There are literally hundreds of these “Things I Learned” while training for a race posts floating around in the Blogisphere, but I was noticing a trend – most of them were a list of 13.1. Well, since I am Canadian and I run in Kilometres, and I also simply couldn’t narrow my list down to 13 things (because
I talk too much reasons), I have decided to put together a list of 21.1 Things I Learned While Training for my First Half Marathon.
1. Laundry becomes like a second sport.
Either you’re going to get comfortable with wearing your nasty, smelly running clothes more than once, or you’re going to be doing your laundry like it’s a part-time job.
2. Running is not as cheap as everybody says it is.
Maybe at first, but I have invested hundreds, even thousands maybe – on several pairs of good shoes, books, clothing, race registrations, sports massages, a GPS watch and more – during my first year as a serious runner. You don’t necessarily have to, but if you’re anything like me (and all of my running friends) you’ll want to.
3. Cross-Training is Key.
Originally, I thought that running 5 days a week would be plenty of exercise, but it turns out that I was much more successful running 3-4 times per week and cross-training 2-3 times per week – typically by hiking, riding my bike, or working out at GoodLife Fitness. Building strength in your core, glutes, hips and legs is essential to enjoying an injury-free running season. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out this series on Strength Training for Runners from Kris at Canadian Girl Runs.
4. Runners want to talk about running – All. The. Time.
If I meet someone in passing who even seems remotely interested in running, I will talk their ear off for the next 3 hours about races, training, shoes, gear, gels, recovery – you name it.
5. Race Day is just as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one.
Especially when you’re a newbie, jitters, nerves, anxiety and a wide variety of other feelings (including crying just out of sheer overwhelming emotion) can sneak up on you at any time. Embrace this part of the process, and find ways to cope with the nerves. If you need a boost, check out my post on Training your Brain For Race Day. That being said…
6. Sleeping well the night before a big race is probably overrated.
I know I am not alone in this, but I hardly sleep at all the night before a big race. At first, I thought this would be disastrous, but I quickly learned the power that adrenaline has during that 4am wakeup call. You will be fine, even if you don’t have a fantastic sleep. Try not to stress about it, and you might end up sleeping even better than you would have!
Running in the summer heat (or any time, for that matter) when you’re not properly hydrated is a recipe for headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue and potential disaster. Drink plenty of water and avoid too much alcohol the night before your long runs or a big race. I like to squeeze fresh lemon in mine to make the experience a little less bland.
8. Fuel your body well.
Whole, nutritious foods and plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy carbs are not only going to keep you energized and feeling your best during your runs, but they are also going to aid in the recovery process. By all means, indulge in that pizza on a Sunday night after your long run, but don’t forget to give your body what it needs to repair from all of the ass-kicking it’s done. My lovely friend Jen from Pretty Little Grub is a registered Dietician, and knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. She wrote a fantastic series on Nutrient Requirements For Active People.
9. Rest Days are Important.
I underestimated their importance in the beginning, but now I savour every blissful moment of rest day.
10. Stay Accountable.
Get a wicked training plan in place and stick to it. I like to print mine off and hang it in my closet so I will look at it every single day. Need help creating a training plan? My friend Ange from Cowgirl Runs is now offering one on one coaching and fully customizable training plans!
11. Have more than one pair of Running Shoes.
This one actually surprised me, but it changed my life when I learned that running on the same pair of shoes back to back not only decreases the lifespan of the shoes themselves, but it also makes you more prone to injury (particularly shin splints or stress fractures) since most shoes need to “puff back up” after being used, especially after long runs. Rotating shoes is the way to go. Check out this study if you need more convincing.
12. Become BFFs with your Foam Roller.
Yes, it will hurt, but it’s worth it and it really does help with soreness and recovery! This is the most helpful video I have found on foam rolling.
13. Every single long run will feel like a major accomplishment.
And they are! When you’re training for your very first half, every long run leading up to the race will be your longest run yet, so be proud! I was so proud about running 11k for the first time that I wrote an entire blog post about it!
14. Discipline > Passion.
Being passionate about running is definitely crucial to your success, but there will be days when your passion fizzles out and Discipline needs to take the wheel. It’s what’s going to get you out the door on the days when you really don’t wanna.
15. Find Your Tribe.
Finding a group of insanely supportive and like-minded humans will help you immensely during your training. If you can’t find a real-life running buddy, join the conversation online through Instagram or Facebook running groups. You won’t believe how kind and encouraging these strangers can be.
16. Never judge a run by the first mile.
This is something you’ll hear seasoned runners say over and over again, because it’s true. I’ve had runs that have sucked all of the suck for the first mile or two, and near the end I am high on endorphins and praising the Gods of all that is Nike, Cardio, and Personal Bests. Stick with it.
17. CHAFING IS REAL.
Potentially the worst part about being a runner is dealing with the nightmare of chafing. Ladies – you’ll probably experience it around your sports bra and between your upper thighs if you like to run in shorts. Guys – one word – bloody nipples. I’ve seen it. It’s not pretty. Guys can chafe in all kinds of places too, of course. Many runners swear by vaseline, but I prefer body glide, and – since I was not blessed with a natural thigh gap – not wearing shorts for anything longer than a 6k.
18. There will be good days, there will be bad days.
Some days, you’re a graceful black stallion galloping through fields of dandelions, and other days you’re a ill-footed basset hound stumbling through mud. My boyfriend always knows when I come home from a run if it was good or bad, because I’m either glowing, speaking in song and dreaming up all of the things I want for brunch – or I’m chucking my shoes across the entryway and swearing under my breath as I trudge to the shower. You win some, you lose some.
19. Sacrifice is inevitable.
Your weekend calendar in the weeks leading up to race day will be dedicated to hydration, carb-loading and long runs. You’ll become very familiar with the phrase, “I can’t, I have to run in the morning”. You might even have to turn down social events or plans with friends due to your training schedule. Priorities will shift. How badly do you want it?
20. Learn to listen to your body.
There is a fine line between discomfort and pain, and my wish for all new runners is that they learn this the easy way rather than the hard way. (The hard way is injury.) While recovering from my shin injury, my physiotherapist taught me to “run through annoyance, but never through agony”. It’s normal to be tired, sore, and to feel like your legs are made of lead at times. Running is hard. But if you’re in serious, jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding pain, back off. It’s not worth pushing through complete and utter torture to the point of injury. Your body is trying to tell you something, and if you want to have a long, happy and healthy season, you’d be smart to listen to it.
21. Be prepared to want more.
A client of mine, who is also an avid runner (so naturally, we gab about running for hours every time she comes to see me) warned me about PRD, or Post-Race Depression. I’m not sure if that’s a real thing, but it absolutely should be. You work so incredibly hard for so long towards this one massive goal, and then there’s this huge high when you finally achieve it…and then it’s over. She advised me to have another race planned for after my first Half – and I’m so glad I did. Not only did having another race on the calendar prevent me from slipping back into couch potato life, but it kept my love for running alive.
21.1 You are going to be so F*CKING proud of yourself.
There is nothing on this planet that can compare to the feeling of crossing that first finish line – whether it’s your first 5k or your first Ultra Marathon (not that I’d know – yet!). I had tears streaming down my face for the last four kilometres of my first Half Marathon. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of pride, tears of gratitude. It’s a feeling like no other, and the glory of that moment is something that nobody can ever take from you. The final moments of that race will be etched into my memory forever. As humans, we are taught at a young age not to be conceited, vain, or “too proud”, but let me be the first one to tell you that you deserve every ounce of gratification and confidence that you acquire when you cross that finish line – whether you sprint, walk, or crawl. Be proud. Be so ridiculously proud that your self-satisfaction leaks out of your ears. You have earned it.
*Disclaimer: This post was written in part for the GoodLife Fitness Ambassador Program. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.*
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What has been the most challenging part of becoming a new runner? The most exciting part?
What are your pre-race day rituals?
What is your favourite food for fuelling before a long run?