Running Your First Half Marathon

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and I’ve been super busy with a few things: one of them has been finishing up my second to last class of my Masters degree (I passed! One more class to go!), and the other is that I’ve been training for The Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon!! The former is not so exciting, so this post will be solely dedicated to the latter. This is going to be a long post, so I apologize in advance. But it’s also been a while since I’ve written anything so I’m actually not that sorry.

When I initially started Couch to 5K a little over a year ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be able to accomplish something so huge as running a half marathon. When I ran my first 5K without stopping (The Color Run, almost a year ago today), I was so proud of myself. It took me so long to build up to 3.1 miles and I felt so good running it, that I eventually knew I needed a bigger challenge. Then came my first and second 10Ks, and while the first one did not go so well, the second one went smoothly and made me a more confident racer and runner. I remember expressing my feelings about possibly running a half marathon in the future, but swept my dreams under the rug and let them hibernate for the winter.

Training:

Then, sometime in December or January, my friend and I started talking about actually signing up for a spring half marathon. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time because the spring seemed so far away, but looking at target races and different training schedules made me realize that I would have to start training almost right away. We settled on the Brooklyn Half. I shopped around for some training plans that I could find off the internet that started super slow and seemed attainable. I picked one that focused mainly on mileage, and that didn’t include technical terms like “tempo runs,” “hill repeats,” and “fartleks,” because let’s face it, I’m still a beginner. I just wanted to focus on gradually building mileage so that I could cover the distance. I found a 12-week training plan that ticked all my boxes: a build up to 12 miles, a taper week, two cross-training days per week, and weekday runs that did not exceed 5 miles (anything more on a workday is too much if you ask me). I made a word document with the dates and rearranged the schedule to conform to my personal work, school, and vacation schedule. Everyday, I highlighted each box in yellow when I completed whatever was scheduled. I highlighted the box in blue if I wasn’t able to complete the activity, and included the reason why. This is what it looked like …

CP = ClassPass, or Cross Training; I wrote whatever cross training or class I did in the box.

As you can see, I was doing REALLY well in the first half of the training program. Then as the weeks went on, I started to develop a pretty bad shin splint (still bothering me today) and I think I pulled either a hip or groin muscle (relieved by yoga). I also had a lot of studying to do, so I took a lot of days off towards the end. This honestly gave me anxiety. I truly thought that if I missed even ONE DAY, my race would go horribly wrong and I’d be a failure. Just so you know, THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. One of the biggest things I learned throughout this whole journey was that you NEED to listen to your body and REST. The whole last week before the race I barely ran at all and alternated between yoga and spinning just to give my shin a break, and I think it worked.

Other good tips about training: do your long runs with a friend who runs about the same pace as you, and bonus if they’re running the race with you, too. It will make the miles go faster and more enjoyable. Also, take time to research different fueling plans for long runs, and experiment to figure out which foods work best for you before, during, and after a run. For instance, what works best for me is a bagel with butter, a banana, and peanut butter about 90 minutes before a run. During the run, I liked to have 1 Gu Energy Gel every 4 miles or so with water to keep me going.

One of my first long runs, can’t believe this whole thing started when there was still snow on the ground.

Old on the left, new on the right. Ran my first pair of running shoes basically into the ground. RIP blue Asics, I will always love you.

Ran into this casual boat in the middle of our 9 miler.

Middle of a 12 mile run – awkward running selfie. There’s nothing better than running in NYC. Except if you’re going to pull this off don’t do it past 10AM on a weekend. #crowds.

Stretch. Ice. Run. Repeat.

The Race:

Then, before I knew it, race day was upon us. The entire week leading up to it I went back and forth between being super excited and super nervous. I knew that I was physically capable of running 13 miles going into this race; that wasn’t the issue. I knew my biggest obstacle would be my mind. I was terrified that I was going to hit a proverbial wall and cry. I didn’t want to run 10 miles and then think that I still had another 30 minutes to go and break down. It wasn’t a question of “Can I do this?” It was a question of “I can do this, but what state will I be in at the end?” So my mindset the night before and the morning of was to just go into this race without a time goal and without too much pressure on myself. My two goals were to just cover the distance and to enjoy every minute of it while it was happening, because who knows if this will be my only half.

So, my three friends and I took an Uber to Brooklyn and got there around 7AM, approximately 45 minutes before the start for our wave. I took two Advils for my shin and 2 Pepto Bismol pills for my nervous stomach, both of which helped tremendously. After going through a long security line, we went into our corrals where there were port-a-potties, and my friend and I realized that we should probably take advantage of them before the race started. The lines turned out to take forever, so as the gun went off and our wave started moving, we were still stuck in line!! We were debating if we should forego the bathroom and just start the race but we knew we would regret it. WORST. FOMO. EVER (FOMO = Fear of Missing Out). When it was our turn to go we quickly did our thing and ran to the start line, which we crossed around 8AM. And you know what, I wasn’t even nervous before. I was excited! This positive mindset trick was working.

The first 3.5 miles or so are outside and around Prospect Park, and it was really beautiful. The sky was threatening to pour but it was holding off for the time being, and my friend and I were going super slow. We were able to have full conversations and I wasn’t even out of breath for the first 5K. I remember even cheering “QUARTER OF THE WAY DONE!!!” when we passed the 5K mark and people around me were side-eyeing, but I didn’t care. I was conserving energy and going slow and felt great a quarter of the way in. Before I knew it, we were in Prospect Park and the sky opened up. There was a huge downpour through miles 4-5, which also included “the big hill,” which honestly didn’t seem so big. I did a lot of training runs in Central Park and this Prospect Park hill paled in comparison to Cat Hill or Harlem Hill to me, and while the people around us slowed to a walk, we just kept on trucking through. We were even dancing in the rain at some points. The 10K sign came way too fast, I couldn’t believe we had already run 10K. I remember a NYRR coach high-fiving people on the way out of the park and he told me I looked great, and I felt great! That gave me such a boost of confidence. On Mile 7 we were dumped out onto Ocean Parkway, the long straightaway all the way to Coney Island.

The miles were ticking by; 8 miles down, 9 miles down, 10 miles down, and we were picking up the pace a little. I was distracting myself with all the funny signs and cute kids on the sidewalk and all the cheering spectators. We even yelled out a “WE ARE” to a guy in a Penn State hat and he gave us a big cheer. At around mile 10 I knew my friend was itching to run faster, and I was too, but I wanted to speed up on my own terms and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her. We gave each other a quick hug and I sent her on her way for the last 5K (which she crushed, by the way). At this point, I was having chills, and in the best way possible. I was running a half marathon and I felt amazing at mile 10. I was going to finish with a smile on my face no matter what. I started picking up the pace and was passing people left and right. I did have to walk through the entire water station at mile 11 to catch my breath, but this was the only time in the entire race that I walked. I rounded the bend onto Surf Avenue and saw my amazing grandparents, who used to live right by Coney Island, at the 800 meter mark. I gave them a big hug and if felt SO GOOD to see them, but again, they were at the 800 meter mark, which I knew is a half mile. A HALF MILE LEFT!!! I told them I needed to go and finish this thing. I saw the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel off in the distance and before I knew it, I was passing those too. I was getting shoved into the awkward narrow scuffle of race course that turns onto the boardwalk, and when I rounded the bend, I saw the finish line in the distance. I yanked out my headphones and listened to the cheering crowds as I ran down the boardwalk, feeling so happy. I crossed the finish line and was honestly really sad that it was over. I thoroughly enjoyed running this race and it was a blast. I got my medal, an apple, and cup of water (cough, cough, New York Road Runners, could have really used a water bottle) and got a space blanket draped over my shoulders like a superhero cape. I eventually found my friends, stretched a little, ate some hot dogs, and then headed back to Manhattan in a complete adrenaline-filled daze.

Photo courtesy of New York Road Runners, http://www.nyrr.org The course! It all looks so nice and easy until that long, straight, line that goes on foreeevvverrrrrrrr.

I look really happy on the outside but I’m trying not to have a panic attack on the inside!!

Jackie and I at the start, pre-bathroom line – The best pacer and running partner a girl could ask for. Definitely could not have done this without you!!

If I could walk around all day in this thing I would.

Brittany and our traditional post-race jumping picture. Without you I never would have even signed up for this, so thank you!

So, I know this post was long, but I wanted to cram everything in there from beginning to end. I hope this helps if you’re reading this and considering undertaking your first half marathon. Seriously, if I can do this, then so can you. Yes, I stuck to a training plan as best as I could and built up my mileage, but I think the real trick was to stay positive and think positive thoughts before and during the race. This was an incredible experience and I’m already thinking about when the next one will be. But for now, I’m foam rolling, doing yoga, stretching, most likely getting my shin checked out by a doctor, and smiling back on this past weekend with gratitude and pride in myself.

!!!!! That is all.