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13 Tips That Say You Can & Will Run Your First Half Marathon

#TBT to 2011 when I thought running more than five miles was impossible. Fast forward to 2015, when not only was it possible, but incredible–five times to be exact (plus one marathon). So in honor of number six and seven this year, and all of my close friends that are running their first 13.1 (half marathon), I wanted to share these 13 tips.

So RADicals if you too are running your first half marathon in 2015, have no fear. With theses 13 tips not only will this feat be possible, it will be RAD.

1. Run With Purpose

If you only read one of these tips, let it be this one. Deciding to run a half marathon is huge and crossing that finish line will certainly be an even grander accomplishment. Therefore what gets you across the finish line is where the real power lies.

For instance when I ran my first half in 2011 the fear of not being able to cross the finish line literally paralyzed me some days. Again, the furthest I had ever ran was five miles. So once I got to the uncharted territory of miles six and beyond, my training game had to change–not physically but mentally. I decide to run with purpose and dedicated each mile to someone in my life that I wanted something great to happen for. And by not making the race about me it instantly became fulfilling. To mentally surrender my thoughts to the needs of others made crossing the finish line incredibly gratifying. So think about why you want that medal and let that motivate you to run with purpose.

2. Stay On Program

The first step is to select a training program. There are tons of free ones out there and even with half marathon six and seven in the near future I still use the ones on About Running. Ideally a 12-week program is best, but I say just to be safe give yourself 14 weeks, that way if a burnout or injury hits you you won’t feel like you’re crunched for time before race day. Then once you’ve selected a program stick to your scheduled runs like you would your weekly dinner date with your bestie.

3. Run With A Crew Boo

Speaking of your bestie, another factor that help get me through my first half was the power of accountability. That same year a good friend of mine also ran her first half marathon and while we didn’t run the same race or even train together, we did hold each other accountable the entire training process and on our respective race days. Just knowing that she had my back and I had hers made our goal that more achievable. So take it a step further and either recruit a friend to conquer this bucket list item with you or join a running crew like Black Girls Run.

4. Get On The Right Foot

Would you buy a new car off the lot and be cool with it having tires from 10 years ago? Nah. Well this is how you have to think of your running shoes. Like cars, there are a lot of models out there, so finding the perfect pair for you is essential. Head to your local running store, have a gait analysis done and then buy not only one, but two pairs of the shoes that are right for you. Yes two. Because just like your body needs to recover from long runs so do your kicks. In fact many studies show that alternating between a couple different pairs of shoes in training can decrease the risk of running-related injuries. This practice helps vary the load your musculoskeletal system undergoes while training so invest now, so you won’t be sorry later. Also after 400-500 miles, you have to rock a new pair. Running in old sneakers is like driving a car with worn out tires–it’s dangerous. Three of my faves are the Nike Zoom Structure 18 Flash (available at Six:02) the Mizuno Wave Rider and the Brooks Adrenaline.

5. Focus On Form (Sorta)

So many running experts will tell you to focus on your form, cadence, gait etc. While I’m down with this school of thought, I also believe that our bodies don’t really need a “Running 101” lesson every time we set out to pound the pavement. In fact if you watch a kid run, I guarantee you they aren’t thinking, “are my abs tight, are my knees lifting with every strike etc.” They are just running. Natural and free.

Find the balance. Spend some time checking in with your form and then just check out and let your mind relax. I promise, your body will follow suit. I discovered this approach to running with ease while reading Chi Running. So read up on this and then just make it fun and run.

6. Time > Distance/Speed

Another key element I think you should adopt in your first marathon training experience is the goal of “finishing.” A common mistake many new runners (and overachievers) make is trying to set a personal record. Remember this is your first time out the gate, so be gentle on yourself. This balls to the wall approach is honorable and while I do recognize that beast mode in you, I encourage you to truly honor this step.

I believe a safe happy finish is in the cards for you, so focus on time and the speed/distance will come. For instance set out to run 60 minutes as opposed to six miles. Then occasionally check in with your speed. In most cases I’ve found that when I train like this I am running faster than I think. Ultimately it takes the pressure off of this process and allows your body to do what it naturally and comfortably can and wants to do.

7. Safety When It’s Speedy

Tempo work (or interval speed training) is key too. This part of your training is going to teach your body what it feels like to push and what it feels like to pull back. So first figure out what you think you want your race pace to be and then work from there. Add a weekly run where you test these limits. For instance my favorite tempo interval workout is to run at race pace for five minutes followed by five minutes of a slower tempo (about one minute slower than my race pace). I made this formula up and it works for me, however if you want more intense tempo training info then check out this fartlek training resource.

However no matter how you choose to gauge these metrics I recommend the TomTom Runner Cardio GPS Watch with built-in Heart Rate Monitor. Not only will you not get lost on your long runs, you’ll be able to monitor your intensity through your heart rate levels and gauge how your overall speed effects your performance. This is a running gadget must have indeed.

8. The Terrain On Which You Train

Last tip on the running portion of training (because yes there’s more to half marathon training than running) is to change up the terrain on which you train. Running on a treadmill may be the most convenient option (especially in the winter) however since your race will most likely be a road race, you want to be sure to take your training outdoors. Not only will the boredom that the treadmill provides be eliminated this terrain change will properly prepare your body for all the elements that outdoor running provides – such as natural incline (read: hills), resistance (read: wind) etc. All of this effects how you run, so switch up your terrain!

9. Cross Train No Matter What

Cross training. Many people skip this entirely and I do not understand why. Simply put, cross training as a runner is like having car insurance while driving. You may not always use it, but when you need it it’s there. And if you don’t have it and you need it, well you’re screwed. For instance many new runners are like, “Hills kill my legs!” or “My back is so sore after long runs.” Well if you are cross training and throwing in some squats, planks, push ups etc. on your non running days, then your overall running game will thank you later. So no matter what–two words: Cross. Train.

10. Roll Out To Yoga

Yoga and self massage/myofascial release training is key too. When I am in training season, I commit to whipping out my classic PRO Manduka yoga mat at least once a week and I foam roll with my TriggerPoint Mini GRID Foam Roller before (and if needed after) all my runs. These two practices combined make a huge difference, plus they are easy to transport. No excuses RADicals, get your roll on and roll out to yoga while you train for your first half marathon and I promise you won’t regret it come race day.

11. Dress To Impress

Now on to my favorite part: the fashion. What you clock your miles in is essential ladies, so let me share my faves. There are tons of options that are not only fashionable but functional, however there are three must haves that I can’t run without. First up, the running tight. Unlike your traditional workout leggings, running tights are going to be laced with some type of compression technology. This is crucial not only in the training process but in the recovery process since this helps reduce inflammation, maintain muscle alignment and so much more. The Nike Dri-FIT Epic Run Lux Crop (shown above and available atSix:02) are my fav this season.

Then up top, the perfect sports bra is a non negotiable ladies. The bounce factor your girls undergo mile after mile is the real deal, so really invest in a maximum support brassiere for this half marathon endeavor. P.S. A great adorable, functional and affordable option is over at your favorite store Target. The C9 Champion® Women’s High Support Sports Bra With Molded Cup is my number one go to, and since they are priced so low you should “low key” get a few.

Another must have ladies is sunglasses. Not many people mention this when it comes to running gear but I believe, at least from a beauty perspective, sunglasses are super important when it comes to squinting reduction. Real talk. Think about it–whether you are super focused on finishing mile 10 or trying to block the sun from your pretty eyes on mile 10, two hours or more (the average time it takes run a half marathon) of squinting can really put some serious stress on the muscles around your eyes. Hello crows feet.

Be a little vain and pick up a stylish pair from my friends over at Oakley just to be safe. The Be Unstoppable (how appropriate) can be found exclusively at Sunglass Hut and are not only super sleek yet sporty, but they are also crazy light.

12. Eat To Run, Don’t Run To Eat

Many new runners think, “Oh I’m running umpteen miles a week, I can eat whatever I want.” Uhm wrong. Yes you’re burning more calories than normal while you’re training, but try not to use this time as an excuse to wild out on your diet. Instead slightly increase your carb intake on the days that you run (key word slightly) and make sure that you’re eating an overall balanced diet.

The other mistake new runners make–not eating enough. Clocking miles upon miles is also not an excuse to participate in extreme dieting. Your body needs the proper fuel to perform well so when it comes to your diet during this time commit to eating to run, not running to eat. A great source on this (that kind of changed my life) is Eat & Run by ultramarathoner Scott Jurek.

13. Hydrate, Refuel, Experiment, Repeat

Did you know that what you gulp and grub on while you are running is essential too. Everybody and every body is different, so experimentation in this area is super important. For instance (from practice) I know I can’t do dairy before a run or even after (if it’s a long one). I tried it, had a bad experience and pow lesson learned. So be open to this process and find the right refueling techniques that work for you.

Any run over an hour needs some type of refueling option. Some people like products like Gu Energy Gels whereas some folks prefer to keep it natural and just stick to things like peanut butter or raisins during their runs. However no matter what your refueling preference may be, all of us have to hydrate. I love this hydration belt from FitleticIt’s crazy light and I recommend you get one stat. Not only is it perfect for toting your water, it’s also fantastic for carrying your phone, keys, ID etc.

Bottom line find out what refueling and hydrating practices are good for you and test them out before race day. Repeat after me – absolutely nothing new on race day. The last thing you want is to have an upset stomach after you take off from the starting line.

I believe in you RADicals. Run toward your destiny and don’t forget to send me an invite to your post race party!

Running your first half marathon? Did I miss something? Shoot your questions and comments this way!

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