7 things I learnt from my first Half Marathon

I recently blogged a race report for Silverstone Half Marathon, my first Half and my number one goal for 2016.

In typical fashion, I've thought long and hard since that race - training, the race day experience, what I'm up to now and how it all started. As much as I appreciate my physical achievements, I wanted to know what I'd learnt from the whole thing.


Taking on Silverstone Half Marathon


I signed up for Silverstone with my friend Hazel after an endorphin-fueled, post-5K conversation. We'd just done the Pretty Muddy Cardiff race last summer and, foolishly or not, figured that after 3 miles and a bit of mud we could take on the world.

Sitting in a coffee shop near Cardiff Castle, our chat had turned to Formula 1 - an obsession of Hazel's.

"Did you know there's a half marathon on Silverstone circuit?" I asked.

"What, actually on the circuit?"

"Yep."

We signed up there and then, without another thought. Well, Hazel did anyway. That's not my style. When it comes to planning, Haze and I are polar opposites. I obsess over every minute detail. I research and print a training plan that doesn't leave my side for 12 weeks. I'm glued to my phone every night looking up prehab techniques, nutritional information and whatever else pops into my head - I must look it up and read every argument for and against it. I pore over #ukrunchat on Twitter. I exhaust all possibilities in order to make an informed decision for me and my training.

Pretty Muddy inspired us to race together at Silverstone 

And I love doing this. Sometimes I do have to take a step back, chill out and remind myself one of the best things about running is its inherent simplicity.

There's no doubt I get really nerdy about running. It's important to me to question, reflect and learn because that's how I get the most satisfaction out of anything. To take on something, develop, improve and recognise my achievements.

This is what I did with my half marathon training. Two years ago I developed ITBS from a poor training plan for what was supposed to be my introduction to half marathons. I was devastated. However, I persevered, researched the hell out of Google, stuck to a plan and conquered my biggest goal to date.

Here's what I learned Post-Silverstone -

1) If you have to pull out from a race, the world won't end and you'll come back stronger. I really was gutted when I decided not to run Swansea Half two years ago. But this three-step approach helped:
a) Wallow in self-pity until your fingers go pruney. It's healthy and normal to feel sad and disappointed.
b) Identify the different reasons you feel sad/angry/upset, and rationally decide if they're important to you. Feel embarrassed and ashamed for pulling out? Do you really care more about what others think than about how you feel?
c) Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, figure out if you can learn from it and push on. Literally visualise yourself doing this. This is by far more fulfilling and empowering than if nothing went wrong in your life.

2) Don't let your training plan go stale. You're 60-75% through your training plan. The miles are going up and it's important more than ever to keep your mind fresh and committed. Except it's easy to get stuck in a rut, as that one-off short cut that got you through a long day becomes habitual. Take a planned break if it means you'll come back refreshed mentally and physically.

3) That little thing called life can, and will, get in the way. Missing a run(s) because you're ill isn't catastrophic. You're still in training and you can still do it. Your ability to adapt while remaining committed makes you stronger.

4) Be kind to yourself. I beat myself up so much I often wonder why I am doing this in the first place. The minute you let other people's judgments (or more likely, what you've convinced yourself other people are thinking) interfere with your self-belief, you stop enjoying running. Remember this is all about you and what you care about. Leave everyone else to their own thoughts and races.

5) Running with friends makes it all the more worthwhile. Most of my runs are solitary runs. I get a lot of pleasure out of that. But doing the Silverstone Half made me realise what was really important to me on this race. For most of the course, we were on target for a 2:30 finish, which we'd both have been pretty happy about - not that we'd set ourselves a target. But then Hazel's back went and my knee was starting to feel a bit iffy. Hazel urged me to go on but I didn't. It was far more important to me to walk with my friend, enjoy her company and help each other out, than to finish in a quicker time. We walked-jogged to the finish line at 2:48, dancing to YMCA blaring out of the speakers, laughing and with memories we'll treasure forever.

Feel the glory with your race bling
6) Soak up the glory. Don't move on from your achievements too fast. Really revel in it and feel proud. What I loved about Silverstone is that I went from doubting my abilities for two years to recognising I could achieve something I put my mind to.

7) Continue to learn. I still made mistakes training for this race, and I'm sure I'll make plenty more in future. I'm human. But I'm committed to continuing to learn. I was surprised I didn't get out of breath once during Silverstone, so I know if I work on my strength training I can correct imbalances around my knee and run faster. Embrace the fact there will always be something you can learn from your training and from race day itself. Therein lies the beautiful addiction of running.



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