Whoah boy! You signed up for your first half-marathon or marathon! High five! Annnnd….cue the terror. ;) No worries. I got you, boo. Below are my top tips for surviving your first long-distance running race!
1. Follow a training plan.
You’re a newb. Follow a newb plan. A training plan will help you decide how much to run throughout the week, how quickly to increase your long-run distance every week, and when to take cut-back weeks.
I love Hal Higdon’s training novice training plans. He includes days for cross training, which I think is crucial to a well-balanced training plan. If you’ve never run distance before, you’ll totally wear down your body if you do nothing but run the whole 10-16 weeks you train.
But don’t be afraid to modify the training plan if necessary. Switch up training days throughout the week to fit your schedule, the weather, and how your body is feeling. If you need a rest day and your training plan doesn’t call for one, take it anyway. Listen to your body and follow the training plan as a general guide to surviving your first race.
2. Cut back weeks=non-negotiable.
This tip was one of the most difficult for me to follow my first time training for a long race. I wanted to build and build and build! I thought I’d do better race day if I pushed it hard every single week in my training!
Y’all, that’s how injuries happen. That’s a recipe for burnout. Take a cutback week (running only 5-6 miles for your long run) approximately every three weeks in your training. Your Hal Higdon training plan will guide you in these cutback weeks. Make sure you follow that piece of it religiously.
3. Make clothing choices early.
Don’t wait until race day to try out a new sports bra, pair of shoes, socks, or (God forbid) bottoms. Like I’ve said in other blogs and on social media (probably too much), my legs are BFFs. I made the mistake in one of my first race plans of running a long run (thankfully not my race) in a new pair of shorts. I wasn’t aware of how truly close I am to the mermaid life until I was half way on my route (on an out-and-back, mind you) and I felt a hot spot forming on my inner thighs.
By the time I got back to my car, I had a large chaffing spot on both inner thighs the size of a tennis ball. It was welted! It hurt so bad…and then I stepped into the shower and instantly hated my life. For over a week after, my legs were painful in those spots. It interrupted my training plan, and I’ve never felt more like an old western cowboy trying to just walk from the couch to the fridge. I never wore shorts to run long-distance again.
Don’t make that mistake. Try out different types of clothing on your shorter training runs and find clothing that will work for your body on race day…and stick to that on actual race day! Don’t switch anything up for race day. Trust me. Just picture me walking like I had a corn cob up my you-know-what for a week.
4. Make hydration system choices early.
For my first race, I decided to take advantage of the water stations on the course. I didn’t have a Camelbak or hydration belt, and I ran loops for my training so I could stop for a second at my car and get a drink. I should have recognized in some of my training runs that this wasn’t the system for me…
But I ran my first half marathon carrying nothing but my body and my race number. The race was hotter than many of my training runs, and even though I stopped at all of the water stations along the course, I was on the verge of throwing up by mile 10. I had psyched myself out about not having water with me—letting myself think, “I have to get to the next water station,” every time I left a water station.
By the time I finished that first half-marathon, I had decided I needed a hydration pack for any future races. I now carry my Camelbak, which holds my car keys, my phone, toilet paper, chafe cream, and a few other essentials in addition to 2L of water. I don’t stop at water stations on race day anymore, and I carry my Camelbak on training runs over 5 miles. It’s a mental comfort for me, knowing I have what I need with me.
I recommend that you try a few different hydration systems during your training. What works for me might not work for you, but just like with clothing, try a few hydration systems out and see what will work best for you come race day.
5. Make consistent food choices and be consistent with time of ingestion.
This was a big one for me. My digestion has always been a struggle. I had to start really early in my training plan finding what would work for my body. I didn’t want to shock my digestion in any way, and with the nerves of race day, I had to make sure my body knew what kind of food it would be ingesting and when that would occur in relation to the start of my run.
My diet has changed a lot over the years as I’ve training for various races, but now what works best for me is to eat a couple tablespoons of natural crunchy Peanut Butter or half of a banana 30 minutes or so before I set out on a long run. I carry my Camelbak water with a couple drops of Lemon essential oil in it. That system works for me so I don’t get hungry or have digestion issues during the run. There’s nothing worse than knowing you’ve gotta take a dump mid run only to find yourself completely exposed on the trail without a tree to squat behind.
6. Support a few key systems in your body throughout your training.
There are a few systems in your body that MUST be working optimally for you to survive your distance race: your respiratory system, muscular system, cardiovascular system, and your digestive system (ok, so basically all of them…).
Here’s what I do to support each of those systems in my own body throughout training and into race day.
Respiratory: Oxygen for the win. I don’t have allergies or asthma (thank God), but I like to use a few therapeutic grade essential oils on my runs and at night to help get as much oxygen as possible working through my body. Every night, I put a drop of Eucalyptus Radiata EO on my chest and a drop of the Young Living blend Raven over my sinuses and on the tip of my nose. If I feel at all blocked up before a run, I’ll use those same oils in the same way before I head out on the trail or I’ll put both of those oils on the bottom of my feet at the base of my small toes before I put my socks and shoes on.
Muscular: Sore muscles happen when lactic acid gets stuck in our body. I take baths with epsom salts after long runs (especially if I'm trail running!) and I add a few drops of Young Living oils Aroma Seiz blend and Lavender. I also have YL’s Cool Azul Sport Gel that feels amazing on tight spots and hot joints.
Cardiovascular: This is the one system that I know I need to take better care to support that I haven’t yet. But I know exactly what I’m going to use when I get around to it. Young Living has two amazing products for supporting cardiovascular health for people like me: Cardiogize and Omegagize3.
Here’s a little about both of those products from the YL website:
OmegaGize³™ combines the power of three core daily supplements-omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D-3, and CoQ10 (ubiquinone). These supplements combine with our proprietary enhancement essential oil blend to create an omega-3, DHA-rich fish oil supplement that may support general wellness. Used daily these ingredients work synergistically to support normal brain, heart, eye, and joint health.
Young Living’s CardioGize™ is a supplement that blends essential oils and a balanced, heart-healthy combination of herbs and compounds that help support the cardiovascular system.*
CardioGize supports healthy heart function and may promote a higher quality of life.* This supplement uses the proper synergistic ratio of CoQ10 and selenium, while garlic and CoQ10 provide antioxidant properties and vitamin K supports healthy vascular system function.
Digestion: This is the system I give the most support to because it has caused the most issues for me in the past. I take Young Living’s probiotic supplement Life 9 to support healthy digestion. I also use YL oil blends and single oils: I put DiGize on my stomach and smell it out of the bottle. I use Peppermint EO in veggie capsules, inhale it, or put it on my stomach; I also carry a small bottle of Peppermint with me in my Camelbak to smell when I need a boost of energy or to help combat stomach discomfort on the run. I also put Lemon in my water, which can help promote healthy energy levels and digestion.
Ladies, I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about this issue as much as you all have. Everything that has happened lately to female runners and athletes practicing and training on their own is despicable. It’s disgusting. It’s horrifying. It’s terrifying.
But I refuse to let it stop me from running. I ordered a WearSafe device to have on me when I’m running by myself. WearSafe is a “personal safety solution for today’s mobile lifestyle.” Basically, I can clip this little button to my shirt or to my CamelBak strap and if I need help, I push the button and it automatically places a call to numbers I program in it. The people I call can then hear everything that is going on around me (even if I can’t get to my phone) and decide what kind of help and support I need in that situation. It also gives them my exact location. They can call 911, send an ambulance, and get help to me immediately when I need it.
It sucks so freaking much that we female runners have to fear for our personal safety when we’re just trying to do something we love to do. The system is the problem; not us. We don’t need to stop running alone; other people (mostly men) need to learn not to murder us.
But since we can’t change the minds and hearts of every awful person in the world, the WearSafe device is a good way to give ourselves a little peace of mind so that we we can keep training to our hearts’ content.
8. Set yourself up for success on race day.
By training well, taking care of our bodies, staying consistent in our clothing, water, and food choices and systems, and giving ourselves some peace of mind along the way, we can tackle every single race we could ever want to sign up for.
Set yourself up for success on your race day by following the tips above and you’ll not only survive, but totally ROCK your long distance race.
What are your best tips for new distance runners?