My journey to a healthier me

Tales of my life

Lessons learned from training for and completing my first half-marathon

It’s been 2 weeks since I completed my first half marathon.  Through 4 months of training and the race itself, I learned a lot.  And as they say, hindsight is 20/20.  Looking back, there are things I wish I had done, and some I’m glad did.  You can never really be completely prepared, but the more prepared you are, the better.

With that in mind, here are some of the things I learned:

If you think you’ve done enough training on hills, you haven’t. Do more.  And do a variety of sizes.  There is an art form to running up AND down hills.

Do your training on a variety of surfaces. Roads, sidewalks, trails, gravel, dirt, etc.

Double, triple, quadruple check the race details, rules, etc. Never be afraid to ask questions or for clarification.

Do your best not to let unexpected things throw you off your race plan.

If you need help with something, ASK!  Runners are a friendly group.  Most love helping other runners.  Just remember that what works for one person may not necessarily work for you.

If you can, have someone you can talk to, text or call to help calm you down if you start to freak out, especially at the start line.  If all else fails, find a random person and strike up a conversation.

If you can, check out the race route beforehand.  Knowing the terrain may help on race day.

If possible, do some of your training with a friend or a running group.  They may be able to help you correct any issues you might be having (i.e. pace, form, etc)

Remember that the only person you are really competing against is yourself.  Run your own race.  Don’t worry what everyone else is doing.

Don’t skimp on cross training and strength training. Both are very helpful.

Don’t forget about the stretching. Even a little bit will help.

Pay attention to the weather, even during training. You don’t want to dress too lightly or too heavily.  And learn to run in less than ideal conditions, like when it’s raining.  It goes back to being prepared.

Remember that it’s okay to walk, just as long as you keep moving forward.

Most importantly …

Remember your WHY and let that help you get to the finish line.

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Thank you

A year ago, I decided that in 2015, I would take on my biggest challenge ever – my first half marathon. And I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t do it alone.  Not only would I need a solid training plan, I would need lots of support from those around me. 

I wasn’t sure what others would say, so it took me awhile before I really started talking about it.  I mean, I told a few people, but not very many.  The people I did tell were very supportive.  As I became more comfortable with the idea, I started telling more people.  Honestly, I half expected at least one person to laugh or call me crazy.  But it never happened.  

In fact, quite the opposite.

The more I talked about it, the more people were supportive, offered encouragement, and became my cheerleaders. 

It was pretty awesome.

As my training progressed, people would ask how it was going and were genuinely interested in my progress.  They would read my blog; and like and comment on my Twitter and Facebook posts.

People would see me out running and would share kind and supportive words and gestures.  Sometimes they would stop me to chat; sometimes they would just shout from their cars; sometimes they would say something as they were walking or running by me.  Some people I knew, others were complete strangers.

To everyone who took the time to encourage me all the way, I want to say THANK YOU.  Thank you for believing in me; thank you for supporting me; thank you for listening to me when I needed to talk.

And really, that’s not enough. 

Those two words just don’t cover what your support means to me.

In those moments where I doubted myself, your words helped keep me going.

In those moments when I wasn’t sure I could take another step, you reminded me that I could.

And during the race when I didn’t know if I’d make it, your kindness guided me to the finish line.

You were with me every step of the way, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

There are a few people I want to mention by name:

To my friend Karen Walsh.  Thank you for your kindness, your friendship, and your support.  Thank you for offering your advice and knowledge.  Thank you for driving me to and from races.  Thank you for always being there to cheer me to the finish line.

To my friend Jeff Zaben.  Thank you for always making me laugh when I need it. Thank you for your unwavering support.  Thank you for being my cheerleader. Thank you for being my best friend.  Thank you for reminding me how strong I am when I feel like I’m not.  Thank you for knowing when I need a friend. Thank you for being you.

To my friend Nick Foley.  Thank you for teaching me to talk in absolutes.  Thank you for believing in me.  Thank you for your constant support.  Thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for showing me I can do anything I put my mind and heart into.

Thank you all for everything you’ve done for me, and continue to do. I’m a better person because of you. My world is a better place with you in it.

Thank you.


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The County Half-Marathon (2015) – race recap

Fair warning, this will be a long post.

Sorry it has taken me so long to post this.  I definitely needed some downtime after the race just to recharge, both physically and mentally.

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I woke up Sunday morning with the typical pre-race nerves.  I’ve done enough races now that I knew I’d have them.  Truth be told, I’d been feeling them for a few days.  Although this time, the nerves were much stronger than they had ever been before.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering this would be the biggest race I had ever done before.

I was up earlier than would normally be for a race day, but I had to be.  It was going to take about an hour to get to the location, and they close the roads, so we had to be out there before that.  I showered and dressed, and then made my way downstairs for breakfast and coffee.  I added a few last minute things into the bag I was taking to the race.  And I made sure I had everything I needed in my race vest.  I took the time to do some stretching as well.  I like to do some stretching before a race because it helps calm me a bit.

Soon enough Karen arrived to pick me up.  We stopped on the way to race for coffee (for me) and tea (for her).  We made sure we had plenty of time to get there, just in case there was traffic.  As it turned out, there really wasn’t any, which meant we got to the location pretty early.  The way this race works is everyone parks where the finish line is and then you are transported by bus to your start line.  This race is a full marathon, half-marathon, and relay race.  Karen and I were both doing the half, and several other people we know were too.  One friend was supposed to do the full, but he injured himself and had to pull out.

The full marathon and relay start 2 hours before the half, which I think is a little weird.  If you think you will take over a certain amount of time for the full, there is an early start option.  There is no option for the half.

After waiting for what seemed like forever, it was finally time for us to board our bus.  As we were getting ready to get on the bus, I realized I left my belt bottle in Karen’s van.  I decided not to go back for it, thinking I’d be okay since there would be a water station about every 2 kms on the course.  We took the first one going to our start line.  Karen told me to go ahead of her, and we joked that she was going to block me from trying to run away LOL.  So we get to the start line, and we have over an hour wait until we run.  It seems like a ridiculous amount of time to wait! And all it did was give me more time to freak out.  I talked to other runners and paced around trying to keep calm, but it didn’t help that much.  I really was freaking out.  More and more runners were arriving and all that did was freak me out more!

As I was pacing around, I saw Tyler.  I didn’t know he had planned to run.  It was actually a great comfort to see him there.  We chatted for a few, and then he left to do his warm-up.  Finally it was getting closer to the time.  I checked my bag, as all the other runners were doing.  The first runners in the marathon were passing by, and everyone cheered.

The sun was mostly shining, which I was happy about, but it was very windy.  The wind made it cold.  Thankfully, I had gloves and a buff on.  I wasn’t sure if I would need to keep the gloves on throughout the race, but I was happy to have them at the start.

It was finally time to line up.  I stayed near the back, as I always do, out of respect for the faster runners.  Finally it was go time.  I was happy to finally going.  I had been going a bit crazy! All that wait time I had been questioning everything from my training to my sanity.

As I crossed the start line, I reminded myself of a few things:  This was my race, not anyone else’s.  Don’t out too fast.  No matter what, I had to cross the finish line.  Don’t worry about the time, worry about finishing.

There were a few people along the road cheering for the runners/walkers as they passed by.  I thought that was pretty cool.  There was a family with their dog, and as I went by, I said hi to them and the dog.  The dog seemed to want to join me in the race.  Everyone laughed.

The first part of the race was relatively flat.  I was totally okay with that.  I slowed to a walk at the first water station, grabbed a drink, and moved on.  The scenery was pretty.  I thought about pausing a couple of times to snap some pictures, but I never did.  As the course moved along the water, the wind really picked up.  I pulled my buff over the back of my head so my hat wouldn’t blow off.  It was mostly a head wind, which kind of sucked, but nothing I could do about it.  Slower marathon runners and relayers passed me.  We shared words of encouragement.  That’s always nice.

I paused at each water station I passed.  I was very happy they were there.  I thanked all the volunteers as I continued on.  I had to stop a couple of times to use the porta potties too.  Happy to see them there too!  I followed the fueling plan I had worked out in training, taking in a gel about every 2 kms. I made sure I had plenty of them with me, in case I needed extra.  Plus I had some chews as well.

Pretty soon, I was alone on the road.  And I knew I would be.  I was okay with that.  By most standards, I’m a slow runner, but I don’t care.  I had my music to keep me company as I was running, as I almost always do.

I continued to thank each group of volunteers I passed, and even the cops that were keeping the roads blocked for the race.  Buses continued passing me as they continued to take relay team members back and forth.

As I was going along, it seemed to me that there weren’t as many water stations as there should have been.  I figured maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to the kms as much.  I didn’t really think about it too much to begin with.  But as I neared the halfway point, 2 large trucks passed me with their backs open.  One I noticed had tables in it, like the ones at the water stations.  As I neared what should have been a water station, I saw the trucks stop.  A guy got out of truck, picked up the KM sign that was ahead and put it in the truck.  I started to freak out!  I pulled out my phone and sent a text to Karen, who I knew had already finished and was waiting at the finish line.  I explained what was happening and she went to  find one of the race people.

I also sent a text to my friend Jeff, who had been sending me texts since the race started.  I told him what was going on and that I was freaking out.  He did his best to calm me down, but it was difficult.  This was my worst nightmare! I was being left alone on the course!!

This was also about the point that the hills started on the course.  I had begun walking because Karen and I were texting back and forth.

A couple of kms later, I finally came across another water station.  It was being manned by a woman and her kids.  They were really nice.  I was so happy to see them!  Two of the kids decided to walk to the end of the road with me.  I thought that was really nice.  After I had passed them, the woman closed up her water station.  She gave me a bottle of water, which I greatly appreciated.  As I continued on, a cop came by in his car to tell me that the roads had been reopened and to remind me to stay to the side of the road.  I thanked him and continued on.  A little bit farther down the road, there was a guy stacking wood in his yard.  He asked me how I was doing and I said I was fine.  He asked me if I was going to finish, and I said “Hell yeah!” He laughed.

About another km or so, the woman from the water station came by in her car.  She offered me another bottle of water.  She said all the other stations have been closed up and she wanted to make sure I had enough water.  I took the bottle and thanked her.  I told her I was very upset about the water stations, and she said she was too.  I wish I had gotten her name.

I was pretty much only walking at this point.  I was really upset and trying not to completely lose it.  I was on the shoulder of the road, and it was hard to run on the gravel and dirt.  A few times, I wasn’t even sure I was going the right way.  Karen was going her best to keep me calm too, but she knew I was having a hard time out there.

A couple of times Karen texted me to ask where I was at.  I didn’t always know, which of course freaked me out too.  I told her at one point that there was a large hill just ahead of me.  I was beginning to wonder if the road ever ended.  I was pretty angry at the race people.  I did my best to use that to keep moving.

The lady from the water station came by one more time, just to make sure I was okay.  I thanked her again.  Another lady drove by, asked if I was okay and if I wanted a ride to the finish.  I told her I was okay, and no, I needed to finish.

I had to go up another hill and the road was curving, so I hoped that meant I was getting close to the final turn onto Main Street.  As I was heading up the hill, I saw Karen walking towards me.  I was so glad to see her! At least I knew I getting closer to the finish.  At least I hoped so.

My back was feeling a little sore.  And I thought I could feel a blister on my foot.  But I wasn’t going to give up.  I knew I had slowed down quite a bit, but I didn’t care.  I was determined to finish the race.

As Karen and I walked, we talked about how the race had left me out there alone.  What really made the both of us mad was that we had talked to them the day before at packet pick up.  The guy we spoke to guaranteed me that they would not shut down the water stations as long as someone was still out there.  But that’s exactly what happened.

As we got closer to the finish, a guy came up to us.  He was from the race.  He said that they had shut everything down at the finish line, and that they would contact me about getting me my finisher medal.  I became even angrier! I asked about my backpack that I had checked.  They said they had it.  I told him I needed it, that it had my glasses in it.  He called the lady who had it.  After a couple of minutes, he came back to us.  He said that he will go meet her to get it and my medal and meet us at the finish line.  Then he left.  I swear, I could have spit nails at that point!!

Thankfully, it wasn’t too much farther to the end.  As we finally neared where the finish line should have been, a man stepped out and started clapping.  I didn’t know who he was.  Once I crossed, he came up to me.  He said he was one of the bus drivers and had been watching me all day.  He said he stayed there waiting for me.  He said “everyone deserves to have someone cheering for them at the finish line.”  I was crying.  I thanked him repeatedly.  I told him he has no idea how much that means to me.  I wish I had gotten his name.

Finally, the other guy arrived.  He gave me my backpack and my medal.  Karen took a picture of me.  The guy asked me what my finishing time was.  I told him what my running app said, and he wrote it down.  He said it would be entered into the stats.  And he once again said that one of the race directors would be in contact with me.  Karen ran to the get the car,  I slowly got in, and we drove home.  I repeatedly thanked her for coming to my rescue and helping me finish.

It was the hardest thing I have ever done — both mentally and physically.  It was not the way I had hoped the race would go.  It was not the finish I had pictured.  I missed out on the post-race food, beer, and celebrations.  I missed getting an official race photo.  I’m angry that I was lied to and abandoned on the race course.  I had plenty of chances to give up, but I didn’t.

I crossed the finish line.  And had someone there to cheer for me as I did.  And that’s what matters.

 

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Half-Marathon training – Week 14 – The end.

Well that’s it. Training is over. Tomorrow is Race Day.

Seems like it was just last week that I was just beginning my training, and now it’s done.

I’m as prepared as I possibly can be.

What a ride it has been.

Here’s how the final week went:

MONDAY:  Rest day.

TUESDAY:  My schedule had me doing an easy run today, but I took another rest day instead.

WEDNESDAY:  Today was supposed to be a rest day, but I opted for a 3k power walk instead.

THURSDAY:  I opted for another 3k power walk again today.

FRIDAY:  With race day fast approaching, my nerves started to kick in, so I went walking, covering 6k.

SATURDAY:  Last day, another easy one, logging 2k.

My schedule had me doing 14.75k, and I logged 14k. I’m good with that.

So how did training go overall? 

I’m pretty pleased with how I did for the most part. 

Could I have done better?

In some areas, yes.

I didn’t do as much strength training as I should have.  It’s something I’ve been struggling with doing on my own.  When I belonged to a gym and had a workout partner, I did better with it.  But that’s another story.

I did pretty good with cross-training, but some weeks could have been better.

As far as the running went, I’m really happy with how I did. I covered a lot of kilometres. I mean A LOT! It got a little hard when my long runs got over 10k, but I kept pushing myself and refusing to give up. I had a few tough runs where part of me wanted to give up, but thankfully the bigger part of me just wouldn’t.  

I tried different fueling options throughout my training.  I actually enjoyed trying different gel flavours.  Speaking with runners on Twitter, I’ve found that gels are very polarizing, for the most part — people either love them or hate them. Very rarely is there anyone in between. Personally, I love them. They are easy to carry and easy to take. They provide much needed energy to keep me going.  There are several different brands, but I prefer the GU brand the best.  They have a wide variety of flavours, which I like.  I purchased several different flavours to use during the race.  I also tried some different chews during training.  There are not as many different flavours of those though.  I did pick up some for the race just in case.

I also trained with either plain water or Gatorade G2 red (fruit punch).  I prefer the Gatorade, and will use it during the race.  I will also take advantage of the water stations along the course.

During training, I purchased a few new pieces of gear.  First I bought running socks.  After running in them a few times, I concluded that they weren’t any better than my sport socks.  I’ll be wearing my normal sport socks during the race.  Next, I bought a belt bottle holder.  It wore it for a lot of training runs, and even a couple short races.  I really liked it.  It was easy to wear and the bottle easy to access.  I’ll be wearing it tomorrow too.  Lastly, I bought a vest.  I knew I would need something to carry my gels and things in during the race, and a vest seemed the best option.  The one I bought is actually a fishing vest, but it works perfectly.  I wore it on several training runs, even in the rain. It does exactly what I need it to, and will be wearing it tomorrow. 

As my training runs got longer, I had to get creative with my route. I wanted to make sure I stayed in areas I was pretty familiar with, that were well travelled in case of emergency, that had bathrooms nearby, and where I could get something to eat or drink if needed.  I saw a lot of the same people on my long runs.  And most of them were kind enough to share encouraging words.  They might not have any idea how much that meant to me.  It really helped when I was struggling.

I was reminded several times just how important it is to stretch.  More than once, I either didn’t do it, or didn’t do it enough, and paid for it.  Once on a long run, I felt my back tighten up.  It was a struggle to finish, but I did.  Once I did some stretching, I felt much better.  I need to remember to do it more often.

One of the things that really helped me through my training was the support I got from my family and friends.  Moments when I was struggling or was unsure if I could really do what I was trying to do, they were there to help pick me up and remind me that I could do it and how well I was doing.  That really meant a lot to me.

To finish, there are some numbers for you:

Weeks of training:  14

Number of kilometres ran/walked during training:  431.92k

Number of kilometres scheduled in my training plan:  356.5k

I ran/walked 75.42k more than I had to.  I’m pretty proud of that.  

And those numbers don’t include the month I did what I called my pre-training.  That’s another 124.89k.

So that’s it.

Nothing left to do but get a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow is Race Day.

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