5 tips from (my big mistakes in) 2013: My year of half marathons



In April of this year I ran my first half marathon – the Nike Women’s Half. I made some training mistakes and set myself way back in my training. Once I had healed from a busted knee, I trained with a plan and ran 4 more half marathons in the fall. Now I am upping my mileage weekly with my eyes on a March 2014 marathon. Here is what I learned (from my big mistakes) about half marathons along the way.

1. The problem: Poor training and not enough of it

They aren’t kidding when they say don’t ramp up your mileage too quickly. I found out last minute – about 6 weeks out – that I would be running the half marathon in my friend’s place. My training went like this: 5K, a few runs under 5 miles, 10K race, 8, mile practice run, 9 mile practice run, 10 mile race a week before the race, 6 mile run, half marathon. Needless to say, this was not enough running. I couldn’t walk up or down stairs for weeks because of a sharp pain in my right knee.

The solution: Get a plan. One with mileage that increases slowly. Experts vary on the percentage, I recommend reaching out to one for personalized plans. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your right knee will thank you.

2. The problem: Loving shoes that didn’t love me back

I spent a lot of money on a pair of Mizuno Wave Inspires. Some guys at a store who looked like he knew what he was doing recommended that I buy them instead of the Mizuno Wave Riders I usually run in. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, the shoes looked pretty and I desperately needed a pair. For weeks after I was getting blisters everywhere, my toenails were turning black and my back hurt. I was selecting strappy sandals to wear to work based on how well the straps dodged my blisters. 60%-blister-avoidance rate was about the highest I could get. Not a pretty picture.

I didn’t attribute it to a shoe change because I didn’t think there would be a big difference between the two styles. I kept running in the shoes figuring they would get better, I would adapt to them or that this was the way new shoes worked. Plus, the death shoes were pretty! The man who runs my gym – unphased by the level of cuteness I felt my shoes achieved – recommended I go back to what I was running in, just to try. I did. The problems went away immediately.  

I didn’t listen to my body, I cared more about how my shoes looked and how I wanted them to feel than how they actually felt. Even when breaking new shoes in, your feet don’t need to look and feel like a war zone. 

The solution: Listen to your body and do your research. Lesson: It’s okay to question the people at the running store. Some are geniuses, others aren’t. 

3. The problem: Under-fueling. Well.. not-at-all fueling

I felt like I was going to throw up, faint and freeze to death all at the same time. I had just finished the Nike Women’s Half and I hadn’t consumed a drop of water or fuel the entire time. I just hadn’t read about the benefits and knew that whenever I had any water during a 5K I got a stomach cramp. Turns out a half marathon is a different ball game than a 5K. Running for 2 hours requires fuel. Running for more than an hour requires fuel. I ran 14 miles in a practice run with no fuel or water, got in my house, drank what was almost a full Brita and got in my bed. I was too tired to eat and I was cold. I was up all night sick to my stomach. Turns out my body wasn’t into working hard with no help in return. 

The solution: GU. Clif Shot Bloks. Whatever works for you. There are about a million options – these are the two I’ve tried and I love them.  For long runs I’ll do a GU every 45 minutes or 3 Clif Shot Bloks every 45 minutes. Caution: This method hasn’t been tested on runs longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes. For half marathons I do one GU 15 minutes before, one at 45 minutes and a GU Roctane at 1:15.

4. Problem: Needing the world to be perfect for your race day.

It was two weeks away: The race we had been training for all summer. The race that would mark my recovery from my knee injury in my first half marathon almost 6 months before. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.

Enter: Government Shutdown. Race: Postponed more than a month.

We had planned it perfectly. My parents had a hotel room, our pre-race dinner was planned, brunch place picked out, outfit selected, bib picked up. I was tapered and ready. The government didn’t care about my plan.

I moped around and pouted much more than the people around me would have preferred. My running partner and I went out for a (well- fueled) 14 mile run on the morning we were supposed to race and we both signed up for half marathons in the next two weeks, to keep our training up. It wasn’t ideal, our races weren’t on the same day and it was down pouring during his race, but it was a plan and one that involved moving my focus from how sad I was that my goal race was a mess to a new race – at least temporarily.

I registered for a small, community race about 20 minutes away from my boyfriend’s family in New England. We went up to visit them for the weekend, Brent woke up early and schlepped me to my race. It was beautiful. Gorgeous fall foliage lined the entire course and I got a good dose of much needed New England energy – I was home sick for Burlington, Vermont, my college town. I never would have signed up for this race if it weren’t for the circumstances. It was a little race, about 150 runners – if that. It was in the middle of nowhere and there weren’t even timing chips on our bibs.

It was beautiful. The race centered me, it made me why I run. Because I love it. A date, a race, a time – that’s all secondary.

The solution: Set goals and be flexible. Don’t need perfect weather. Don’t need to PR. Every once in a while take a chance on a race that doesn’t look like your dream race, you never know what you might discover about yourself. Give it your all, but above everything, remember why you are there in the first place. 

5. The problem: Not asking for support

I ran my first 10 mile race alone. I drove by myself. Took the shuttle bus from my parked car to Mount Vernon – George Washington’s house. I stood in the starting line. I ran the race. Crossed the finish line. Picked up my bag from bag check. Drove home. Showered and did chores.

It was a glorious race and I ran well. But this race was more than a random Saturday run. This was my first 10 miler and the longest race I’d even run at that point. I should have celebrated it. I only accidentally saved my race bib.

For the next race, my half marathon I did it differently. I put it out there. I told my friends and family about my soon-to-be accomplishment. I planned to get myself a (now taboo thanks to that article) 13.1 sticker for my car. I made brunch reservations. My mom came down to Washington with her best friend to cheer me on throughout the race. My boyfriend biked the last quarter mile along the route with me holding a “Go Natalie!” sign with my cat on it. They made me feel like my accomplishment was a big deal and in doing so let me feel like it was a big deal too. Their love and energy motivated me to go above any beyond and push my limits. 

The solution: Don’t be afraid to share your accomplishments. It’s okay to let the people you love and who love you know when a race is a big deal. Don’t have supportive people? Find an online community. I check #runchat on twitter or WhoIRun4 on Facebook whenever I need some inspiration. Be proud of yourself. Buy a car sticker when you pass a major milestone. Get pancakes at brunch after you run a half milestone. You earned it.

What mistakes did you make in 2013? What did you learn?


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