If someone told me I’d be running a half marathon a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed them.
I’ve had an inconsistent relationship with working out. I go through different exercise trends every few months, but eventually I end up sedentary again. I’ve tested Kickboxing, cycling, and treadmill-based 12-3-30, but nothing stuck, including running.
Running was never fun to me. But as a college senior, I was looking to create long-term habits to improve my overall health. And working toward a goal would keep me accountable.
So, I decided to re-commit myself to running. And this time, I wanted to try something new, so I signed up for a half marathon. Here’s how I got started and what I learned along the way to the finish line.
Tips for getting started
1. Find a race that gives you plenty of time to train.
For a beginner like me, a goal of 4-6 months prep was doable, so I signed up for the Nashville Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon, held each April.
2. Use a program that works for your abilities.
I started with a couch-to-5k program that helped me work up slowly from walking to running. After around a month and a half of running/walking intervals, I was able to run consistently.
3. Ask an expert for advice.
I decided to speak with Ben Johnson, an exercise specialist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which is where I was an interning for work. I asked what advice he had for those curious about running as a beginner.
“When attempting to increase physical activity from being sedentary, it is always a good idea to consult a physician,” says Ben. “But know that any physician is going to want you to exercise.”
What I learned about training
1. Invest in a good pair of shoes.
I started training with my old running shoes and didn’t have any discomfort. But my friends — more experienced runners than I —strongly suggested I get new ones. I bought some new shoes that were a lot lighter, provided less support and dramatically changed my foot position during each step. This proved to be a mistake.
I started feeling some pain and not knowing any better, ended up with an overuse injury.
“Investing in good footwear is important for running long distances like a half marathon because shoes protect your foot from the intensity of pounding the pavement,” explains Ben.
So, while good shoes are important, I should have considered sticking with a shoe that offered similar support and avoided dramatically changing my footwear in the middle of training.
2. Give yourself time, and make sure to cross train.
I allotted four months to train, but if I could go back, I would have given myself more time. Having a bit of cushion is beneficial in case of injury or if your schedule gets more hectic than you anticipated.
Ben also stresses the importance of weight training.
“Weight training helps protect against injury and even protects the joints,” says Ben.
I’ve always loved lifting weights, so this was easy for me. I usually incorporated light resistance training twice a week and sometimes included a cardio workout like cycling or the elliptical.
This cross training also gave my body a break from the stress of running while still allowing me to work toward my race.
3. Celebrate the small things.
It can be so easy to feel discouraged because we aren’t reaching certain goals like pace. I am a steady 12 minute mile while my runner friends are all 10 minutes. As a true beginner, a 12-minute mile is a huge accomplishment, not a disappointment.
Since I was injured and unable able to train like I wanted, my only goal was to finish the 13.1 miles. I had to walk some and took it easy when needed but I ended up finishing the race.
4. Find a buddy to hold you accountable.
I enlisted a friend to run with me, and I don’t think I could have done it without her. Long runs can be hard but having someone with me helped me go the distance.
How to get ready for race day
1. Plan ahead.
For big races like this, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with parking and travel. We ended up accidently parking far from the start line. In fear of missing our race, we frantically started walking/running. We had to rely on a volunteer with a golf cart to make it to the start. We ended up getting there with plenty of time to spare, but it was a little stressful. Luckily, the crowds soon got me excited for the race and I was ready to run.
2. Take in the energy.
Overall, I loved my half marathon experience! There were crowds everywhere cheering us on and I legitimately smiled for a lot of the race. Everywhere I looked there were people with funny signs and encouraging smiles. While the run is hard work, the music and atmosphere of the race I ran made it so much fun.
3. Trust the process.
I walked away from this experience with a newfound respect for myself and what I am capable of. Going from being a non-runner to running a half marathon was challenging but more exciting than I ever anticipated. I became a new person in a lot of ways.
When trying something new, give yourself grace and trust the process. Don’t underestimate your abilities and you will look back grateful that you tried, no matter the outcome.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.