Lessons I've Learned While Training for My First Half-Marathon

I was 18 the first time I ran 3 miles, and the second the treadmill ticked to 3.00, my nose began gushing blood in the middle of the gym. Clearly, the physical pursuit of pounding my feet over and over to the beat of whatever rap song was my current jam back in 2010 took it out of me. I should have known right then and there that running and I would never be best friends. 

I know what you're thinking - "Griffin, you work out all the time! You own a fitness studio, there's no way running was that bad for you." Well friends, I will let you in on a little secret: I may be fit, but I will never claim to be athletic. I danced competitively until I was 18, but dance requires a different kind of athleticism than traditional sports. My entire life, I dreaded gym class like the plague. I believe my mile time was over 11 or 12 minutes in elementary school, maybe around 10 in high school. And that was just one mile, "sprinting" my heart out, and getting last place.

So, when I did get into fitness during my junior year of high school, running didn't make the list. I tried Pure Barre and fell in love, I could handle cardio-based classes or the elliptical, but I held running at bay. During my senior year, I finally decided that I should be able to run for about 30 minutes, aka 3 miles. When I finally achieved that distance, I happily resided there for 7 years, occasionally running 4 and feeling like the bee's knees.

And then this year, I had a mental breakdown and decided to run a half marathon.

In one of my recent posts, I talked about my struggle with perfection. If you don't have the drive for perfect pumping through your veins, you may not know that, as a perfectionist, it's very upsetting to do something you're not good at. More so, as a competitive perfectionist, the level of frustration that comes along with being inept at something is enough to make me avoid that activity all together. So, this training process has been a big lesson in perseverance, abandoning expectations, and doing something that feels very unnatural to me. While my race isn't until September 30, I honestly believe that the training process has taught me more than my final long run possibly could. If you're on the fence about running a half and are a self-proclaimed "non-runner", I hope the tips below might resonate with you.

1. You Don't Need all the time in the world

Because I am an obsessive planner, I picked a 16 week training plan to make sure I would be really ready for my race. On top of that, I spent the 6 weeks before my training officially began getting my running "base". As I said, I've been able to whip out 3 miles since I was 18, but I'd never ran over 5, and that was one time in college (by accident). So, I spent the weeks prior to the start of my plan running at least 3 times per week and upping my max distance to about 6 miles. I felt good, accomplished, ready to begin. 

But here I am, about to run 10 miles for the second time today, and I truly feel like I have been training for this race foreverHowever, I picked such a long plan because I was so worried about having enough time to be ready, but I have learned that, though training is time consuming, it's very doable. During this season, I've started school, hired and trained new employees, traveled and celebrated friends, and gotten my other weekly workouts and classes in. The majority of your weekly runs are shorter distances, and there's only one day a week that you have to block off time for your long run, which isn't overwhelming until you go for 7+ miles, in my opinion. So, as long as you don't mind getting up early or running after work, you'll be just fine. 

In a nutshell - don't underestimate yourself because you have the time for things that you make the time for.

2. Running is all about stillness

I decided to run this race because of a friend, and I roped my husband into running it with me (he volunteered, in my defense). Sadly, he and pretty much everyone else who had good intentions of running the half have fallen off the bandwagon. So, I've done every training run (except for one) alone. Even though I pride myself on being an independent person, running for hours by myself sounded like hell. And some days, it has been. But other days, it's been a huge lesson in learning to be content in the stillness, miles away from my to-do list, with nothing but trails in between.

I've learned that I prefer podcasts over music, especially when the run lasts more than 30 minutes. I was terrified of not running to a beat, but podcasts make me feel like I'm being purposeful and learning. A few of my favorites are: Balanced Bites, Bulletproof Radio, The Radiant Podcast with Kelsey Chapman, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, and The Goaldigger Podcast with Jenna Kutcher. Silly as it sounds, having these friends talk to me through the long hours of training has become a soothing ritual that I look forward to. 

3. Pure Barre is the best cross training

This lesson needs little explanation because it is just 100% true. I have heard for years, from clients and research articles, that Pure Barre is the best cross training a runner can do, but I've never proved it myself. I can confidently say that I have had no injuries, 0 aches and pains, and no difficulty with the endurance of any run because of Pure Barre, and it is the only cross training I'm doing. I try to make sure I'm doing Pure Barre at least 4 times per week with my running schedule, and that's on the low end for me. 

4. Make your own rules + Give YOurself Grace

This one goes back to my obsessive planning, but I was hell-bent on following the plan I outlined. However, life gets in the way. I've missed runs, often only run 3 times per week instead of the recommended 4 times, and tracked less miles than I was probably "supposed to". I've learned that my body feels better when I do Pure Barre 4-5 times per week and only run 1 long distance. When I got to the point in my plan that recommended doing 6 miles as a short run and 8 as a long, I balked. That sounded like misery. I decided that I would rather have all my short runs be between 3-4 miles, so I pivoted. Plus, I have learned to keep a pulse on how my body feels, and there was a day I had to accept that my long run wouldn't happen that week, and I'd survive. There isn't a lot of time for pouting about what you don't accomplish because you have to keep going with the plan the next day.

5. There are no short cuts, catch-ups, or excuses

Unless you're a fantastic runner by nature, you can't just whip out 13.1 miles on race day. While you do have to give yourself grace for the weeks that are less-than-stellar, you also have to physically do the miles. Half-marathon training is far more about mental strength than it is about physical endurance. I have dreaded the majority of my long runs, but I have also had the confidence that I can make it because I have checked each mile of the list, one by one. Maybe I haven't done it according to my original plan, but there is strength in the power of preserving. My only goal in this training process and inevitable race was to actually run, never walk, any distance, and I've done that. All my other standards of perfection have been let go, which is a win in my book. 

6. Don't Ignore the Little Things

Buy good shoes, have energy snacks for distances greater than 6 miles, get good sleep, roll out your legs, drink water, do Pure Barre, and forget about your time. I'm not going to argue that distance running is good for you or good for your body because I doubt it will ever be my preferred method of fitness, but whether this is my only race or one of many, I'm thankful to get to check it off my bucket list. It's been a good, stable, and predictable pursuit in a season when a lot of other things have been shaky, which is what I needed this year. And like anything, the process by which you reach the finish line is often far more important than crossing the line itself.