Half marathon tips from a non-runner

So… I did my second ever half marathon and survived it, yes!! Despite not having trained as much as for my first one, here are the top training tips I could think of after finishing the Windsor Half Marathon in 2 hours and 18 minutes.

Tips for the training

Commit to it with other friends – This is not a must, but certainly makes it easier if, like me, you are not a natural runner. I signed up for both past half marathons with friends, and even though I didn’t train with them because we lived far from each other, it really helped me to stay motivated. Knowing someone else is going through the same (pain) as you, and that they will be there on the big day is a great help. Plus, it does help to keep up with your training when you are being too lazy, because you want to let them down.

Quality over quantity, build up your resistance – The training for my first half marathon 5 years ago was quite intense. I was afraid of being unprepared on the race day, so I joined the local running club and trained every other day – an intense routine I was fed up with towards the end, and made me look forward to the day it stopped.

This second time, I took it easier. I wanted to be prepared but not to burn myself on the process, neither to stop my summer social life due to training. At times I worried I was taking it a bit too easy, but eventually it worked for me: I ran 2-3 times a week, but made sure I increased the distance and did weekly 8-mile runs towards the end .

Allow rest time, avoid injuries – Not over-training has some benefits too, after all. One of them is making sure your body recovers properly and decreasing the risk of injuring yourself. 1-2 months before the race day I was getting an uncomfortable knee pain during the long distance run, which made me worry about the consequences. Because I stopped and gave my body time to fully recover, the next run was much better: my knees were stronger and I actually didn’t lose any body resistance.

Enjoy yourself while training – If you are not a natural runner, this exercise can feel a big boring and monotonous at times. Running is painful enough, so make sure you “enjoy the ride” by planning nice routes that you will enjoy. In my case, I ran across lovely big green areas such as the Richmond Park, or passed by London famous trademarks such as the Big Ben.

Aim for a 10 mile run before the big day – Make sure you cover the 10 mile milestone at least once before the race, that really helps to be mentally prepared. Knowing that you have done it once, gives you the confidence to know that you will be able to repeat it on the big day. Covering the last 3 miles is easier then, thanks to the adrenaline of finishing and the cheering from the people 🙂

A few seconds from the finish line

Tips for the race day

Sleep and eat well – No matter how much you have trained, if you feel shit on the race day, all your efforts can be wasted! Running a half is a big effort, so treat it as such. Make sure you sleep enough and you have a good breakfast, to ensure that being extra tired or hungry are not one of your problems on the day. Eat plenty of carbohydrates and some sugar to have energy to fuel you through the 13.1 miles.

Ensure pees and poos are done – On my first half, I had to stop in the middle of the race to go to the toilet, including a 5 minute queue! Despite I was not too worried about my timing (I took 2 h 22mins overall), it’d have been nice to know the “real” time, without wasting any loo minutes. People tend to be extra nervous on the big day, so try to ensure any pees and poos are done, so you can run light and waste no time on WC matters.

Don’t burn yourself at the start – The start and the end of any half marathon runs tend to be very exciting, and even emotional. The public is so supporting and encouraging, and all the other runners are so motivated, that it is easy to get over-excited and start running faster than you would normally do. Be aware of this and be mindful of your energy, if you get too tired too early, that could be a big problem when things get tough.

Drink when you can, but not too much! – Drinking water during the race is necessary both physically and mentally, at least it was for me. Think of the distance between water stations as mini races, this would help you breakdown the long 13 mile challenge into smaller goals. Once you get there, enjoy the “prize” and have some water in small sips. Don’t drink too much too fast to avoid the dreaded stitches.

Get into a breathing rhythm – Breathing rhythmically is very important, especially after the 6 mile point when things start getting hard. This is when the real stuff comes in and we need to be focused and keep running steadily. In my case, my mental “mantra” is 1 1, 2 2: Breathing in twice (1 1) fast, and out again (2 2). This kind of helps me to maintain the rhythm.

Walk if you need to – Not putting extra pressure on yourself is essential, especially if the pressure is already high. Take care of yourself and walk if you need to. Even stop if you need to. There is people who has the principle of “running all the way”, but don’t force yourself if that stubborn rule will make you really struggle later on, or even pass out (like a friend of mine who ran a whole marathon without stopping and fainted before crossing the finish line). I ran at times in both the halfs I have done, which is probably  why I remember them as nice experiences. The Windsor half in particular was full of hills, so I wisely slowed down on the way up to happily speed up afterwards. No shame!

Engage with your surroundings – When things get tough, try to look around, engage with the crowd and admire the landscape. If someone is cheering you on, own it and smile back, be part of the run rather than a “victim” of it. That will give you extra strength, or at least it did to me. The Cardiff race was around the city and had people cheering us everywhere. While we passed through the main streets, I fondly remembered the memories I had of those places. The Windsor course was across the Great Park, which blessed us with gorgeous landscapes of early autumn and a stunning sunny day. Whenever I was too tired to enjoy, I told myself to look around and enjoy of this unique moment.

The time is now, enjoy the experience and congratulate yourself! – I know it is hard, especially during the 9, 10, 11 miles… but it is now or never. All that training you have done, all the fears, today is the day to do your best and shine. Go for it and do not give up!

Once you finish, own your victory no matter the time and congratulate yourself for what you have just done: you have just finished a half marathon, and it is such an achievement!!! That doesn’t happen every day, so enjoy yourself and relax now, you hero!

And now… Back to YOGA! 🙂

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