Advice from 23 Half Marathons

As of Sunday, I have officially completed 23 half marathons.  Since I am now done, for the season, I decided to take a look at progress, lessons and next steps as I dream about fall.

I have been tracking my running data since 2015 – first on excel and now on google drive.  When I started that process, I went back and look for the finish times of EVERY RACE I’VE EVER RUN… And found all but two of them on bibs or somewhere in cyberspace.

As runners, I think tracking helps us see patterns in our behavior and performance.  In my real life, I am something of an accidental data nerd and have to admit I enjoy seeing what emerges when I mix up the info in different ways.

Half Marathon Progress.png
Half Marathon Performance: August 2004 to May 2017

My first half, a NY Road Runners fun run around Central Park, came after my first full and it didn’t even have a medal or a shirt!  Once I returned to running seriously at the end of 2013, I started to look out for such things and my collection of both has grown significantly.

My lessons from the trenches…

1: Not every race will be a PR!!!
This one is hard for me.  I am constantly looking to improve and get better, but when you run multiple races in a season, you have to give yourself the leeway to sometimes just have fun.  Or help a friend over the finish line or realize today is not the day for you.  That used to make me CRAZY, but now I can take it in stride and allow joy in the journey. As you can see from my chart, typically I have one “stellar” race a season and the rest tend to be a little slower.

2: Training plans matter. 
I love writing training plans and will often source a bunch of place before I figure out which one works for me.  For a long time, I ignored the advice of track work and hills, favoring just enough miles.  I have learned the hard way that not doing that work will BITE YOU on race day.  Varying pace and the type of pounding on my legs REALLY changed the experience for me.  The caveat, listen to your body!!!  If you need a rest day – take it.  If you are sick – don’t run!!  Remember – there is a difference between excuses and self care.

3: Study the course map.
I am very guilty, particularly when choosing quantity over quality, of not looking at the map or elevation of a race course at all.  For a long time it was because I didn’t know what on earth I was looking at when reviewing that info.  (I am supremely directionally challenged – I will get out of a store in the mall and not know which way I need to turn.)  But I slowed down and taught myself.  Now, particularly for a goal race, I will study the map for my training plan and race day plan.

4: Do NOT try anything new on race day.
Know your fuel plan.  Test EVERY PIECE OF CLOTHING. Eat properly the day before. Do not let the expo get you — this is not the time for a new tank, hat or gu.  This is tried and true advice and even the most seasoned runner can get sucked into an amazing new find or the taper crazies.  Do not let 13.1 miles turn into a stomach cramping, fuel belt chaffing, new hat flying off experience.  You have worked WAY TOO HARD for that.

5. Mentally train too!
I have not regularly done this either, but after trying and failing for SO LONG to get a under 2 hours, I decided it was worth a shot.  I worked on mental toughness this spring by reading books, listening to podcasts and generally embracing the suck.  For so long I thought it would just get easier to go faster.  And it has, but to really push myself – I had to change my thinking and visualize that finishing time.  Whatever floats your boat, really – is it a mantra, a saying on your hand, the music you listen to or don’t?


And for goodness sakes  — have fun!  You are amazing for getting out there and doing what such a small percentage of the population can do.  It doesn’t matter what your times are compared to others.  It matters what your times are compared to your goals.  We are not going to the olympics, but typically back home to be the best person/mom/dad/wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend we can be.

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