My Top 10 Tips for Training for a Half Marathon

tips-for-running-your-first-half-marathon

A lot of people who have run a couple 5ks and maybe a 10k or two tell me that they have an itch to run their first half marathon, but feel intimidated by the training involved, or don’t know how to get started.

As someone who is currently training for my 10th half, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from lots and lots of training mistakes, and also gain pieces of wisdom from more seasoned runners along the way.

I’ve included some of my best advice below and hope it can help you complete your goal of crossing that finish line with a smile on your face!

Pick a plan.

As with accomplishing any goal, it’s important to figure out a roadmap for how you’ll reach that thing you want so badly. “Just running” each day until your half marathon will not cut it. Having a plan and sticking to it as best as you can will give you a well-rounded training program to help you best prepare for race day.

Increase your mileage slowly.

One of the surest ways to injure yourself and put the kibosh on your training plan is to start out running way too much at the beginning of your training plan. If you’ve never run more than 3 miles at a time, don’t pick a plan that has you running 6-milers during Week 1. Take your time increasing your weekly mileage, and don’t increase it more than about 10% each week.

Vary your runs.

If you’ve selected a good plan, it’ll likely include tempo runs, hill repeats, long runs, and lots of other fun running variations. Again, “just running” everyday will not make you a better runner. But running up hills once a week, doing speedwork at the track another day, and making sure you complete that weekend long run each week will help you become faster and better able to manage longer distances. Just because you can run 5 miles each day, you shouldn’t necessarily do it. Somedays 3 miles at the track working on speed is much more effective for training than a slower, steady 6-miler.

Cross-train.

Cross-train. Cross-train. Cross-train. Lift weights. Do squats and lunges. Strengthen your core. I attribute some of my best half marathons to an increase in resistance training and HIIT workouts sprinkled into my running schedule. I like to throw these things in twice, or if I’m lucky, even three times, each week to round out my training.

Train with a friend.

Hold yourself accountable to waking up for those 6am training runs by training with a friend or joining a half marathon training group. If you’re at all competitive, this is a great motivator, and if you’re on the more chill end of the spectrum, the post-long run brunches will be even more enjoyable with a buddy at your table.

Take rest days.

Half marathon training is taxing on the body. Your body NEEDS to rest on a weekly basis to make sure it can adequately recharge for another week of intense workouts. I know it at first seem challenging to sit back and not run or hit the gym for the day or two, but taking time to rest your legs, do some light yoga, or foam roll will greatly benefit your body on the days you do run.

Experiment with fuel and nutrition.

The last thing you want is to suck into a packet of Gu at mile 10 of your half marathon and immediately throw your stomach into an “I’m going to throw up now, you crazy fool” tizzy. Practice taking mid-run nutrition – like electrolytes and gels, and try to create some consistency around what you eat and drink the night before and the morning before a long run. I always make sure to have lots of water the days before a long run, as well as the morning of. Before a long run I always have a cup of coffee, big banana, and a healthy amount of almond butter. It works for me, but might not work for you, so try things out then stick with what seems to produce good results. Maybe it’s a slice of gluten-free toast, maybe it’s a fruit bowl and half a bagel. And don’t eat anything new or crazy 24 hours before race day. Stick with what your body knows and enjoys.

Study the course.

Are you running a flat course, or one filled with rolling hills? Are you running on a dirt trail, or city streets? What will the temperature be like at that time of year in that area? Study the course early so that you can train accordingly, then make sure you know where hydration and electrolyte stations are before you start your half marathon.

Have fun!

Duh! You paid to run this thing and you will have worked really hard to get your body conditioned to run 13.1 miles. Remember, some races are better than others in terms of results, but you can always enjoy yourself and be content with all you’ve dedicated over the past few months. Smile for the on-course cameras, take in the scenery of where you’re running, feel good that you’ll soon be able to cross a finish line after running 13.1 miles – a very long distance!

 

Weekly Workouts – Week of October 31st

running lake merritt

I love seeing what other people do for their weekly workouts, so I thought I’d also start sharing my own on a regular basis. My hope is that someone out there finds this useful or motivating. At the very least, it’s a good way to hold myself accountable and track my progress.

Sunday – Ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Los Angeles

Monday – Active rest day (I walked 11.5 miles)

Tuesday – 2-mile jog + foam rolling

Wednesday – 1 hour of BODYPUMP

Thursday – 4-mile run

Friday – 25-minute home HIIT ladder workout (included kettlebell swings, kettlebell sumo squats to high pull, kettlebell bent rows, and burpees, all with a 25-lb kettlebell), followed by some ab exercises

Saturday – 10-mile run + foam rolling

Sunday – Rest day

Overall, I felt positive about what I accomplished this past week. Completing a long run the weekend after a half marathon was a big win for me, since, historically, I haven’t run much at all in the week or two following a 13.1 distance. It feels nice to keep the momentum up.

In addition to this, my Friday HIIT workout was AWESOME. I did 20 kettlebell swings between each rung of the ladder, which kept my heart rate elevated throughout the entire workout, and my whole body was pretty exhausted by the end of it. It’s definitely a fun one!

I’m looking forward to getting in some speedwork this week, as well as several good sessions of resistance training. I’ll let you know how it goes next week!

For now, please enjoy this photo of me standing with a Mario Lopez cutout from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles pre-race expo.

standing with a mario lopez cutout

Happy sweating!

Melissa

Across the Bay 12K Race Review

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 3.54.30 PMYou know that tempo run or track workout you’ve been “meaning to do” for dayssss now, but every other little thing just keeps getting in the way? Yeah, that’s been me with this race recap. But I’ve finally laced up my blogging shoelaces, so to speak, and am here to tell you all about my most recent race – the Across the Bay 12K.

Hosted by Represent Running, this is the second race in the Run the Bay series, the first of which (the San Jose 408K) I ran and wrote about back in March. This race, like the name implies, is a 12K (about 7.5 miles) that starts in Sausalito, spans across the Golden Gate Bridge and along Crissy Field, and ends at Aquatic Park in San Francisco.

The race begins with a big ol’ uphill to get up to the bridge, but it was actually ideal, as it spaced the crowds out. After that, it was pretty flat or downhill until the very end at which there was one final climb up Fort Mason, then a glorious decline that took you straight to the finish line. And best of all, YOU GET TO RUN ACROSS THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE!FullSizeRender 2FullSizeRender 3I ran this race with my boyfriend Michel (thanks for being so supportive of my running passion!). Since the race was a point-to-point, there were buses organized to take us from the finish line to the start line. We arrived a bit late, but after a short warm-up and a quick photo we eagerly jumped in with the third wave of runners and crossed the start line.

I have to say, the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful the day of this race. There wasn’t a bit of fog in sight, and a bunch of whales were even spotted right by the bridge (to cheer us on, obviously).FullSizeRender 4Michel and I ran the race together, which was great. With nice weather and someone to talk to and laugh with while you’re running, the course is incredibly enjoyable and the time just flies by. We didn’t run for time, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the experience without being competitive. And take lots of running selfies…IMG_4454 2
After we ran past Crissy Field, along Marina Green, and up that annoying Fort Mason Hill, we descended into Aquatic Park and sprinted to the finish line to be rewarded with 49ers-inspired medals, water, and bags of snacks. And tons of sunshine.
FullSizeRender 5
I truly enjoyed this race and would recommend it to anyone who has completed a 5K or 10K and wants something a little longer in distance before taking on a half marathon. I’m already excited to run it again next year.
Why I Enjoyed the Across the Bay 12K:

  1. I said this already but…you get to run across the Golden Gate Bridge! Even better, you get to run along the side that is normally reserved for bicyclists, so you get a different, refreshing view. This was one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever ran.
  2. The organizer, Represent Running, did a great job of spacing the waves. I was worried there would be some serious bottlenecking on the bridge, but there was none due to 15 minute time differences in corral start times, as well as that big hill at the beginning of the run.
  3. There were tons of photographers along the course – more than I’ve ever seen at a race – and lots of great photo opps.
  4. Finishers received a sweet medal (seen above) and a great Under Armour shirt designed by San Franpsycho.
  5. All of the food items in the finisher’s bag were gluten-free! Oh, and there were free popsicles provided during the post-race festivities.
  6. If you don’t want to run the 12K, there is also a 5K option that keeps you within the San Francisco city limits.
  7. Oh, and how cool is the artwork on the sign below? Little touches like this really show that the organizers tried hard to make this a great experience overall.

Tips for Next Year:

  1. If possible, carpool or get dropped off at the bus loading zone before the race by a non-running friend. We had a semi-challenging time finding parking nearby.
  2. Get there early. We waited a while to get on a bus to shuttle us from the finish line to the start line and missed the beginning of the wave we should have started with.

FullSizeRender 6Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 7.45.10 PM
To round out the day, Michel and I went to church nearby, then had a decadent picnic of gluten-free beer and sandwiches at Lake Merritt in Oakland while we listened to the Oakland Municipal Band play calypso music. It was perfect.

If you want to check out the next race organized by Represent Running, check out the Let’s Go 510K, which is on October 9th, 2016 in the East Bay.

PLUS, if you’re interested in signing up for it, use REPRESENT2016ML to get 10% off registration.

xoxo,

Melissa

 

Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio – A Treadmill Workout You’ll Love

thoroughbred-treadmill-studio-and-represent-running-ambassadors

Treadmills and I have a love-hate relationship. The use of one is obviously awesome for working on intervals and prepping your body for hills, since, you know, you can control your speed and incline manually. In fact, running hills on the treadmill in preparation for the San Francisco Nike Women’s Half Marathon saved my butt (literally) for the notoriously steep Mile 10 haul of the race.

But until this past weekend, my opinion has always been—and I think many people will agree—that treadmill workouts are just kind of boring, and not as enjoyable as getting an outdoor run in.

However, that opinion was rocked last weekend. I took a 45-minute treadmill class at Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio in Mill Valley on Saturday, and no joke, this was seriously one of the most fun and rewarding cardio classes I’ve ever taken.

Continue reading

San Jose 408K Race Review

Posing with our medals after finishing the San Jose 408K Race to the Row

I ran my third race of the year on Sunday morning (what, what!), the San Jose 408K. It’s also my third time running this particular race. It’s so good, I just keep coming back!

El Niño hit hard and it poured rain ALL day and evening the day before the race. It was so bad, Oakland had rolling blackouts and my neighborhood was affected…while all of my running clothes and socks were in the washer, mind you. Fortunately, power came back on within the hour, I was able to finish washing and drying my running gear for the morning, and we woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day.

The 408K is a quick 5km run (4.97 miles) that starts at the SAP Center in downtown San Jose and ends in Santana Row, the perfect setting for enjoying a post-race mimosa or two. It’s an incredibly flat course sprawling the suburbs of San Jose, with only two minor hills along the route.

408K_Map

I ran this race with my sister Mikayla, who has made it her goal to run more this year. We arrived early so that I could take a few photos with the Represent Running ambassador team (which I’m excited to be a part of this year!), get warmed up, and take in the race day energy.

The San Jose 408K starting line in downtown San Jose

We crossed the start line at 8:19 and headed down the Alameda, then down neighborhood streets lined with beautiful blooming trees.

Around Mile 4 we hit Memorial Mile, which always gets me all emotional. Veterans and active military line the street to cheer on the runners, and it’s such an awesome opportunity to thank them for all that they do. It’s also a great tie-in since the 408K benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation.

The San Jose 408K Memorial Mile Sign

Then it’s onto Mariachi Mile, the last stretch of the race. At this point, the sides of the route are dotted with various mariachi bands, all playing music and cheering you on to the finish as you pass by Valley Fair Mall, down Stevens Creek Boulevard and into Santana Row where you can collect your finisher’s hardware.

2016 408K finisher's medal

Reasons Why I Love Running the 408K:

  1. It’s SO well-organized. Shout out to all the volunteers and Represent Running staff!
  2. Veteran’s Mile and Mariachi Mile are great.
  3. The shirts and medals are always unique and well-designed.
  4. It’s fun, easy, and flat, which makes this race inviting for new or non-runners.
  5. I think I really realized how much I love running as I waited to cross the start line at last year’s run. I even wrote a blog post about it.
  6. The 408K is one of three races in the Run the Bay Challenge. If you run all three races (one in San Jose, one in San Francisco, and one in Oakland), you’ll receive a super medal.

After the run, we drove out to Willow Glen to enjoy a post-race Swirl at Aqui’s, followed by brunch at Bill’s Cafe. Truth: frozen margaritas and crispy hash browns are all you need after crossing a finish line.

Swirls from Aqui Cal-Mex and an omelette and hashbrowns from Bill's Cafe in Willow Glen

Overall, it was a great way to spend Sunday; plus, the 408K got me all kinds of excited for my upcoming races in 2016!

The next race that Represent Running is hosting is the Across the Bay 12K and 415K, held on July 10th, 2016 in San Francisco. (If you run the 12K, you’ll get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which offers amazing views of the city!)

If you’re interested in signing up for the Across the Bay 12K and 415K, use REPRESENT2016ML to get 10% off registration.

Let me know if you’re going! Hope to see you there or out on the pavement sometime!

Until then, I’ll be working on upping my weekly mileage so that I’m ready to run a half…and dreaming of the next time I can brunch in San Jose. 🙂

xoxo,

Melissa

runDisney Star Wars 10K Recap

Dressed as Princess Leia and Han Solo, enjoying a RunDisney Star Wars 10K photo opp with Boba Fett in Disneyland

Last weekend in a galaxy not so far away (ahem, Anaheim), I completed my second runDisney race, the Disneyland Star Wars 10K.

I ran the Tinker Bell 10K last May with my sister (check out my recap here) and was excited to run this one with a group of friends and the Han to my Leia, my boyfriend Michel.

We arrived about 45 minutes before our 5:30 AM race start to go through security, check bags, get the our corral, and (in my case) admire everyone else’s costumes. I was super excited to see all of the Rey, Leia, and female Han costumes, and loved being my own Señorita Leia alongside my one and only Juan Solo.

Michel and Melissa waiting at the runDisney star wars 10k start line

A word of advice: if you don’t plan on walking or walk/jogging a runDisney race, I recommend trying to get into Corral A or the front of B so that you can run or jog without having to weave around others. Someone in our large group was placed in Corral C, which put us behind a lot of people. By the time we reached some of the last photo opp lines, they were already closed off, which was kind of a disappointment. Plus, the course path was surprisingly narrow, and within the first few minutes of the race we were already struggling to maintain a decent pace. In fact, I had to weave so much that my run tracker reported I ran almost 7 miles (instead of 6.2).

My other advice for a runDisney race is to stop for the open photo opps and take pictures in front of iconic backdrops (like the ferris wheel at California Adventure). Storm troopers, BB-8, Boba Fett, and more were all stationed along the course, and getting pictures with these characters are all part of the experience!

Continue reading

Running My Way to Positive Body Image & Self-Love

Melissa from Cook Slow Run Fast running by Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA.

 

Before I became a runner, I used to obsess about how much I weighed, how I looked, and what I ate. I fell into the same mental traps that many women (and men) have battled. My abs sure didn’t look like the woman’s on the cover of Self magazine, and I fixated on how my body would never compare to hers.

At the time, I thought that the best way to feel better about myself was to punish my body. I grew up with an aversion to running (I prayed for sickness every school mile day), so I deemed this as appropriate calorie-burning torture.

However, soon after I bought my first pair of running shoes since high school P.E., and got over the fact that thighs have the tendency to rub together when you jog, I forgot that I started this running thing out of self-hate.

Continue reading