I ran my first half marathon Saturday, November 3rd.

If someone told me a year ago I would run 13.1 miles, I would have laughed in their face. Running a half marathon was always a dream in the back of my mind that I never thought I could accomplish. I have scoliosis, which means bad knees and running fast has never been a talent of mine. I don’t want anyone to read this and feel that they have to sign up for a half marathon. That is not my goal at all. I just want you to think about your physical limitations and goals. Maybe you’ve never run a 5K before and would like to, or want to run a ten miler, sprint triathlon, or a triathlon. There are great running options for anyone who is willing to give it a try.

I talked with my cousin Bethann in July 2012 about running. She is an avid runner and encouraged me to join her and her husband and their running group for the Rock ‘N Roll Savannah Half Marathon. I wanted to accept the challenge for many reasons. The first being, I wanted to accomplish something I never thought I could. Second, I wanted to focus on getting back into a steady fitness routine and knew the training regiment would be a great way to do that. Lastly, I wanted the bonding experience with my cousin, her husband, and their friends that I knew accompanied running a half marathon. This is my second piece of advice for taking on a fitness challenge or goal: pick an event that will be FUN. The more people involved, the better!
Before you start training, there is something we need to discuss: shoes! The shoes you train in should be the ones you run in. Do your research, ask your runner friends, or ask someone at a specialty shoe store for advice on the right shoe for your feet. Everyone is different and the perfect shoe for your friend (or the prettiest shoe) might not be perfect for you.
Another key element is how you are tracking your mileage. You can go by time if you are certain that you can run a ____ minute mile or you can use an application on your phone. The Nike+ Running app was a complete Godsend! I believe it was about $4, but such a worthy investment. It tracks your time, route, mileage, and calories burned. Upon completing the run, the app stores it so you can track your progress throughout the weeks of training.
I started training in August. I still remember the first run. It was at seven a.m. before the humidity kicked in and I felt great. I trained for 12 weeks before the half. Twelve weeks is pretty typical as far as training time goes. I juggled school and training by entering the days I was to run in my agenda for the full 12 weeks. This was a great way to ensure that I would run that day-you have to hold yourself accountable. I followed a training schedule similar to one I found in SHAPE magazine:

  • I ran Monday, Wednesday, and did a long run on Friday
  • Tuesday and Thursday I lifted weights
  • Saturday was my rest day
  • Sunday was a day to cross train or go for a leisurely run
This training regiment was successful for me, because it worked with my class and work schedule. The key here is don’t set yourself up for failure. Pick a training plan that works with your schedule. If Thursday is your busiest day, then don’t put a long run on that day, you won’t do it and it will throw off your schedule.
One of the best training schedules that my roommates and I love is Hal Higdon’s. Obviously, you would arrange the days to fit with your schedule, but this is a great example. I would advice running further than ten miles for the race from personal experience. The belief is that if you have built yourself up to run for ten, the extra 3.1 shouldn’t be an issue. I would try to go for twelve, maybe two weeks before the race. Those extra 3.1 miles were tough on me! There are different variations for beginning, intermediate, and advanced runners, but a typical example looks like this:
The morning of the half marathon or should I say the night before (I was so excited I barely slept), we woke up at 4 a.m. and I could hardly contain my excitement. We called this the “Christmas Morning Effect”. It was great waking up knowing that the day was finally here and you had to run 13.1 miles. As we waited in the corals, I was so anxious. We were stretching (and taking pictures of course) and really energized by the runners around us.
As we started mile one, the girl in front of me had an X-ray picture of her back on the back of her shirt that said “Running 26.2 miles after having back surgery”. This was the first of many motivating stories along the way that kept me going. One of my favorite lessons from the half was that the stereotypical “runners” that you think of are not the only people running in half marathons. The people are inspirational: cancer survivors, young participants, older participants, you name it!
The run was a blast! I was running with my cousin and her girl friends and we all wore pink tutus that were a total hit and got us many cheers! It seemed as though all of Savannah had come out to cheer on the runners. It was not all fun and games though. There were times where it got very (and I mean very) hard to keep going. However, the energy and the company that was with me on that day helped me through it. I will not deny needing to walk some during mile 8 and mile 11, those were tough ones for me. I had run a ten miler before in Chicago, so the last 3.1 were a challenge. My cousin was the best support system throughout the entire race. For your first one, I would recommend running with someone who has done it before (many times). They have the best advice and know when to slow down and take a breather.
That last mile seemed like forever. We were being goofy and smiling for the photographers along the route and planning our finish line picture. When we finally got to the finish line, the sidelines were filled with people cheering us all on. It was the best feeling in the world crossing the finish line all holding hands! My goal time was to finish the half under two hours and thirty minutes, and we crossed at two hours and twenty-nine minutes. I started to cry, because I was so overwhelmed with the energy of the run, just happy to be done, and excited that I had accomplished this goal. After we all got our medals and the initial excitement wore off, I began to dry heave at the finish line. What can I say? Just keeping it classy!
The weekend of my first half marathon was the best weekend I have had in a long time and my hope is that you will pick a fitness challenge, work hard to achieve it, and get to experience the same feeling that I did. If I can do it, then so can you! It truly is addicting. My roommates and I are training for our second half with my cousin, the Diva Half Marathon in April in North Myrtle Beach!
I have taken the liberty to pick out some dates of local runs in the area for you, just to get you thinking of the possibilities. The full list can be found here: http://www.runwellnc.com/
So here goes:
5K’s in Chapel Hill (3.1 Miles)
February 23- The 20th Annual Kappa Delta Shamrock ‘N’ Run
March 2- Franklin 5K
March 16-Kidney Kare 5K Run/Walk
March 23- Heels for Healing 5K
April 7-Raleigh Rocks 5K
April 13-Cary Road Race
April 27-5K for Fitness
May 4-Guardians of the Hill
8K’s (About 5 Miles):
March 2-St. Paddy’s Run Green in Raleigh
10K’s (6.2 Miles) :
April 13-Cary Road Race
Ten Miler:
April 20-Tar Heel Ten Miler in Chapel Hill
Half/Full Marathons (13.1 and 26.2 Miles):
March 17-Tobacco Road Full/Half in Cary
April 7-Raleigh Rocks Half
April 14-Flying Pirate Half in the Outer Banks
April 14-Run Raleigh Half & Too Slow for Boston Marathon in Raleigh
April 28-Join my roommates and I for the Diva Half Marathon in North Myrtle Beach!!
Last but not least, our fitness quote for the week: “No one said it was going to be easy or pretty for that matter, but I assure you it’s going to be worth it”
Run well, Chapel Hill!

Sarah is a junior at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, pursuing a career in sports business or the fitness industry. A group fitness instructor of Muscle Cut at UNC, she ran her first half-marathon last November and is training for her second in April! You can follow Sarah on twitter @SarahPell14.