Lessons I learned from my first endurance race


Last weekend, I completed my first half marathon. I wasn’t first, and I wasn’t last. My time was, well, twice that of some of my friends, but in the end it didn’t matter. I checked the ol’ half marathon off my bucket list. I also learned some valuable lessons throughout training and the race itself. Oh, and I got a kick-arse medal. Let’s not forget about the medal.

Before the race:

  1. Pee. Trust me on this.
  2. Drink lots of water all week long, especially the day before and morning of the race. This is why #1 is important.
  3. Don’t drink four margaritas 18 hours pre-race, even if you tell yourself it’s okay because you’re getting top-shelf margaritas on the rocks with extra lime and salt on the rim. Margarita salt is not an acceptable substitute for an electrolyte sports drink.
  4. Go to the race expo. Pick up your packet. Make some impulse purchases you will later regret because everyone else is buying that balance bracelet. Stare at your race bib. Smack yourself in the head for thinking you could actually do a half marathon.
  5. Follow a training plan. There are so many plans out there – find one that works for you and your schedule. Mine included 3 days/week of walking and/or running, 1-2 cross training or strength training days and 1 active recovery/yoga/pilates/easy walk day.
  6. Don’t be afraid to modify the plan. I suffered many setbacks due to knee problems and a sprained foot/ankle. I made adjustments (like biking or doing the elliptical instead of walking or running because they were low-impact). I had to cut one long “run” short because my foot hurt so bad.
  7. Train with others. I joined Team Challenge, an endurance/half marathon training program that raises money for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis research. You have a team of coaches (like Anne of FitMke) who make sure you cross that finish line at the race. We trained for 16 weeks, meeting every Sunday morning for the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. Sure, I had to raise a bunch of money, but the support and encouragement from the Team Challenge staff along with the coaches and my teammates were invaluable. Plus, I traveled to California to do a race that took me through vineyards. As in, where they make wine. There was a free wine tasting for participants at the finish. ’nuff said.
  8. Stock your medicine cabinet with ibuprofen. And ace bandages. And keep some ice packs or frozen peas in the freezer. You will thank me later.
  9. Make an appointment with a massage therapist halfway through training. I recommend Stacy Snook if you’re in the Milwaukee or Madison areas. She’s fabulous and will help work out the tight muscles in your legs and lower back.
  10. Test out your gear. Everything that you plan to wear/drink/eat on race day, you should be wearing/drinking/eating prior to race day. I found that one particular pair of capris was more comfortable than the others on long run/walks. I also found that I liked wearing a visor rather than a baseball hat and sunglasses because of the sweat that dripped down my face. I found that I preferred the Nathan Quick Draw Water Bottle to a water belt. It was a good fit for my inhaler, too. I also found that I preferred my Garmin on my left arm and my iPod shuffle clipped onto my sports bra, right between my breasts. I liked using my SPI Belt to hold my cell phone and I preferred Honey Stingers and Power Bar Chews to Gu.

During the race:

  1. Start out slow. Let’s face it. Chances are you’re not going to win the race, so don’t bother burning all your energy the first couple of miles. Save your energy and wait for the pack to thin out a bit as everyone finds their comfortable pace.
  2. Drink water, even if you don’t think you need it. Keep yourself hydrated so you don’t feel faint. I drank a sip from my bottle every half mile or so. I also drank at every water stop and took both water and HEED (sports drink) when the sports drink was offered. You may not think you will need the sports drink, but suck it down anyways. The electrolytes will save you later on.
  3. Don’t fall behind on your nutrition. I found I was able to keep my energy at a good level by eating one chew every mile (and two a mile for the last 4 miles). During training, you should have figured out what works for you. I found that on race day itself, this ratio worked wonders. Neither of the chews I had were particularly high in sodium, so I didn’t drown myself or overdo it (in my opinion. And I am not a professional by any means. This is just what worked for me. Please don’t sue).
  4. Soak it all in. If you get too focused on your pace or that pebble in your shoe, you’ll lose sight of the amazing thing you’re doing – you’re running or walking a half marathon. Seriously, enjoy the scenery, enjoy laughing at the weird form other runners use. Giggle when you see guys peeing in the bushes so they don’t have to wait for a port-a-potty.
  5. Say thanks. Don’t be a jerk. Thank the volunteers handing you water at mile 3. Thank the sentry keeping cars from running you over. Smile and wave at the spectators cheering for you. Don’t be an ungrateful prick.
  6. Pass on the left. As much fun as it is to bob and weave through runners, you are bound to piss some people off. Be courteous and pass on the left. You will freak people out if you try passing on the right. Also, if you’re running the race with a partner (or more), don’t hog the whole width of the course.
  7. Don’t stop. I am one of those people who, once I start a long run/walk, I try not to stop for anything. I have never had to stop to use the bathroom (knock on wood). I didn’t stop to get the pebbles out of my shoe at mile 8. I knew that if I stopped, I would not keep going. But, be smart about it if you follow this philosophy. Please don’t be one of those people who craps their pants. If your shoes are untied, for goodness’ sake, stop and tie them. If you get a cramp, stop and stretch. But if you’re feeling good, don’t stop. Keep on truckin’.
  8. Don’t be afraid to walk. This should fall under both before and during the race. Here’s the dealio. I’m overweight. This whole training for a half marathon is totally new to me. I’ve never run a mile in my life. So, I started training with the intent to run/walk the race… with most of the race falling in the walking category. All in all, I probably ran the equivalent of 3ish miles during the race, never for more than a half mile at a time. Your goal for your first race should be to just simply finish. I had a time goal of 4 hours, with a super-secret time goal of 3:30. I finished the race in 3:49. I walked most of the race. And no one judged me.
  9. Save a little burst of energy for that last tenth of a mile. You’re pretty much a rockstar for getting to this point, but if you sprint that last leg, you are officially a badass.

After the race:

  1. Wear your medal with pride. I didn’t take mine off for 3 days.
  2. Have some chocolate milk. It does a body good.
  3. Eat whatever the heck you want. Please note: this excuse is only valid the day of the race. Don’t follow the Amy Kant school of thought and drag this out for a week.
  4. Visit the med tent (if needed). They’ll wrap you up like Sunday leftovers.
  5. Smile. You did it. You’re officially an endurance athlete. No one can take that away from you.

Read my novel-length race report at Losing It Without Losing Me.

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