The Half-Marathon Learning Curve

This past Sunday, I ran the Big D Half Marathon. It was night and day from my first half marathon back in December (the White Rock). So for any of you peeps that are considering maybe running and conquering a half-marathon, I thought I'd go through what I think made the difference...

- Do not skip a long run! - When I was training for White Rock, there were days of low motivation. Ok, who am I kidding, there were entire weeks where I didn't even get out to run due to lack of motivation. I missed 2 or 3 of my long runs in a 10 week training program, which is a lot. This time I hadn't missed a single long run (although I hadn't tapered down like you should because I was still ramping up for my May 2nd half marathon). I had also started a running streak... and was on day 18 on the day of the half. The consistency of my running schedule carried me far. I wasn't nervous before starting... and it honestly all felt like just another training run (except for the unavoidable cattle herding at the beginning of the race). At White Rock, I was tired by mile 6 and half-dead by mile 9. The large majority of that run felt like pure torture... this run felt like a nice healthy run. It was shocking how different it was.

- 10 mile warm-up, 5K race (thank you Libby for this point-of-view) - At White Rock, I tried to run with a pace team. They were a little fast, but I managed to keep up, though at times it was a struggle. By mile 8, it was agony to stay with them. By mile 9, I decided that finishing was more important than possibly collapsing from trying to stay up with them. The last 4 miles were pure torture at White Rock. I was barely moving. I didn't "walk" but was being passed by walkers. I was in a sad sad state. This time, I held back. I started out slow. I found Libby (an inspirational runner who I had just met after following her blog for awhile on a friend's recommendation) at about mile 1 and asked if I could run with her. We kept a slow, easy pace for mile 1-7. Libby opted for a walk break at mile 7, and I decided to push on. Since I had been holding back, I felt great, so I sped up a little bit, not a lot, between miles 7-10. When I hit 10, I looked at the time on my Garmin and realized I needed to push to come in sub-2:30 (White Rock time was 2:35). I was feeling great, so I sped up some more... and then I hit mile 11.5 and saw my watch, and sped up even more... pushing through to finish at 2:28. I even sprinted the end. I felt like I still had some in the tank and maybe could've pushed harder, but I'm very happy with what I did, and it's not like I'm super-speedy anyway, so what's another minute or two?

-Try the GU - Sure, I had heard about it before White Rock, but hadn't tried it and didn't want to start then in case it upset my stomach. GU is an energy gel, some with caffeine (both the flavors I used - chocolate and vanilla - did have caffeine). At White Rock I noticed a big energy drop at mile 6 and then a complete plummet at mile 9. I had taken GU on a couple of my long runs since White Rock just to try it out and wasn't absolutely convinced yet. During Big D, I took a GU at mile 5 and mile 10. I never noticed a plummet (or spike) in energy. My energy stayed relatively constant throughout the race. It was awesome. I'm convinced! I still don't and won't use GU on runs less than 7 or 8 miles.

- Support systems are important - At White Rock, I found the pace group which kept me going the first 8 miles. Plus I saw my dad at miles 6 and 10, and my brother, sister-in-law, and 2 nephews were waiting for me at the finish line. At Big D, I went with a group of awesome ladies, I ran from mile 1-7 with Libby, and some of the ladies I came with were at the finish waiting for me. These things seem minor, but as a slower runner, a half-marathon is a 2 1/2 hour mental mindgame, and every little bit of motivation you can find is needed, and every bit of encouragement you receive fuels you.

This race was so different from the last one, and I'm actually looking forward to my next half in just 3 weeks on May 2.