Since I’ve begun this journey of half marathon challenges, I’ve had several friends approach me, interest piqued at the idea of attempting the 13.1 themselves. I don’t think I’m the expert on the subject, or even a seasoned athlete, but I know that 10 months ago I was at that curious contemplation stage that so many people get hung up on. So here’s my advice on tackling your own half marathon.
1. Mind over matter. Physically your body is a machine and it is built to move. Too many people get hung up on the thinking it all through. I read the book “Born to run” and it changed my view on distance races entirely. The premise of the book was essentially that our bodies are BUILT to run. We are engineered to travel long distances and be in motion. It’s only in recent decades that we’ve traded our sneakers for slippers and opted for sedentary self-destruction. So stop thinking 13.1 miles is only for “the runners.” Stop thinking your body “can’t handle it.” Just stop thinking and go for it.
2. Prepare your body. While your body may be built to run, that doesn’t mean you haven’t trained it to sit. Some people call inactivity detraining. I call it training. You are training your body to be very efficient in a motionless state. Obviously no one starts out with the intention of training their body to be sedentary, but it happens. The only way to combat it is to get moving! In my first point I wasn’t implying that because your body is built for running, you will naturally be able to go out and run. If you have a big test in one of your classes, you may have a mind that is built for learning, but unless you study and learn the materials, you are not going to “instinctively” pass that test. The same goes here. Running takes commitment and half marathon races require preparation.
3. Prioritization. Running will have to be a priority, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to become your only priority, or even your first.There will be days where other things come up and family, friends, emergencies, LIFE get in the way. You have to learn to be ok with this. You never want to get to the point where you resent your runs. That’s a quick and easy way to lose your motivation. On the other hand, you have to commit to certain goals and stick to them. I am awful at follow pre-prescribed training plans. Even if I pick the one I want, I always feel like my plan is telling my body what to do rather than my body dictating the training. I want to have the freedom of allowing my body rest and push harder when possible. Find a plan that works for you (whether it is exact mileage, runs per week, etc), and put it near the top of your priorities.
4.Find your motivation. I run for fun. If I’m not having fun, then it’s just not worth it for me. I found my motivation for running by using it as my me time. I flip between several different playlists each set to represent different moods and push me through my runs. I have my intense upbeat rock tempo for my speed runs, my slow and easy country for my distance, and my uplifting christian on the days where I’m happy that I even got out the door to run. I don’t know that I will ever be the person that runs without my music, but by the same token, you need more motivating you to run than “music time,” because, let’s face it, music time can happen on the sofa. I use the running to clear my head. Almost all of my running is done solo because it’s the one time of the day I know I can be alone with my thoughts.
5. Find your race. In exercise programming and training we often talk with clients about the stages of change. There are five that I typically use:
Precontemplation- You aren’t even thinking about change.
Contemplation- You are now considering the idea of changing
Determination- You are now determined to make the change and are making plans to change.
Action- You are beginning the actual process
Maintenance- You’ve changed, it’s a habit and you are incorporating it into your lifestyle.
Too many people get stuck in the contemplation stage and never get to the point where they truly believe it’s possible. I can’t tell you how many people have told me “that’s great that you did a half, I really want to someday.” My immediate response is always “you should! just do it.” Sign-up. That’s what it took for me. I needed to have a race on my schedule in order to reach the determination stage. The date looming in my mind was what actually pushed me over into determination, and action followed quickly after.
Every half marathon is an emotional experience for me. As I cross that finish line I always feel amazed and in awe at my body’s ability to overcome the physical and mental barriers the race posed. It’s not an unattainable goal.So that’s my advice to everyone “contemplating” the half marathon endeavor. Get your mindset, prepare your body, prioritize your training, find your motivation and find your race.