I finally succeeded in something I’ve been trying to do for years. I talked someone into running a half-marathon with me. I’ve felt like I could use some accountability in my training and haven’t really found anyone even remotely interested. But then I ran into a certain someone at the 5K on Saturday (not literally, although it could have been considering how clumsy I am) and thought, “Hmm. Maybe she’ll be up to it.” Turns out? she is.
So now that I can’t back out – (Right Sarah? I can’t…Can I?) I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I learned the first time around. I was completely new to running then, especially distance running of any sort. Since it’s been 2 years, I feel like I’m starting all over again. Suddenly these lessons/tips are creeping back into my mind. I thought I’d share them with you in case any of you are starting on the same type of journey. If you have any to add – I’d love to hear them.
- Most half-marathons give out medals TO ALL FINISHERS. This was the most awesome thing to discover. I overheard a few women talking about the medals at a race a few weeks before my first half-marathon. I was convinced I misunderstood. Surely those medals are for the winners. Right. Nope. They’re for EVERYONE. When they handed that to me after I crossed the finish line I didn’t think there would ever be anything I could cherish more in my life. EVER. I was not a super-athlete growing up…what few trophies I had were the kind the whole team gets at the end of a season. There was also that gymnastics trophy my Dad had made for me…just for the hell of it…but I don’t think that counts either. So the medal? MOST AWESOME THING EVER.
- You need to find a way to carry water with you when you run. When I first started doing my weekend long runs, I faced the dilemma about water. It’s easy on the treadmill: They have cupholders! But how do I stay hydrated when I’m running outside? Races have water every mile or so, but where would I get water during my training runs? I started running with your basic 20oz water bottle in my hand. That ended up getting annoying so I went to the local running store (Fleet Feet: Soon to become one of my favorite places on earth.) and looked to see if they had any solution. Turns out? There are TONS. There are waistbands that hold one large bottle or several small ones. There are bottles with hand straps. There are even backpacks meant to just hold water! Tons of options, you just have to find what works for you.
- Clothing choices become important with longer distances. The longer time you are running, the more likely certain clothes will start to chafe you. I remember my brother discussing his mistakes in fabric leading to chaffing and then bleeding nipples. This struck fear into my heart because, while I was fairly certain my sports bra would prevent that occurrence, the fear of bleeding nipples was enough for me to take chaffing VERY seriously. I did learn that on runs longer than 45 minutes I should eliminate the cotton t-shirt. The sleeves chaffed my underarms. I also learned that some shorts chafe my thighs on long runs. I had raw spots on my inner thighs for weeks one time after I had the brilliant idea to wear a new pair of shorts I had never tested for a 7-mile run. Everyone is different but NO ONE should run long distances in UNTESTED CLOTHING. Never. Ever. If you feel like something is going to chafe regardless of your clothing, coat that area with Vaseline. First Aid stations along most half-marathon courses will even have vaseline on hand just for those moment. Nothing like asking a complete stranger for Vaseline to make yourself feel vulnerable.
- The goal is to FINISH. When you set out to run a certain distance, whether it’s for a training run or the race itself, a beginner’s goal should just be to finish the distance. If you have to walk? It’s okay. You can still say you ran a half-marathon even if you walk periodically. Some trainers recommend you run ten minutes and walk one minute if you’re a novice. Others recommend you take the water breaks along the course (usually about every 1.5 miles) to take a walking break. I chose the latter to be my method. I walk through the water breaks. Not only does it give me that glorious break from running, but it allows me to maximize the water I ingest because drinking water and running simultaneously: Not as easy as it looks.
- Don’t become dependent on your iPod. Every race is different, but nowadays it’s difficult for certified courses to get insured unless they insist that runners NOT wear headphones. Now, you could always do it anyway, but you won’t get your name listed in results, you won’t be eligible for prizes if you’re fast (not a concern for me), and you might not get a medal (HUGE concern for me) if they’re handing them out. If you’re used to running with your music, it might be very challenging on race day to give it up. Keep that in mind.
- You can never spend too much money on socks if you’re prone to blisters. I am very prone to blisters. I have therefore tested every sock on the market. I have found the pair that seems to be LESS likely to give me blisters (although I do still get them sometimes) and they cost $10 a pair. That’s an awful lot for a pair of socks. But I only need one pair if I’m diligent about laundry. An take it from someone who had 3 layers of blisters one time, it’s worth every penny. (Yes. I’ve tried your blister solution. Trust me. I didn’t work. Thanks for telling me though!)
- A new running outfit can be a great motivator. This is actually something my Dad taught me. If you go out and buy a new running outfit, what are you going to want to do? GO RUN IN IT. Very simple but also very brilliant. Now, don’t buy a new outfit before the half-marathon unless you’ve tested the fabric/style before. (Remember: AVOID BLEEDING NIPPLES AT ALL COSTS.) But if you have a favorite pair of shorts (I do!) then buy a new color for your big race. It’s amazing how much of a difference that can make in your running mood.
- Good running shoes shouldn’t need to be broken in. This was a HUGE shock to me. I bought my first pair of real running shoes after my first half-marathon but before my 2nd one. Turns out I didn’t need to worry about breaking them in, they’re designed to be run in from Day One. The first run I did in my new shoes? Was a half-marathon! And it went VERY well. I am still using those shoes currently – dreading the day I have to replace them. I have no idea where the line is between “real” running shoes and generic running shoes, but I felt safe that anything I bought at Fleet Feet would work. They have never let me down on any recommendations and they actually suggested I buy the least expensive shoe of the group they recommended to me. “If that show does not feel 50% better, then you should not spend 50% more on it.”
- Salt is very important when you run. I was very confused the first time I passed a table on a race where people were handing out salt packets. I found myself thinking, “Um…is this candid camera?” Turns out? It’s very important. This is why so many sports drinks are loaded with salt. And why – when I ran my marathon – I found myself CRAVING the sports drinks that tasted SO BAD. I just needed the salt in them, even if they did taste like urine.
- Pace Yourself. It is very easy to get caught up in the runners around you in a race or a running group. If other people are running faster, you’ll want to do the same. I have done poorly on SEVERAL runs because of this, but most dramatically at my first half-marathon. I never felt like I was running too fast until I would get to the first mile marker/time keeper. Then I’d find myself going, “Wow! Good time! I feel great!” And I usually did because adrenaline will do that to you. Then…Mile 2? Not so great. Then…Mile 3? Dead. And I had 10 to go. When I ran my second one in Tucson, my brother helped me keep pace with his GPS watch. That one went MUCH better. Yes, lots of people were passing me. But you know what? I didn’t fizzle out. I walked through my water stations and ran every other step along the way.
Maybe something here will help you along the way. Maybe it will just teach you something new. Hopefully it will help you avoid chaffing. That’s my goal, you know. To make sure your nipples don’t bleed.