energy and electrolyes for runners and athletes. I also now drop electrolyte tabs in my water. More on that story later. Despite the complications, I nonetheless completed my 12 miles (a DOZEN), the longest distance I would complete before the race.

The last few weeks we "tapered" down our distances to rest and refresh before the race. In my everlasting brilliance, I came up with the idea that maybe this wasn't a good thing. If I'm not constantly running 10+ miles the weeks before the race, will I lose my ability to do so? Maybe I should just ignore the coaches' advice and run longer anyway.

Because I know more than elite athletes who have run and coached professionally for years.

Luckily, I realized how dumb that thinking was and decided to stick to the experts' advice. Good call.

Throughout the process, the thought of actually running the half marathon didn't seem real. Until the week before the race. The Monday prior, I read a break down of the course route and where all the hills would be. It just got real.

I started having waves of anxiety. Was I so sure I could do this? I read this article to calm my nerves. I talked to my coaches and friends. Luckily, there was a bright spot in that conversation.

I found out I'd get a medal! A shiny medal to show my accomplishment! And I'd finish at the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium! And we were all going to celebrate afterwards!

That all sounded awesome. 13.1 miles was the only thing standing in the way.

The Last Supper

The evening before the race, B and I went to pick up our packets. While there, I caught a glimpse of the start line. Yowza. Anxiety back in full force.

We went home and I fixed a light meal of chicken and rice with lemon and light seasonings, and a small amount of roasted veggies. We laid out everything we needed for the next day and headed to bed super early.

The Morning

We woke up super early and got dressed in our running gear. Being the super cool wannabe 16 year old I am, I put pink streaks in my hair with hair chalk. You wish you were this cool. I packed up my running jellybeans, electrolyte tabs, and handheld water bottle, and we were out the door! It was a little chilly when we arrived at World's Fair Park. I met up with my running friends and we all wished each other luck.

My running partner and I found our corral (towards the back), and lined up. At this point, I was oddly not feeling stressed anymore. This was really cool! I was here! I was doing this! With pink hair!

Miles 1-3

And we were off! The first three miles were fairly flat areas through UT's campus, so they weren't bad at all. I was riding this great wave of excitement and adrenaline.

There were people cheering! And music playing! And fun signs! All for me! And 3,000 other people, but who's counting?

I felt great and I was distracted by taking in all of the sights and sounds. I'd hit every other water stop, salking through them to fill up my handheld bottle. Since I'm not an elite runner, I didn't mind taking a few pics and Instagramming while running.

Best. Sign. Ever.

I was shooting for a time of 2 hours, 45 minutes, so I found the pacer for the 5:30 marathon time.

Miles 4-6

Now I was getting into some hillier areas on Cherokee Blvd in Sequoyah Hills (they weren't kidding when they named that place!). I'd run that area many times, and I was still excited, so it didn't phase me. I started  hitting more water stops, and popping running jellybeans every 3 miles or so. Of course, I Instagrammed more signs.

A glare, but it said "Stopping - Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!"

Guys? Motivation to try a half? I'm not going to spoil whether the cheerleaders were there or not.

They took my picture at the 10K mark.

Here I am! Rocking out to my music, smiling, with my sunglasses and perfect ponytail bounce!

B looked much more serious at this point

Miles 7-10

Okay, now it was getting real. Right smack in the middle of the race was a GINORMOUS hill on a road called Noelton. It is notorious in this town. Some say it's not that bad, I say they're nuts. It was the first time I felt tired during the race. I forced myself through it, and may or may not have walked for 30 seconds of it. With that out of the way, we had turned around so that we were now going towards the finish line. There were 3 miles on a greenway that went through a cooler wooded area that were mildly hilly. Staying strong!

Miles 10-13

Finally, after 2 hours, I was getting closer to UT's campus and the glorious finish line at Neyland Stadium. I was starting to feel tired at this point. I was constantly falling behind and catching up with the pacer I was trying to stay with. I happened to run into my coach, Darren. He had already won 3rd place in the half marathon (of course) and was running back and forth to check up on us RunKNOXers to help us finish. The cops working security were like "Hey, it's you again!"

Just another Sunday.

He told me that Brandon had finished in close to 2 hours (his goal) and that many others in the program had great times. I was excited for them and ready to see them! The last two miles, however, were tough. They were gradual inclines almost the whole way. I felt SO tired! My legs were going to fall off. It was nice to have someone to chat with, and Darren was even kind enough to be my "running concierge", grabbing water, etc for me.

Finally, I saw the most beautiful sign I'd ever seen. It split the half and full marathoners, pointing the half marathoners to the finish!


Finally, I headed into Neyland Stadium, and ran across the football field. A video of me was on the jumbotron! They announced my name! I waved like a pageant queen, looking like an idiot. I didn't care.

Here I am, finishing at 2:44:47! Faces blurred to protect the innocent. We take consent seriously here at CSRS.
B was a lone wolf, finishing at 2:10:14

I found B, who hugged me and congratulated me. A UT football player presented me with my medal. It was all so much to take in, and I was too tired to absorb it. I crashed on the grass for a little while, trying to grasp it all. I had done this. All of those months had paid off. Here I was, a finisher.

And here I was in the grass...

I finally convinced B to let me take a pic when we got home

The rest of the day, I hobbled around from exhaustion, but rode on a cloud of happy. We had brunch with some of my running friends, then met up with even more running friends for drinks. We all congratulated each other on our finishes and times. It was truly an amazing day!

If you have been training for your first half marathon, here are my tips for your big day:
  • Trust your training, and don't freak out about tapering like I did - Believe it or not, you won't lose your ability to run 10+ miles in 3 weeks. In fact, I felt great running 13 miles, and I hadn't run 10 miles or more in about 4 weeks prior. Whatever your coach or plan recommends, do it.
  • If you haven't already, learn about and try "running candy" and supplements - I wasn't doing any of this until my energy crash during my 12 mi run. Apparently, that was crazy, as you're supposed to be consuming running candy frequently while running long distances. Luckily for me, I learned this before race day. You can go to a specialty nutrition store and learn about these things. Try some different things to see what you like and what works for you before the race. I like running jellybeans.
  • Eat a good dinner, hydrate, and rest the night before - My coaches didn't advocate eating massive amounts of carbs. They recommended eating moderate amounts, including healthy carbs and tried-and-true foods that were sure to not make you sick the next day. Our chicken and rice meal turned out great for that purpose. This article outlines good practices the day before the race.
  • Learn about the race - I avoided this for weeks, as thinking about the specific details of the race stressed me out. I'm glad that I finally learned about the race course and where the hills were. Using this informaiton, our coaches helped us formulate a plan/strategy to manage our pace and energy and prepare for the hills.
  • Have fun! Get excited! - I overcame my anxiety about the race by getting excited about the benefits. Make fun plans after the race. Allow yourself to get lost in the hoopla of signs, cheers and music. This is a great experience - treat it that way!
This concludes my running series on how I went from a running newbie to a half marathon in a year. I hope this information was helpful at whatever point you are on your running journey. Wherever you are, I hope you stay with it and get to experience great results!

Do you have any tips for someone running their first 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.


  1. This has been a great read and I'm so glad I came across your blog. So many of your experiences rang bells with me and it is evidence that you can go from zero to hero in just a few months. I shall share this on fb to inspire other newer runners who wonder if they can do something like this. Keep running!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed and could relate! It wasn't easy to get here. With hard work and dedication, BIG results can happen. 15 months ago, I couldn't run a half mile, so this is definitely possible for other beginners!

      The running articles aren't over! I'm currently switching gears and training to get faster at shorter distances, and look forward to sharing.

      So sweet of you to share on FB! Best of luck to you and your group in your running endeavors!

  2. Your race pictures are fabulous! You look happy and are smiling - what a treat for your first :) (The pink streaks were a good choice)

    I remember the first time I headed up for a double digit run. It is intimidating! But once you figure out a strategy that numbs your mind of the can'ts, freak outs, etc its not as scary as you think. Which you found out and totally rocked it out!!

    Following a plan and trusting it is my biggest tips for newbies. Trusting themselves, too. Maybe that's a two-part tip. If you trust yourself, the work you've put in to get there, you'll do just fine on race day :)

    1. Thank you! Yes, the excitement and energy of the race kept me positive, and I wanted to do something different! :)

      Yes, I completely agree that it is 90+% mental. Turning off your mind, or just focusing on the moment is what it takes!

      Great advice! Yes, it's hard to trust in yourself and your training (you always think you should be doing more), but it's crucial! I had a last minute freak out and wanted to deviate from the plan, but I'm so glad I didn't!

  3. Congratulations on your first half marathon! You look happy and confident in all of your pictures -- great job!!! Dumb question for you - did the hair chalk, um, "run"? (Did you sweat it out?) I have an idea for a costume half in a month or so and was wondering if hair chalk would just dribble down onto my clothes. (Or perhaps I just sweat too much?) :)

    Anyway -- fantastic job, and a great race report. Congrats!!!

  4. Thank you so much! It was a wonderful day!

    I actually used a liquid hair chalk by a brand called Splat I believe (found at Walgreens). You comb or work it in with your hands, then blow-dry it so it dries and sets in your hair. I then combed through it so it wasn't stiff and clumpy.

    I didn't notice it running, but I don't sweat a lot when I run. I've noticed the solid/powdery chalk rubs all over everything.

    Good luck with your costume, and thanks again!