While nobody pretends that training for an event like a half marathon is easy, there are some things that I wish that I had known before I started (not that I’d change my experience for the world!), so I decided to share them. They may not all be applicable to everyone, but hopefully they’ll give an insight into what to expect from training.
1. You might doubt your fitness
I trained by working up from the 5 mile base that I already had to 12 miles as my longest run. While the feeling of being physically and mentally capable of running longer and longer mileage was incredible, the speed of my training runs scared me. I usually ran my long runs at 1 min/mile slower than my planned half-marathon pace (PHMP) and with only 2 weeks to go, I genuinely panicked as to whether I would be able to hit my goal time. Does this sound familiar, do you panic about your pacing? STOP! Honestly, when the day comes, there are a huge amount of other factors at play that aren’t there during training; the adrenaline, the crowd, the other runners; and this will carry your legs more than you’d expect (just try not to get carried away!). It is so important to stick to your training pace (general rule is 1 min/mile slower than PHMP) as you’re training your legs to run longer and time on your feet is so important.
2. You can forget about wearing sandals any time soon!
The only thing I can do about the state of my feet is laugh. It affects everyone differently, but during my training, I lost 5 toenails, 2 more went black and I had more blisters than bubble wrap (I’m still in the process of growing back my toenails nearly two months later, yuk, bye-bye dreams of walking barefoot along the beach this summer!). So to avoid unnecessary feet woes, invest in a really good pair of socks, I found that mono-skins worked best for me but really it’s trial and error, good-fitting trainers are a must, you literally can’t get away with anything that isn’t the right fit, not only will your feet suffer but so will the rest of your body, and finally, vaseline! If you find that you’ve started to get blisters, plastering vaseline on your feet before your next run will stop them rubbing any more than they already have, that stuff’s a lifesaver!
3. You’ll end up with the appetite of a grizzly bear just out of hibernation
I seeeriously underestimated just how hungry I would be as I started to up the mileage and I was literally hungry aallll the time. While it would be easy to use training as an excuse to eat all the food, there needs to be a balance between not over-eating (it’s actually quite easy to gain weight while half/marathon training!) and fuelling my body right became second nature, good, healthy, wholesome food and plenty of carbs became the focus of every meal and snack that I had! Getting fat/protein/carbs and veggies in every meal helped will satisfy your hunger and encourage post-run recovery in your body. Saying that, I definitely used my mileage as an excuse to eat silly amounts of porridge..!
4. Long runs take a long time
Now this may seem obvious, but by the time that you’re coming to the longer end of training, you can end up being out for anywhere from 90 minutes to 2.5 hours. I found that planning and organisation was my greatest friend when fitting training around university work and social time. For me, that the best way to fit my runs in was to get up nice and early (dun dun duuunn). By the time I’d reached my longest runs, they became an investment! Nearly 2 hours out of my day was spent running, not even taking into consideration the time spent showering and eating after! The one thing that made the early starts worth it was the sense of achievement that I got every time I ran that extra mile.
5. Don’t neglect speedwork
It may seem counter-intuitive to chuck a track session into half/marathon training when miles on miles is what’s drilled into us, but interval training is so good for any runner whatever distance you’re running. Running fast can encourage an increase in your VO2 max (a.k.a. the amount of oxygen your body can process at peak effort) and basically the better your VO2 max, the better your aerobic machine is, perfect for endurance races! While I’ve always run track coming from a sprint background, not everyone is used to intervals, so an easy way to introduce an extra dimension to your training would be doing 1 fartlek (speedplay) session a week, e.g. easy warm up, then 4 mins at PHMP, 2 mins jog, 2 mins at 10k pace, 1 min jog, 1 min at 5k pace, 30 second jog, 30 seconds at 1 mile pace, take 4 minutes jog recovery and repeat 2-4 times.
6. You’ll need a solid support system
Check out that sexy post-half marathon sweaty thang I’ve got going on.
I dread to think about the number of hanger/post-run/rest-day tantrums I had, but luckily for me I had a brilliant support network in my family and my boyfriend. Mum was always at the end of the phone to pick me up after a crap run and my boyfriend became my pantry (seriously, he started carrying what we like to call ’emergency flapjacks’ for those times when hunger strikes!) Whether it’s friends, family or even your dog, it’s so important to open up to people about what you’re doing so that they know what to expect! Having included my friends, family and boyfriend in my journey made having them with me when I crossed the line even more special, as I felt that they knew just how much I’d invested, and I knew how much they’d given too.
7. You may feel like you’ve been in a fight
So that maaay be a tiny exagerration, but as I started to up my mileage, the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) hit like no-one’s business. I genuinely ached in places that I didn’t even know existed! Especially if you’re building up from a relatively small distance base like I was, recovery becomes hugely important, good food, stretching and the foam roller become your best friends. Luckily for me, enter my lovely/mad/hard-done-by boyfriend again, I ended up with a personal masseuse. I also had a professional sports massage after my final long run (1.5 weeks before the race).
8. On race day, eat what you normally would before running
It might be tempting to go online and read up about the ‘perfect pre-race breakfast’, but seriously, stick to what you’ve always done. If you’ve always eaten porridge before your long runs, eat that, I personally always had peanut butter on toast, so that’s what I ate on race day. Your body has enough to deal with without you throwing a new food at it, and trust me, the last thing you want is for your guts to complain mid-race…
9. You may never hit that infamous “wall”
Again, this one changes from person to person and there’s no flat-line rule that applies to everyone. I never actually found that I hit a wall in my race, sure the last 2 miles were hard but my pace didn’t slow and I was mentally able to carry on, thanks to the supportive crowd! If you are worried about hitting the wall, the best thing to do is start your race at a slightly slower pace than you’d think (maybe 15 secs/mile slower) and build up to PHMP to ensure that you don’t go off too hard and burn out.
10. Despite the loss of toenails, hanger, aches and pains, you’ll want to do it all over again
During my journey from 5 miles to 13.1 miles, I changed as a person. I was mentally as well as physically stronger, and I’d caught the bug. Literally the minute I saw my mum after crossing the finish line I said “when’s the next one?!” Running changes you and you’ll never look back.