I ran the New York City Half this spring as part of a local charity team. It was my first-ever public race, and my biggest concern was finishing the thing without keeling over somewhere between Times Square and Battery Park.
Thankfully, I crossed that finish line alive (woohoo!) and determined to do it all over again in another half-marathon—because survival, as they say on Star Trek, is insufficient. Now I’m gearing up for the Staten Island Half in October, and I have every intention of making my performance back in March look like kid stuff.
How, you ask? Well, I learned a thing or two during my first try at training. Here are the five things I'm doing differently this time, so you can learn from my mistakes.
RELATED: Your Half-Marathon Training Guide
I'm training with a buddy
My husband has decided to throw his shoes in the ring for this race, which is excellent news: battles of the sexes and Feats of Strength aside, it’s much easier to plan our weekends when everybody’s got a long run to crank out. Furthermore, there’s much to be said for not going it alone: researchers from Michigan State University found that women who performed aerobic exercise with a partner performed significantly better (and were more motivated to work out again) than those who exercised alone.
I'm taking rest days seriously
Back in the spring, I took a “more is more” approach to training. I figured that sneaking in an extra run on so-called recovery days would render me all the more Amazonian when it came to race time. In reality, I ended up exhausted; I’m lucky I didn’t hurt myself. “When you’re increasing your physical activity, your body needs rest more than ever,” says Sarah Wenk, the personal trainer and running coach who advised my team the first time around. “You’re putting extra strain on every system in your body. One or two days a week of rest (which can include yoga or Pilates, or one day of total rest and one with something like an easy swim) will give everything a chance to sink in and reset.” Yes, ma’am.
I'm checking out the course ahead of time
I told myself that I’d head uptown and eyeball the race route ahead of time for my first half marathon, but it was snowy and I was lazy. Instead, I found a few maps and read blog posts from people who’d run it before. On the day of the race, I congratulated myself for making it through the hilly part of the course—then turned a corner and discovered much more of it. That process repeated itself, oh, six times; there’s just no substitute for previewing a course in person if you can. (There are also no substitutes for riding the Staten Island Ferry with my training buddy or pizza at Goodfella’s once we’re out there, two additional enticements of the previewing plan.)
I'm doing speed work
"For first-time racers, speed work isn’t essential," Wenk says. "You just want to run your race and have that experience, then evaluate and decide what’s next." That was my reasoning back in the spring, and I ignored tempo runs and intervals in my training schedule. Now that I know 13.1 miles are within my ability, I’m making things weird: a 20-minute hard run on one day, 8 sets of 400-meter almost-sprints and cool-downs on another, and so forth. They are by no means as pleasant as my training runs of yore, but I can feel my bewildered lungs and quads figuring things out. “If your goal is to run faster,” Wenk says, “you have to run faster.” Hang in there, lungs and quads! We’re turning into a real runner!
I'm learning to love the balm
It took me a very long time to acknowledge that chafing doesn’t mean I need to buy yet another sports bra, or feel ashamed of how much I sweat, or overhaul my form again. Chafing happens to me because it’s a common complaint for long-distance runners, and I’m tired of coming home from a training session feeling like I’ve just escaped from a fetish dungeon. If that means getting balmy with Body Glide prior to runs, so be it; by God, this half marathon will be smooth.