A year ago, I said I would never run more than a 10K. In fact, I said I would probably never run a 10K again. My story of how I got here fully expresses how proper training and diet wins. Every. Single. Time. The human body is amazing. This is my story of getting from the beginning of my running experience – where running made me feel sick – to finishing my first half marathon feeling great 😀
12 Weeks Out:
I registered for the race and began the Hal Higdon’s “Novice 1” Half Marathon Training plan. My runner friends gave me advice throughout this process and I cannot thank them enough. The most important piece I retained was to never skimp on long runs. They are the most important in conditioning yourself for the endurance you will sustain. Since the race was in my hometown, my hospital offered a 50% off discount for employees – making it that much more worthwhile.
The Training Process:
The runs themselves continued getting easier, but were never easy. My training plan started out with 2 miles 2x/week then 4 mile long run on Sunday. That occured for 2 consecutive weeks, then the following week, add half a mile, and a mile to the long run (again for two weeks). I did this with a combination of 2 days of cross train/week and 2 rest days/week. Each week, the mileage was increasing – where I was reaching 7, 8, 9, and closed it off with 10 before the race. I stuck to the plan as closely as I could keeping in mind taking more rest days if necessary. One thing I can pride myself on is listening to my body and not exerting it. If I needed an extra rest day, I’d take one.
My crosses were either gentle rounds of tennis, or cycling. From my understanding, the purpose of cross training is to keep the heart rate up while giving your body a break from the repetitive physical nature of running.
I loved this training plan and I think it was the perfect starting point for myself as an extremely novice runner. In fact, it is formulated for newbies like myself. The next half I run, I plan on doing the novice II plan.
I tried to run in either the morning, before it got too hot & humid, or in the late afternoon/evening, knowing full-well that I do not tolerate heat well. As a whole, this worked well. The only aspect I think I would’ve changed is being able to run in the morning more often, when races are held, but it is difficult when you’re a student, an intern, and you work. 😀
Throughout this training process, I discovered what to eat, when to eat, and experimented with different foods. For me, and knowing full-well that every human body is different, it was a process. Before most of my runs, I simply ate a package of fruit snacks. Yes, they’re highly processed, have a ton of corn syrup, and have slim to none in terms of nutritional benefits. However, because they are simply sugar, they make for quick energy that is readily available for the body and doesn’t usually upset the stomach. After my long runs were starting to get longer, I tried Bolt energy chews – much better ingredients, maltodextrin, green tea extract (a small caffeine boost). They consistently worked for me and I would recommend them to other athletes both personally and professionally. After getting down to the end, on my 8, 9, and 10 mile runs, I tried Clif’s “shot” energy gels after mile 6 consistenly. These easily dissolve in your mouth and realistically, do not require any chewing – making it easy to “eat” mid-run.
As a whole, I tried keeping my diet as “clean” as possible, especially throughout the month of September leading up to the race. This included avoiding alcohol, fried foods, pizza, and eating less dairy. I consumed a lot of carbs – bagels, bread, rice, and starchy vegetables as well as lean protein (chicken, fish, beans), and plenty of other vegetables. I usually ran 2 hours after eating a full meal and tolerated this well.
The Two Days Before:
I ate a lower-fiber, higher carbohydrate diet consisting of a lot of white grains, less vegetables (and thoroughly cooked vegetables). Fiber is crucial to a balanced diet, as it adds roughage to the GI tract, ferments in the large intestine, and helps maintain a balance in the digestive tract. But if you are preparing for a race, especially with a sensitive stomach (like myself), reducing fiber can help TONS. Because that fermentation of the high fibrous foods takes more than 24 hours to digest, which can lead to GI upset and cramping. I had experienced both of these two things throughout my training process, so low fiber leading up to the race worked well for me.
I also upped my water intake as well and started adding Nuun electrolyte tablets to 16 oz of water. I rotated between water and electrolyte water. I also had plain black coffee (obviously).
The Day Before:
I drank 64 oz of water with 32 additional ounces of electrolytes + water. I ran one mile, and my roommate made roasted potatoes and white pasta. Nothing has ever tasted so good. I went to bed at 10 pm and slept through the night.
It was 29 degrees F. I woke at 6:00, drank 16 oz of water + electrolytes along with a tortilla with peanut butter. I also ate a pack of Bolt energy chews. I met up with my coworkers who were also running, and we made our way to the start.
I got to run with Alex & Matt until about mile 4, where they turned off to finish the 10K. After that point, I do not remember much. The neighborhoods were familiar, the streets I’ve driven on my entire life, but it is difficult to describe the thoughts and scenes you recall in those moments.
Reaching mile 7 was approaching a large incline on the Greenway of Grand Forks; I knew it was the turning point of the race, meaning more had been ran than there was left to run. Approaching mile 8, I slowly finished an energy gel and kept going.
At mile 9, I wished I had gone to the bathroom before the race started. Pausing my watch, I used the bathroom and got back on track. This set my time back more than I had planned for, but all I can attribute to this is knowing for the future. Oh well. What did I learn? Always use the bathroom prior to starting a race. Even if you think you it’s nervous energy causing the urge. Just go. 🙂
Approaching mile 12, the very last full mile of the race, was perhaps the most difficult part of the entire race. Not even because it was the last, not because I was gassed, not even that I had never ran this distance before. I had trained, I was conditioned, I was ready for this!! It was however, the ever-so-slightly above freezing temperature, the wind chill, running south against a northern wind. I cranked up my music, (I believe Make Me Proud by Drake), and pictured my dad at the end waiting for me. Finally coming within sight of the finish was relieving, yet so far away.
Again, it is hard to recall the rest of what occured. I have never felt so relieved, energized, and proud. Seeing my Dad’s face at the end made me so happy. I was congratulated (and wished a Happy Birthday) from a large group of my ER coworkers volunteering as medics at the end – it made it so much better.
The Next Few Days:
The day following the race, my quads and hip flexors were incredibly sore as predicted. But alongside the physical symptoms after having just ran 13.1 miles for the first time, I felt so many emotions. Is post-run depressions something real? In short, I felt like I needed to go for a run; what I had been doing for the past 12 weeks in training. It is difficult to come down from such a high after completing such a self-fulfilling feat. I laid low and took it easy that day which was exactly what I needed.
The Monday following, my friend and I signed up for another half. But do not worry. It isn’t until June. 😀 The only reason we registered so early is it fills up within the first few minutes!!
Technically speaking, now that I am scheduled to run another race, I have an extra drive to stay in “running” shape. This is greatly hindered however, due to the weather in North Dakota. I still plan on running 3 miles (indoors) a few times a week along with strength training, and cross training through playing tennis and cycling. I also would love to incorporate more yoga into my fitness routine for mobility and strength.
A Special Thank You:
With everything I have accomplished so far (I am extremely blessed), I have realized how much support it takes to get to each these milestones. My parents, simply believing in me with each of these feats, and my Dad specifically waiting for me at the finish line of this race. My friends: Koryn, for making me dinner the night before, encouraging me throughout the process. Shelby, biking alongside my Sunday long runs (in the bitterly cold sometimes), Jenna, for giving me advice & encouragement throughout the process, Rachel, for your perspective and your experience. And everyone else along the way – your advice and positivity has helped me get to where I am now!
A year ago, I said I would never run more than a 10K, and here I am. I ran a half marathon on my 23rd birthday – and this is not the end!
Thanks for reading and following along with my journey!