Training for my first Half-Marathon

By Crista Tappan - May 13, 2012

Last year if you would have told me that I would be planning to run a half marathon on my 24th birthday, I would have laughed in your face. Even more, if you would have asked me a couple years back, I would have said you were crazy. I only wish I could find my race photo from my first 5k (3 miles) two years ago. I looked absolutely miserable, hated life, and crossed the finish line over 40 minutes later. Running was a painful experience that sent shockwaves through my body with each step.

Today, I ran nine miles on the beach and at times I felt like I was weightless, lost in my thoughts or observing something as I was passing it by. I realized that I had come a long way from my painful 5k's. Then something else struck me: the first 3-4 miles for me are always the hardest. It is in these miles that I experience the greatest amount of negative thoughts and attitudes towards running. Because I had never taken my distance past 3 miles for almost a year straight, EVERY SINGLE RUN was miserable. I never got to experience the joy of running through the fields, along the shoreline in the mornings, or on long trail runs with my friends.

I made a lot of changes this year that broke me out of my 3 mile gridlock. The first important change I made was in my consistency. Instead of running once or twice a week (which never allows for your body to adjust) I started running 4-5 times a week. I learned that it actually hurts less if you run more often versus running every once in a while. Second, I lost weight. Having an extra 15-20 pounds on your frame makes a SIGNIFICANT difference in your running form, your endurance, and how it affects your joints. I constantly had knee/ankle/hip issues when I was 20 pounds heavier. I, of course, blamed everything under the sun except my weight. The thing is, I didn't lose weight to become a better runner. I started to eat healthy because I realized that it greatly affected how I felt the next day during my run.

Story of my life: super healthy breakfast followed by a burger. Not everyone is perfect! Still trying to beat my bad habits.

 I'll give you an example. Last year I had a really heavy dinner at one of my favorite Chinese food restaurants. The next morning my entire body felt like it weighed a million pounds. My heart hurt, joints hurt, legs were heavy. I racked my brain for the reason why I felt especially "blah". I was running with my cousin at the time, and she went through her mental list of things that will affect your running performance. "What did you eat last night?" She asked me. "Orange chicken and chow mein," I answered. "There's your problem! Of course you feel this way!"It was then that I made a mental note to quit it with the heavy, greasy, delicious food that will plague me for an entire day after I finished my meal. Although it tasted heavenly in the moment, the side-affects were astronomical.

The third most important thing that has shifted me from being a terrible 5k-er into a relatively decent runner gearing up for a half-marathon is simply SIGNING UP FOR RACES.

I cannot emphasize this enough. There have been countless (and I mean, like, once a week at least) times when I didn't want to run in the morning. I am the Queen of Excuses, especially when it means getting my ass out of bed a little early and going to run 5-6 miles at the beach by myself. Who wouldn't rather just sleep in? Many times the only thing dragging me out of bed was the knowledge that if I didn't run that day, it would throw off my entire running schedule. I wouldn't be able to perform well at my next race. Or, worse, I would make myself vulnerable to injury by not being prepared enough.
At the end of my first 10k. Surprisingly in a great mood! That morning, I was honestly terrified that I wouldn't even be able to finish. My time was 58:45. Beat my goal by over a minute and fifteen seconds :)

So what I did was sign up for a few 5k's during the first two-three months of my training. Then, I added a 10k (6.2 Miles), and a 10-Miler. The goal was to gradually build up my distances with set goals along the way to mark my progress. Not only do I look forward to these races, they give me a sense of purpose, community, and a chance to show myself how far I have come.

Not long after my first 10k,  I ran the Central Park loop (6.2 miles, too) in 57:31, beating my previous PR by over a minute! I can't tell you how shocked I was when I looked at my phone and saw the time/distance!

This next weekend I have my first 10-Mile race. It will be the first time I have ran 10 miles. I have been building up my weekly mileage gradually over the past few months, and it really blows my mind how I can run 9 miles without any aches and pains. After my 10-miler this weekend, I have my first Half-Marathon on my birthday (in about two weeks from today). I have to admit, I'm a little afraid, but I know I have put the work into it.

But, most of all, one of the biggest gifts I have been given during my running experience has been the guidance/help from my awesome friend Michelle. Wouldn't be where I was without her! She has listened to me complain, ask countless questions, and pushed me to go further than I have ever gone before. My gratitude to this amazing girl is endless!

All I can say is I CANNOT WAIT until my birthday Champagne Brunch I will be heading to immediately after I finish my race ;-) Work hard, play hard!

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