In August I ran my first ever half marathon. It was an incredible personal achievement and one that I will never forget. Although it was gruelling and difficult on the day, it left me buzzing to run more races. However, I made some mistakes and learnt a lot both whilst I was training and on race day itself. I am by no means an expert, very far from it, this is just some of the advice I wish I had had that may be of interest 🙂
1. Focus solely on your half marathon.
As I had never run a race before I decided it was important to experience running in a race environment. I found a local 10k two weeks before my half and I thought this would be the perfect warm up. I was so wrong. Running a 10k may be a lot shorter than a half but contrary to what a lot of people (including my past self) may think, this doesn’t mean it is any easier. A 10k is a very different type of event which requires a different style of running, training and pacing. I thought 6 miles was nothing compared to the longer milage I had built up. On 10k race day I really really pushed myself. I ran just on the edge of my threshold. Yes I smashed a great new PB, knocking over 2 minutes off my best time but this, along with the huge adrenaline rush, left me completely exhausted. Not only that day, but during the following week. Both physically and mentally I was wiped out and as you can imagine, this really affected my running. Looking back I shouldn’t have participated in such an event so close to my half. In future? Focus purely on the one style of event and training.
2. Find out what works for you.
Getting your diet right whilst training for a long race is difficult. There is a lot of information and advice out there providing tips on what and when you should eat. However, my best piece of advice is yes, use this as a basic guideline, but actually practise different approaches and
work out what is best for you and your body.
I have always been the kind of person that likes to eat an hour before I run but everything I read told me to eat a good 2-3 hours beforehand. For some reason, I decided to do this before my 10k – worst mistake ever. I remember standing at the start line realising that I was starving and there was nothing I could do. My jelly babies were with my mum and I didn’t want to incur a stitch! Eating 1 hour before is what works for me. I did this before my half and it worked as it had in my training – perfectly. It can be easy to doubt yourself when running sites say something else but
you really need to trust your body.
3. Try and run in different climates.
It can be very off putting to run in certain conditions. I hate running in the heat so during my training I would try and work it so my longer runs were on cooler days. Obviously you can’t change the weather on the day of the race, nor can you conveniently change the date at the last minute. Yes, my half fell on an extremely warm day and I really struggled with this. I found my self dehydrated and under prepared to deal with these conditions.
4. Create an epic playlist
Now this is something that I did really well if I do say so myself; it did take me a while though! I wrote down a list of all of the songs to which I enjoy running. Some more chilled and relaxed for when I need to hold back, and others much more upbeat. Perfect for when I need motivation and something a little more inspirational. I looked at the route and worked out what songs I wanted where, depending both on how I had learnt that I would feel at different miles and how the route itself would affect me. I wrote down the exact length of each song and put together a playlist that would see me through in the best way possible.
There is nothing better than hearing your favourite song when you have hit a wall.
It worked out so well that I even crossed the finishing line to my favourite song! Spend time on your playlist and you really will thank yourself. (Bear in mind that adding together song times is such a nightmare. It would be a lot easier if there 100 seconds to a minute!)
5. Finally, don’t compare yourself to others
I have quite a few of friends who run a lot. For some reason their achievements and pbs seemed important to me at first. I thought that if I didn’t run the half in under 2 hours, like they had, I would have failed. Why I based my own targets on those of others seems silly now.
The only person you need to race against is yourself.
I also soon realised that there is so much more to training for a long run than the end time. Yes it is brilliant to watch yourself improve but for me, it became a lot more than just getting a good time. You can read more about that here. When I stopped comparing myself to others, when I took the pressure off myself and instead focused on my own achievement, this is when I really began to love running. It actually became a very emotional process, watching how far I had come.
If you’re wondering, I didn’t finish in under 2 hours. It took me 2 hours 3 minutes, 40 seconds. Sometimes I wonder had it not have been so hot would I have shaved off that annoying 3 minutes? Could I have pushed myself more? But at the end of the day I really did do my very best. It’s so important to be proud of yourself and don’t compare yourself to others.
These are some of the things that stood out for me the most. I hope that this may be of use to you if you are embarking on your own challenge and do let me know if you have any tips and advice of your own.