Running is hard. There's no way around it. It's also one of the most popular recreational activities around, and this is no coincidence. People may link their love running to its simplicity, or to the solitude of being out there by yourself, with only the sound of your feet and your own breath. And yes, it's also one of the most effective ways to get yourself into overall shape. But before you embark on planning your half marathon training, remind yourself that one of the reasons you're doing this is the same reason that running can be painful: it's really hard. And it feels really, really good to accomplish something as hard as running a half marathon.
I began running when I was fourteen years old as a tiny freshman trying out for the cross-country ski team. The Vermont weather didn't get the memo about tryouts and decided to skip the snow part of winter, so the tryouts were "dry". This means one thing: lots of running. During those first two weeks, I discovered a hidden talent for running, one that would shape my experience in high school, and would determine where I went to college. As soon as it snowed, I quickly became one of the worst performers on the team, because at five foot two, I was ill-equipped for speed on snow. It didn't really matter if I was running or skiing, though, or if I led the pack or finished dead last. In any sport (though especially in long-distance running), what you're actually working on in training or competition is yourself. Keeping this in mind during your half marathon training is essential: it's the justification for all your sweat.
Okay - now you're ready to get to work on yourself and start running. The next step is to make sure that you train smart. Over the years, many friends and family have come to me and asked me to help them develop their training program. What I've learned: keep it simple, and don't overdo it. If your goal is to run 13.1 miles, I'd like to suggest an additional goal: wanting to keep running in your life after you cross the finish line. Here are a couple of simple tips to keep your training smart and your running stoke high:
1. Pick a training plan that fits for you - meaning, most significantly, that if you're starting with no training, your training plan knows that. Your training plan should be simple, flexible, and, for beginning runners, conservative (I had a coach in high school who trained all his runners at no more than 25-30 miles per week, and he produced state champion cross country teams. Quality over quantity.). Running is hard, but it should also be enjoyable.
2. Choose a half marathon that's in a place that you love or have always wanted to travel to. If your dream is to triumphantly run through your hometown, do it. If you've always wanted to see Big Sur and run along Highway 1, make it happen. This is your goal, so choose your ideal setting, and start getting pumped!
3. Speaking of goals: keep them loose. If there's a race in a month or a race in four, give yourself a hand and don't choose the race that's right around the corner. Additionally, don't get too attached to a specific finishing time. Setting pacing goals, especially as a beginning runner, only judges how well you're able to predict what time you'll actually run. Running faster doesn't necessarily make your race experience a better one. My advice: just run, and run happy.
Ready to get out there? Go for it. With the right attitude and training, you'll be ready for your first half marathon. It's hard work, and you're worth it.