In addition to the benefit of it being a much simpler time, there was a big event in 2014 that took me from average, run-of-the-mill person to an athlete. It was the Missoula Half Marathon, to be exact.
But I didn’t just decide to run a half-marathon willy-nilly. I’d actually been training with an official Marathon/Half Marathon Training Class for the 18 weeks leading up to the race. We ran together twice a week and were encouraged to run other times throughout the week as well.
Though I’ve run another half marathon since then, it was my first half marathon that really changed me. Here’s what I learned as I trained for my first half marathon:
1. Everything is Postponed Until After Race Day
One of the first things I noticed during half marathon training was how much it affected my everyday life.
“Hey, Trisha! Want to go to a movie Saturday night?”
Nope, sorry. I have to run Sunday morning at 8 AM.
“Trisha! We’re having a super big potluck full of Mexican food this weekend! Come! You love food!”
Yeah, I love food. But I really don’t want a bellyful of Mexican food as I run through bathroom-less wilderness or tightly packed residential neighborhoods. Sorry, squatting behind someone’s garage really isn’t on my to-do list.
“Let’s plan out a girl’s only camping trip. What weekend works best for you, Trisha?
Any weekend after the half marathon.
My schedule had been ALL about training for 18 weeks. And I hadn’t missed a single training class!
2. The Shoes Matter
Before starting training for the half marathon, the longest distance I’d ever run in one go was 4 miles. That was for a race the previous summer. Otherwise, I generally stuck with 2 or 3 miles for a run.
These are the shoes I’d wear. Saucony Jazz Low Pro. They were perfectly fine for short distances. While they’re good “cheap” fitness shoes, they’re not really made for hardcore athletes.
I’m telling you…these were bad for long distance running. Once we started running 5, 6, 10 miles, my Saucony Jazzes just plain sucked. So, I went to The Runner’s Edge and tried on a dozen pairs of “real” running shoes, and ended up with…
The Brooks Ghost 6! Holy heck, I could feel the difference immediately. My happy, happy feet. Now those are some real running shoes.
Still, I did have some shoe-related injuries with both pairs. Speaking of which…
3. Injuries Will Happen…And They’re Dumb
When you’re training for a half marathon (or full marathon, obvs), you’re putting your body through a lot. As my coaches said a few times throughout those 18 weeks, injuries are common. You can hopefully do things to prevent them, but they still might happen. And if they do, you just have to rest and heal and hope it’s not a big deal.
I had three injuries during my training. Let’s break it down!
Injury #1: Weird ankle/foot pain.
Remember how my longest distance before all this was a 4-mile race last summer? After that race, I had a bit of foot pain. It radiated down the outside of my right ankle and wrapped under the outside edge of my foot. The pain was irritating, but it went away after a few weeks.
Fast forward to the half marathon training that started in March. Sure enough, after I started going over four miles, I got the foot pain again. What the heck? It seemed to happen after the long runs.
I had to wear this ankle sleeve to help prevent some of the pain while I ran.
Now, I never went to the doctor for this, but I have a solid theory on the problem: I over-supinate, also known as under-pronation. That means that I naturally push off the outside edge of my feet — especially with my right foot.
Remember my old shoes? Well, it turns out they were largely the problem. They weren’t made for over-supinators. Once I got my new shoes — that are ideal for supinators — I never got that pain. Success!
Injury #2: Wrist bone contusion.
You may be saying to yourself, “Uh, how is a wrist injury running-related?”
I’ll tell you!
One night during my Wednesday night training class run, I was having a bit of shin tightness due to a prior hilly workout and was having trouble lifting up my toes. As I ran along a sloped sidewalk, my toe caught on the cement and…
I tripped, flew forward and stretched my arms out in front of me to brace my fall. I landed HARD. I ended up with some scrapes and a huge bruise on my palm. Now, I’m a pretty tough woman, so I just put a band-aid on the scrapes (this was months ago and I still have a scar on my elbow) and went about my day. But, the following Monday, I was still having wrist/hand pain, so I went to the doctor.
They did some x-rays and, sure enough, I had a wrist bone contusion. It wasn’t a break or anything, but I did have to wear this brace for almost two weeks. Running is no joke.
Injury #3: Super blisters.
So, you know that I got new shoes and they were so much better than my old ones. No more foot/ankle pain. My legs felt so much better in general after running in the new shoes.
But, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses and puppy dogs. The first long run I did after getting the new shoes (11 miles) went a little like this:
- Mile 1: Yeah! My new shoes feel great!
- Mile 3: La la la, run run run
- Mile 4: Hmm…I’m starting to feel rubbing on my arches…
- Mile 5: Let’s stop and have a look at my feet…umm, yep. Blisters are forming.
- Mile 6: Ya know, my shoes do feel a little loose. That’s probably why. I’ll tighten them.
- Mile 7: Yeah, that was a good idea, but the damage has already been done.
- Mile 11: Done with the run! Now let’s see my feet — OH NO! Huge blisters! Way bigger than I thought!
The blisters happened on both feet in the arch where there was no callus. Just think about that a minute. And they were each bigger than a silver dollar. Don’t worry — I won’t show you a picture.
Long story short: It really wasn’t the shoes’ fault. It’s my own. A physical therapist that came in to talk to my training class had a look at how I walk. Turns out I rotate my feet funny when I lift them, thus rubbing on the arch. The blisters just happened with these shoes because they have a higher arch than my old non-real running shoes.
I wore flip-flops on the daily to help my blisters heal in time for the race.
Yep, injuries are dumb.
4. Your Attitude Toward Certain Distances Will Change
Before training started, 4 miles seemed super far. I mean, it was practically a million.
Then we started the “taper.” That’s the few weeks before race day when you start running fewer miles so your body is rested for the big day.
After our longest long run — 12 miles — I caught myself being excited for the taper. Fewer miles!
And then I realized I was being excited about running “only” 6 miles the following Sunday. ONLY 6 miles!! 6 miles used to seem impossible the year before.
Boy, my attitude toward running has changed.
5. You’ll Probably Hate it at Some Point
Some runs are good. You feel great, your legs are working at top form and your lungs are cooperating nicely. Those days are the best.
But then there are the bad runs. Your calves feel tight, you can’t get your breath right and it all just seems so hard.
Here’s a common thing that goes through my mind on those days as I trudge along the sidewalk, sweat pouring down my face:
“Ugh. I never want to run again. Why am I doing this?!”
Of course, that thought doesn’t last long. Sure enough, 15 minutes after the run is over, my attitude has changed.
“I still feel good, and I’m glad I did it. It was just a bad run. It’ll be better next time.”
And I’m usually right.
6. Runner’s Gear Isn’t Required, But is Awesome Anyway
If you’ve ever gotten into running, or know someone who’s a runner, you’re probably well-aware of the huge running gear industry. Of course, there are shoes and clothes, but there are also special water bottles, head bands, sports drinks, smart phone cases, water belts, ear buds and a host of other things.
You don’t have to own any of it. Well, you should probably get the shoes, but you otherwise can get by without it.
That’s what I did at first. I just worked with what I had. I’m frugal that way.
Then I ran in rain, sleet and snow — all during one intense March run— and decided to get some real running tops that didn’t soak up the cold water like the cotton stuff I’d been wearing.
Then I got those blisters, and I got some fancy running socks, Feetures, that everyone in class swore by for they’re anti-blister powers.
And I wanted to run in short shorts, so I got some Body Glide for my inner thighs.
And I wanted my own fuel plan during the long runs, so I picked up some Cliff Shot Bloks.
Sure, you don’t need to get this stuff, but it does come in handy.
7. Everyone is Nice — Even if You’re at the Back of the Pack
I had two choices for training classes. Both welcomed beginners, but one was more hardcore than the other. I went with the hardcore one.
That meant that I was running with some serious athletes. These people — men and women of all ages — were a lot fitter than I am. Most of them had already done at least one half marathon before, if not a full marathon.
Well, I was at the back of the pack. For those not in the know, “back of the pack” runners are the slow ones. The ones behind all the fast people.
That was me. The training runs would start and, about 15 to 30 minutes later, I would be all by myself. Everyone else was long gone.
Now, someone as slow as I am might be afraid that people would be judgmental of my slowness. Not the case! Everyone was always so encouraging. If we were doing an out-and-back run where you come back the same way you went out, they’d cheer me on and say a genuine “great job!” as they floated past me like human-shaped gazelles.
If you’re thinking of learning how to run, don’t let a fear of other runners stop you. Everyone’s nice. Sure, there are probably some bad apples, but I haven’t met them.
8. You’ll Just Want to Get it Over With
18 weeks is a long time. As soon as I got only a week away from the race, I was less excited or nervous and more “let’s just get this over with.”
I mean, my life had been revolving around this half marathon training for the previous 18 weeks.
As I finally ran through the finish line, something I’d been training for at least twice a week for 18 weeks, that injured my body, depleted my bank account, and prevented me from attending social events, I was thrilled that it was over. I did it. I had a medal around my neck, sore legs, and mostly unflattering race photos to prove it.
And I was ready for more.
A version of this story was originally posted to my blog, Makeup Files, back in 2014.