3 Tips for First Time Half Marathoners

Contributed by Erin Garvey, a 2017 Ambassador for the Berkeley Half Marathon.

People flock to running for all types of reasons. For some, it’s about a getting a daily dose of endorphins, putting them in a good mood all day long; for others, running is about weight loss, weight management, or being an anchor in a healthy and active lifestyle. Part of running’s beauty is its inherent flexibility. It can do a lot for you, as my earlier comments suggest, and you can do a lot with it, too. You can casually run laps at your neighborhood park, channel your inner billygoat and barrel up and down Mt. Tam, or see how fast and how hard you can push yourself in a local 5K. Your options are limitless, especially here in the Bay Area. 

For many runners, after a while, they find that their goals begin to shift. Maybe they first began running as a way to simply lose weight or to get healthy, and once they feel that they’ve achieved that milestone, they wonder what more they can do with running or how else they can challenge themselves through the sport.

Allow me to suggest training for and racing a half marathon, specifically the Berkeley Half Marathon, in late November.

The half is an excellent and surprisingly accessible distance, particularly if you have been a regular (or semi-regular) runner in the past few months. Running 13.1 miles sounds daunting, sure, but when you compare the training to a marathon, for example, you’ll realize that it’s actually way more feasible than you think. The half is a long enough distance that it absolutely demands respect and proper training, but it’s also short enough of a distance that you can train for it, run well, and still have a life apart from running. To do it well, you need both speed and endurance, but a speed and endurance that is distinct from a 5K or 10K, for example. The half is a nice amalgamation of the shorter road running world (5K, 10K) and the longer side of things (the marathon). It’s a distance that allows you to “half” it all (see what I did there? #momjoke). If you’ve done 5Ks or 10Ks in the past, you can absolutely run a half. If you haven’t done a 5K or 10K in the past, that’s okay. Your training will just look a tad bit different.

Below, I’ll quickly share 3 tips for first time half marathoners:

Get medical clearance, especially if you haven’t been active in a while.

You may think that you’re young and therefore invincible, but be on the safe side and go get a physical from your medical professional. Even if you’re active, if you haven’t had a physical yet this year, go get one. It’s just better to be safe than sorry with this stuff. Chances are that you’ll be fine, but again – better to be safe than sorry. Do it for your parents who worry incessantly about you!

Get in on a team or training network.

Particularly if you’re training for your first half marathon, it’s really important that you do it intelligently, under the watchful eye and guidance of coaches who are experienced with this stuff. It may be tempting to find a plan online and follow it, but unfortunately, many online plans are generic in nature and therefore don’t account for your specific training needs, constraints, or medical history. If you’re local to the SF Bay Area, check out RUN365, the official training group of both the Berkeley Half Marathon and The San Francisco Marathon. RUN365 coaches know their stuff, know tons about the Berkeley race, and will help get you to the starting line healthy and in fighting shape. Bonus: you’ll meet tons of other local runners who are also doing the same race as you! Your significant other will likely appreciate no longer having to listen to your endless running banter after every run you do. If you’re not local to the SF Bay Area, check out training and running groups in your area. Having camaraderie and accountability can be instrumental, especially when you’re doing this stuff for the first time and don’t know what you’re doing. 

Have fun with it!

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but hear me out. Oftentimes the types of people who are attracted to endurance events – such as half marathons – are the types of people who are extremely driven, motivated, and passionate about pursuing and realizing their goals. It’s important to have goals for your first half marathon, but don’t let your zeal overtake the joy that you can find in training and doing something for the first time. In fact, for your first go at the distance, I’d encourage you to not go for a specific finish time goal and instead to simply revel in the experience and aim to finish with a smile on your face. There really is no time like the first time, and you don’t want to rid yourself of that experience.

With the Berkeley Half Marathon being less than 10 weeks from now, this is an excellent time to get your medical clearance, to research your training options, and to begin to brainstorm your race weekend. Running through the autumn, both in the Bay Area and elsewhere, is a real treat. Having a late November race on the calendar will give you even more reasons to get outside more and enjoy the cooling temperatures and changing colors. Give yourself a shot at a half marathon and you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish.

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