I used to think that the concept of paying real money to run in a race was silly. Then, I lost 50 pounds and still thought it was silly – until I saw the value in having something to train and strive for. What I love and think that others love about running in races is that they give participants an opportunity to set measurable goals. Additionally, if races are executed properly, they give results that allow participants to see where they stand with themselves and in relation to others. I ran in my third race and first half marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon, last weekend and went into it with some unreasonable rules for myself.
Rule No. 1: TAPERING – Depending on your half-marathon experience level, start to scale back mileage about two weeks before the race – or one week for experienced half marathoners.
A Runner’s World article gives good instruction on how to taper and prepare for your first half marathon.
I didn’t run much during the last month leading up to the race or follow a training plan very closely, which also means that I didn’t cross my “t” and dot my “i” on “tapering.” I also took a circuit-training class just two days before the race, which involves treadmills and includes periods of sprinting and/or hill runs, etc. I felt great during the exercise but felt some stiffness and soreness in my right quad leading up to and following the race. I didn’t totally blow it on my race preparation, though; I did cut distance in half the week before and ate well.
Rule No. 2: CARB LOADING – If you plan to take more than 90 minutes to complete your race – which is common for recreational half marathoners – it’s important to start carb loading two or three days before race day.
Another Runner’s World article gives advice on when and how to appropriately carb load:
How to determine if you should carb load:
Technically speaking, carb-loading really comes into play any time you are out on the road for more than 90 minutes. Carb-loading tends to lead to a bit of stiffness (because your muscles are fully stocked with glycogen) and weight gain (water retention), so for shorter events it’s really not recommended.
How to appropriately carb load:
Since most of us take longer than 90 minutes to complete a half-marathon, my recommendation is that you carb-load in the days prior to the race. You can carb-load in as little as one day, but to prevent carb fatigue and the worry of ‘Am I taking in enough?’ aim to start two to three days before the half-marathon. You don’t necessarily need to increase your calories—just make sure the majority of those calories come from carbs, especially at lunch and dinner the day before race day. Given time, your body can digest, absorb, and store the nutrients, and you’ll be able to rely on those fuel stores on the next day’s run.
Naturally, I eat a lot of carbs, but I prefer not to do any excessive carb loading. I understand the importance of proper fueling but find it to be useless if I train on my normal diet. I must’ve fueled properly, though, because, later in the course, when I started seeing energy gel stations, I didn’t need any. It all comes down to your purpose for running the specific race and in general. If you’re in it to PR (a jargony acronym for “set a personal record”), then maybe you’ll want the gel.
My Own Rules
Rule No. 3: Don’t wear anything for the race that you didn’t train with.
I’m not just talking about resisting the urge to go out and buy new running shoes; I’m also talking about clothing and accessories.
It’s no secret that health and fitness expos are designed to benefit from all of the nervous energy in the air. I almost fell victim when I was tempted to purchase a nifty iPhone armband holster, because I was concerned about being able to locate my husband after the race. And the sales rep was trying really hard, pushing me to try on a hydration belt. I resisted but, instead, bought a funky headband.
I waited until after the race to reward myself with some new running shoes.
Rule No. 4: Don’t drink Gatorade.
I’ve always thought that water is sufficient. In fact, I breezed right past the water stations when I ran in my first race – a 10k – a year ago. However, when I hit the first water station this time, I worried that I’d regret passing on the extra dosage of electrolytes that Gatorade offers. An article on runnersconnect.net discusses the importance of electrolytes.
The electrolytes sodium and potassium play a critical role in regulating your body’s water balance during exercise: the levels of these electrolytes allow your muscle cells (and every other cell in your body, for that matter) to retain the right amount of water. But when we exercise, we lose electrolytes via sweating.
Rule No. 5: Don’t take pain relievers.
I’ve always viewed pain as an important thing to feel, as it’s either a sign of progress or potential injury or damage. The explanation about my breaking this rule involves a back story.
During the fall of 2013, I started increasing mileage from running three or four miles to running five or six. In the process, I started to feel pain in my left knee. It only got worse as the temperature went down. In January of this year, I saw a sports-medicine physician who told me that the structure of my knee looks good but that I may be experiencing some pre-arthritis. Right away, I followed her advice and started seeing a physical therapist two or three times a week in preparation for a 10-mile run that I was determined to complete in April. I ran the entire race on zero training, other than short three-mile runs per the physical therapist’s guidance. I remember thinking, as I crossed the finish line, “What’s three more miles? I could totally do a half marathon.”
Later that month, we moved from Arlington, Va., to Augusta, Ga., to a warmer climate, which has allowed me to continue running with reduced pain. This made the idea of running a half marathon a lot more conceivable, so I registered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon.
Flash forward to race day. I stepped outside at around 4:30 during the morning of the race, and it definitely felt cooler outside than it was during my training runs, which were typically later in the morning. Shortly after I got moving, I felt the normal dull pain in my left knee, but it held up. During mile No. 6, the dull pain turned into the sharp pain that usually tells me to stop. Instead, I kept going and visited the next medic station for some pain reliever. More than anything, I wanted to finish the race and run the entire thing, which I did with no complications.
My purpose for writing this post is to drive the point home that you never know how you’ll handle yourself in such a physically demanding activity and, especially, when it’s your first time. We hear people say this all the time about childbirth, and I believe that the same is true for running races. Never having given birth to a child, I believe that the feeling of being in labor and running a race involve similar emotions, as are holding your child in your arms for the first time and crossing the finish line.
I get choked up every time I get to the point in a race when I know that I’m going to finish, having run the entire thing. I have an emotional response to this, because I dreaded running the mile in gym class as a kid. I couldn’t even make it around the quarter-mile track without nearly having an asthma attack. To go from that to running a half marathon is nothing short of empowering.