So you want to run your first 1/2 marathon?! Read this first!

So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to running. Far from it, actually. I definitely still consider myself a beginner. What I have done is complete my first 1/2 marathon and I thought I would share a few tips that I have learned along the way. I would have liked to read something like this as I was preparing to undertake this goal. The other thing I want to say is even though I mention the 1/2 marathon in the title, I think these tips really could apply universally for training for any distance. Whether you want to run your first 5K, 10K or whatever, these things may be able to help you get started on the right foot, if you will (pardon the pun).

1. Be realistic – Think about where you are in terms of fitness and plan accordingly. While you want your goals to be lofty, you also want to set yourself up for success. If you are new to running, you may want to start out with a 5k and save the 1/2 marathon distance for a few months down the road. I started running in May of 2009 and ran my first 5K in September of 2010. I started training for the 1/2 in Feb of 2011.

2. Sign up first! – Once you determine what distance you are shooting for, sign up for a race!!! I would recommend doing that before you start training rather than vice versa. It helps hold yourself accountable and gives you a goal to shoot for so you’ll stay motivated. If you wait to sign up when you “feel ready” in terms of training, you are giving yourself an easy out and you just might not ever sign up! There are always tons of races going on around the local community and beyond. Active.com is one good site to check that lists races. I signed up for the Cleveland 1/2 Marathon in January 2011 for the May race date.

3. Find a good training program – No matter what the distance, it is important to have a training program! It keeps you on track, keeps you motivated and gives you some structure. It also helps keep you from doing too much too soon which can happen easily. There are tons of on-line training programs out there for free for all levels of runners! You can google them. I used the one that was linked to the Cleveland Marathon site for beginners. It was great!

4. Get support! – This is huge! If you live with others have a conversation with them about your running goals. Explain to them what you need in terms of support in terms of training and encouragement. Let them know how they can help you because they cannot read your mind! If you live alone, seek out help with running groups, fitness clubs, magazines/books, on-line groups or social media. There are tons of people out there to support you – you just have to seek it out. I involved my family in my training by putting the chart on the fridge and checking the workouts off as I went. I talked to my husband about my goals and we worked out a plan to be able to make it work. Plus I leaned on my runner friends on facebook and at Weight Watchers for advice, support and motivation. It is amazing how many cool people you meet along the way!

5. Cross Train! – Okay, to be honest, before I started training for this race I was not even sure what “cross training” actually was besides a type of shoe! I learned that training for a running race involves much more than running. Cross training is an activity that you like that does not involve running or walking. It is important to strengthen other muscle groups besides your running muscles in training. It could be things like the elliptical, strength training, pillates, or yoga. I did mostly strength training and yoga as my cross training activities.

6. Don’t give up! – This sounds like common sense, but it is not always easy to do. I’m here to tell you that you will have some bad training days. Just know that going in. There will be some days that you just don’t want to do it. Do it anyway. Put the time in even on yucky days to get the result you want for your end goal. I promise you, it will be worth it.

7. Listen to your body. – This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of runners. We like to push ourselves and sometimes we do so in spite of our body saying, STOP! No matter what people say, you really should not have to run with pain. You will eventually figure out the difference between normal muscle soreness which comes with the territory and an actual injury. But the first thing to do is to listen to your body and act accordingly. If you are having an issue, talk to someone about it. I would recommend talking to other runners, a physical trainer, a massage therapist or all of the above if you have any problems. I had a calf issue towards the end of my training that got resolved by lots of advice, a really good therapeutic massage and rest.

8. Be flexible. – Even though the training program is rigid in black and white, you don’t have to be. Be patient with yourself and allow for modifications in your schedule if you go out of town, go on vacation or have a change in your home or work schedule. Have other options besides your “go to workout” that you can replace and still stay on track. I was fortunate to be able to have a couple of times in the day to potentially get my workout in. I preferred early morning, but could also make use of my lunch hour as my schedule permitted. The important thing is to get it in somehow because life is messy sometimes!

9. Go at your own pace. – Running is very much of an individual sport. I like it because you can set your own goals and compete with just yourself. Whether you have a time goal, a distance goal or just plain old want to finish, your goal is your own. This one has been especially hard for me. I am competitive and always seem to want to compare myself with others. I think through this last race, however, I have finally realized that I can own my pace and be okay with it. You will too!

10. Celebrate! – Some training programs can be very lengthy so it is important to celebrate along the way. This will keep you motivated and ready to start that next week of training. Whether you treat yourself to a massage, some new running clothes, a new book, or a night out with friends, it is important to celebrate small goals in order to stay motivated. Figure out what works for you and do it! I found that tracking my training was a motivator for me. I blogged about my workouts in order to keep myself on track and share my progress with others.

I hope these tips can help you in your running goals. I also hope it can inspire you and give you the tools to make that decision to reach for a lofty goal that you never thought was possible. I have found running to be such an empowering thing for me. It has really changed my life for the better. It can change yours too! See you at the finish line!!!

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