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.

Race Recap: The New York City 10k

This past weekend I ran my 2nd 10k in 1 month. I seriously can’t believe it. I used to hate exercise, specifically running, and now I feel like I’m signing up for races left and right. I committed to this particular race, The New York City 10K, on a complete whim. Still riding the runners high off of the Run 10 Feed 10, my roommate told me she signed up for this race that was a mere 3 weeks after. Blame FOMO (fear of missing out), because I immediately felt the need to sign up. The race was held on Roosevelt Island and had a much smaller feel than the Run 10 Feed 10. While my roommate had to unfortunately miss it due to a lingering illness, I braved the chilly morning and headed out there by myself. This race went along MUCH MORE smoothly than my first 10K 3 weeks prior. If you recall, I wanted to die on at least 3 separate occasions during the Run 10 Feed 10. However, this race felt like the total and complete opposite. Here’s what went down…

I stepped off the tram that was full of a ton of other runners and wandered onto the receiving field. This particular race was not sponsored by any large company, and it didn’t have any charities associated with it either. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I kind of like the idea of forking over a registration fee and running a race if you’re going to help a greater cause, rather than some unknown business, but I digress. I milled about for around 30 minutes as more and more people started showing up. It was SUPER cold and I had a running jacket on, and I wasn’t sure what I should do with it, because I tend to heat up. I figured I would run with it unzipped so at least the timer on my bib would technically be on the “outer most layer” aka not covered up by a running jacket. Before I knew it the race started and I was off.

Miles 1-3: I kept a steady, very slow pace (like a typical jogging pace for me) and just cruised. And cruised. And took in the different sites of NYC from the perspective of Roosevelt Island. At one point I was getting annoyed with my unzipped jacket so I put my phone in my mouth and tied it around my waist. Classy. And then I cruised some more. If you recall I was dead by mile 3 of the Run 10 Feed 10. I hit the halfway point of this race though and just kept on cruising.

Mile 4: I zoned out on mile 4. Don’t remember a thing.

Mile 5: I snapped back to reality on mile 5. This is a race – start challenging yourself! I picked up the pace and felt like I brought up my effort level from about a 75% to 90%.

Mile 6: I turned a slight corner and saw the finish line way off in the distance and I started FLYING. I don’t think I’ve ever sprinted like that before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had enough energy at the end of a run to sprint at full speed for 30 seconds or more. I flew over the finish line and felt elated! I didn’t even want to stop. I felt like I had a few miles more in me to go and I couldn’t help but smile as they handed me a HUGE medal that’s literally the size of my face. I asked a random stranger to take my picture and headed back on the tram home feeling accomplished.

Things that I had going for me for this race that really helped me compared to my first 10K:

  1. The start time. This race started at 8 as opposed to 7, which meant I was able to wake up at 6:30 and nibble on a little bit of food, as opposed to 5 AM which just feels way too early for me to even think of doing anything. I was also able to get in a little more sleep as opposed to my first 10K, where I had to be all the way across town ready to go by 6:55 AM.
  2. The weather. The temperature was about 45 degrees, which is cold, but I’ll take it any day over the hazy humid day of the Run 10 Feed 10. The air was crisp and felt good in my lungs, even though I was still kind of fighting a little cold, and overall I just felt more healthy and breathed more easily during this race.
  3. The course. This may have made some people angry, but the actual race course was kind of narrow, which caused a little bit of traffic, which helped me slow it down and pace myself with the people around me.
  4. My game plan/attitude. My goal for this race was to do the entire thing without walking, and I knew the only way I could do that was to fight the adrenaline at the start that tempts me to run like I stole something way too early out the gate. The first 3 miles I tried to keep it super slow, about 30 seconds slower than my race-pace (so about a 9:50 minute mile), and that helped me conserve my energy and not get blown out like a candle on a birthday cake too soon.

So, I think I like the way I handled this race a lot better, and it lead to a much more enjoyable experience. I am already looking forward to my next race coming up soon (who am I??).

This time kills me.
This time kills me.
I think we spotted the finish line RUNNN
I think we spotted the finish line RUNNN

race1

All smiles. No suicidal ideations.
All smiles. No suicidal ideations.



Do you have any other good racing strategies? Also can we talk about my hair and the little bubble/helmet/headband thing it has going on? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Race Recap: The Women’s Health Magazine’s Run 10 Feed 10

So this weekend, I ran my first timed race! And it was a 10K! I still can’t believe it. The Run 10 Feed 10, sponsored by Women’s Health Magazine, benefits the FEEDS Projects, that provide meals to those in America who are food insecure (or who don’t know where their next meal is coming from). The entry fee alone provides 10 meals for the FEED Foundation (hence the name; Run 10 Feed 10). Being a dietitian, I’m all for feeding people! Here are my thoughts on the Women’s Health Run 10 Feed 10. I wanted to wait a little bit before writing this in order to let the entire experience digest and to gather my thoughts.

Looking back it feels like the whole race went by in a whirl lasting about 10 minutes, but I can’t forget about thinking, at the time, how hard it was and how much I couldn’t wait for it to be over. That being said, it was a hot, humid, and muggy morning (which is weird considering October is around the corner, and the past few weeks we’ve seen BEAUTIFUL weather). The race was slated to start at 7AM on Pier 84 on the West Side Highway. My roommate and I took a cab across town and got to the start around 6:40, while waiting in line at the bag check we met up with our other friends who were also running the race. I was a good mix of nervous and excited, and my mouth was super dry from the emotions. Thankfully we were standing by a water table, and I ended up spending a good part of the pre-race group stretch swishing water around my mouth. At about 7:15, the horn blared and everyone was off!

Mile 1: The first mile honestly flew by and was completely unmemorable. What I do remember was my GPS app saying “mile 1, average pace: blah blah blah” and thinking “OK, nice, I can speed it up a bit.”

Mile 2: Mile 2 was my fastest mile time, like, ever. I think I was a little surprised by how fast my adrenaline was carrying me. I also ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and saddled up right next to her and talked to her for a little bit, which was nice (hi Shayna!). But then I felt a little winded and had to plug back into the music and focus. Also of note, watching everyone’s pony tails swishing back and forth was making me a little dizzy – has anyone else ever experienced this during a race?

Mile 3: Oh mile 3. I think I hit the proverbial wall, which I wasn’t expecting to hit for at least another mile (yes I was expecting to hit a wall, I have such faith in myself). I felt my legs slowing down and somewhere around 3.5 miles I had to slow to a walk. I felt so winded that I just needed to catch my breath a little, and I kept thinking “oh man, there’s still SO MUCH MORE TO GO” one second, and then “come on, only 2.5 more miles, that’s nothing!” another second. I think the humidity was making me go crazy. I ended up walking for about half a song, and then a song on my playlist popped up on my shuffle that I ALWAYS sprint to, and I picked it right back up.

Mile 4: I don’t even remember what I was thinking during mile 4. I do know that I saw a water station a few yards ahead and decided to walk until I got to the water station (so that added another 30 seconds or so of walking). After I took a small sip of water and dumped the rest over my head, I started to run again and I felt like I had much better control over my breathing. I looked at a nearby street sign and saw that I was at Houston street, and that I had about 45 more city blocks to run. I could do this.

Mile 5: I ran at a much more manageable and sustainable pace for all of Mile 5 than in the first 2 miles, and didn’t feel too badly! At this point I knew there was less than 2 miles left, I just had to keep moving, focus on even breathing, relax the shoulders, and not walk. I thought the more you walk, the longer you’re going to be stuck in this stupid race, and the longer it’s going to take to get to the free food (really this was the thought running through my head for all of mile 5).

Mile 6: I swear, we passed the Mile 6 marker and EVERYONE around me picked up the pace. An inspirational song came up on my playlist and I DUG DEEP and felt my legs pick up speed, feeding off the energy from only god knows where, because I would have sworn my gas tank was completely empty at this point. This powerful sprint lasted for literally 10 seconds, and then I was like, “nope back to a nice even pace.” I saw the crowd at the end and thought I was at the finish line, but then at the last second everyone was yelling “BIG TURN! BIG TURN!” I wanted to honestly yell back “I HATE YOU!!!!!” but then I rounded the big turn and saw the finish line about 20 yards away and somehow found even more energy to make a huge final push for it.

Immediately following the race, I walked around aimlessly in a daze. I can’t even tell you what I was thinking. Then I met up with my friends who also finished, and we celebrated our hard work with a ton of free food, a free yoga mat, and a bunch of other free swag. Despite the fact that I really thought I was going to drop dead somewhere between miles 3 and 5 and that the humidity really took a toll on my breathing, I must say that basking in the satisfaction of reaching a goal erased all the negative thoughts I had during the race.

I signed up for the RUN 10 FEED 10 at the very beginning of June and always saw it as the the official end of the summer, but now that I’m on the other side of the finish line, I’ve realized that it meant a lot more than that. If someone were to tell me a year ago that I would be running 6.2 miles, I would have literally laughed in their faces. This just goes to show that with some hard work, dedication, determination, and the mental strength to dig deep within your head, you can push yourself to achieve a goal. Yes, I realize this race was only a 10K, and it’s probably not as impressive as running a half or full marathon. But to me, this was an absolutely colossal achievement. That’s what I’ve learned to love about running: everyone has their own goals and their own journeys. Running means something completely different to everyone who does it, and what you want to set out to accomplish is completely individual to your wants and desires. When you run a race, you’re not competing against other runners, but the little voice inside your head that tells you that there’s no way you can do it. And on that note, happy racing!