Running half-marathons are no joke; it still takes tons of training and dedication to get to that finish line. So, as you can imagine, there is a lot that goes into it––and a lot of it you might not know about until you’ve finished your first one. I’m here to give you the heads up on what really goes on when you’re running a half-marathon.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
Running a long-distance race basically takes you on an journey through any and all emotions a person can have. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have to convince yourself to continue running despite your desperation to quit, and then you feel absolute euphoria––all in the time it takes you to run 13.1 miles. But I’ll break it down for you even further.
The week and the night before you’re going to be excited. You’re about to push your body to accomplish an incredibly feat. You’ve trained for this, you’ve worked hard for this, and you’re ready. Let’s run!
This usually happens at the starting line when you’re listening to the national anthem and standing around hundreds of other runners. You’re thinking, “Um, why the heck did I want to do this!?” You’ll second-guess whether you can finish the race, and you may even think about walking out of the start corral. But at this time remember, you CAN do this! You’re ready.
You’ve started the race, and you’re on your way! During the first few miles, your confidence may come back to you, and you’ll believe in yourself again. During these miles, be sure not to run faster than you’ve trained for; save yourself for all the miles––you’ve got a long way to go! However, feel that confidence and harness it. You’ll need it later in the race.
This usually creeps up around mile 10 when you’re close to the finish line. You doubt whether you have it in you to finish those last few miles. This is the point in the race where it is no longer about the physical aspect (you’ve trained your body to do this so you can physically run the distance). Instead, it becomes a mental game. In this moment, you have to stay confident and visualize yourself crossing the finish line. Visualize all the hard work you’ve put in and know that the pain is only temporary. Take it one mile at a time. Think in small, short terms goals to get yourself to the finish.
You’ve been running for two hours and you finally see it: the finish line in all its glory. Suddenly, you get a second wind, and you push your body to cross the line. You put your hands in the air and all you feel is pride, happiness, and a sense that you can accomplish anything! Oh, and you may start to feel all those muscles you’ve been using for the past several hours, but that’s secondary to this euphoric moment.
You may not expect it, and you may try to fight it, but you’ll probably cry and it’s totally OK. Tears of happiness and joy, and maybe even tears of sadness now that the race is over. You may go into the race telling yourself you won’t cry, but when you cross that finish line all bets are off. Just let it happen. After the emotional ride you were just on, you deserve a little catharsis.
You May Lose a Toenail
Yes, you read that right, but don’t let it scare you! This is a badge of honor for runners. Losing a toenail is something many of us have experienced during the sport, even though it isn’t a pleasant experience and makes for a tough time getting a pedicure. One way to help prevent this is to buy shoes that are the correct size for you; it’s recommended you buy running shoes a half-size larger than your usual shoe size.
It’s a Team Sport––Not an Individual One
You are running alone and technically running is an individual sport. But the beauty of it is that you’re running with hundreds, maybe even thousands of other runners. Make a friend when the going gets tough and chat with your running neighbor. Listen to their cheers and words of inspiration on the course, or even just choose another runner and try to pace with them or run faster than them. Use the people around you to help get yourself to the finish line.
Running is Largely a Mental Sport
You can train all you want, but when race day comes you’ll find that running is much more of a mental sport than physical. You’re going to have to tap into all your mental capacities and self-talk, visualize, and give yourself pep talks. Your body can finish the distance, so be sure to remind your brain that you can!
There’ll Be Surprises
One thing you certainly can’t control is the weather. You should plan for as much as possible, and in this case, plan two outfits: one for good weather and one for bad weather. There are only a few things you can be certain of, and in this case you can trust in your training to be able to run in the rain. It takes a flexible attitude to keep from falling off your game. But despite your earnest determination, you also may wake on race day morning and aren’t “feeling it.” If you planned on a personal record that day, don’t be afraid to put it aside and focus on enjoying the race for fun. Change your pace goals if you need to. It’s OK; surprises happen, and it won’t be the end of the world to not run the “perfect race.”
Really Weird Things Happen to Your Body
I’m telling you this so you won’t be surprised.
This is a common running problem, but one you can usually avoid. First, it’s crucial you buy and test out the right clothing. That means you shouldn’t run in anything new on race day, and only run in clothes you know won’t irritate your skin. Consider wearing spandex shorts or capris, and add some Body Glide or Vaseline on those problem areas to help prevent chafing.
As you sweat, your body loses salt so it’s important to replenish the salts you are losing and drink electrolyte-filled drinks intermittently throughout the run. This will help you from getting dizzy and help your muscles from seizing up.
Stomach issues are very common for runners, which is why it’s so important to use trial-and-error during training to find out what foods your body responds to best. When you run, blood travels away from the digestive tract in order to support your muscles at work. This, in turn, stunts normal digestion which can lead to digestive discomfort. Some strategies to avoid this are to reduce your intake of high-fiber foods and sugar substitutes, and avoid anti-inflammatory drugs before races.
This is one of the biggest running annoyances, but one you can often avoid simply through well-fitting shoes. You’ll want your shoes to be a half size bigger than your regular shoe size, to allow for foot swelling. Also don’t run in cotton socks. Consider investing in moisture-wicking socks, and wear band-aids on problem areas.
Having to go “Number 1” during a race is a common problem that can be easily avoided. The simple solution is to hydrate in weeks before race, not just the day before or on race day. This will prevent you from having to drink so much water on the course or before the race.
Running long distances lowers your immunity and puts you at risk for getting sick. Be sure post-race to fuel your body, rest, and give yourself ample time to recover.
Make a Post-Race Plan
We’re usually so focused on training for the race itself that we forget to prepare our bodies for what to do after the race is over, but that’s often one of the most important parts! You’ll want to keep walking and moving after you cross the finish-line, even though your body will be begging you to sit down. But don’t sit! You don’t want your muscles to tighten or seize up.
Keep walking for some time until you feel able to stretch out your muscles, and be sure to stretch. Within 30 minutes you’ll want to eat something with a good amount of protein (approximately 10-15 grams) for muscle recovery and repair. And be sure to rehydrate immediately with electrolytes. If the weather’s cold, you’ll want to have a dry change of clothes handy to quickly change into to avoid getting sick.
You’ll Sign Up For Another Race
You’ve just taken a crazy emotional journey and you may have even thought around mile 9, “I’ll never sign up for another one of these!” But remember that euphoria you’ll feel at the finish line? Well, it may carry you to sign up for another race. My suggestion though, give it a few days and if you still want to run another one, then sign up!
Is there anything else you’d add to the list?