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I’ll admit that running a half marathon wasn’t at the top of my bucket list. Sure, I’ve run 5K, and even a 10-miler, but I never thought I’d make it farther than that.

Then my aunt gave me some great advice: run just a little farther than you think you can.

That made me think — maybe I can do it. Maybe running a half marathon is possible. So, I decided to jump in, sign up for the race and commit to twelve weeks of training. I’m now happy to report that I completed my first half marathon at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh race on April 12, 2015! Crossing the finish line, I realized the race was a metaphor for life. With a little determination and a lot of effort, I turned something impossible into something possible.

As with many things in life, that conversion wasn’t always easy, but the result was worth it, and I learned quite a bit along the way. For anyone else who may want to give a half marathon a try, I wanted to share my first-timer tips to get you started off on the right foot.

Newbie Training Tips

(tip titles inspired by encouraging posters I passed on the race route)On a scale of 1 - 10

All About That Pace: Find a training plan that works for you and stick to it!

Once you’ve decided to run, choose a plan that works for you, whether it’s a 10- or 12-week plan, and put training days on your calendar. In order to run longer distances, it’s important to stick to your plan to build up the endurance you’ll need to make it to the finish line.

In my first week of training, I thought about skipping my first “long” run of 4 miles because it was cold. Luckily, my friend Madalyn sent me a text reminding me that skipping training wasn’t an option and I needed to meet her at the gym in 30 minutes. After overcoming that first mental roadblock and realizing skipping trainings was not going to help me reach my goal, I realized I had to be totally committed to following my training plan – no more skipping workouts!

I also completed the race by doing walk/run intervals for the full 13.1 miles. Running the whole race wasn’t the best option for me, so I built the endurance to complete the distance by running for two minutes and walking for five minutes. I completed the race in 2 hours and 30 minutes using those intervals. Make a plan and find a pace that works for you – make the necessary modifications to allow you to reach your goal.

On a Scale of 1-10, I’m a 13.1: Tell others about your goal

The more you verbalize your goal and tell people what you’re planning to do, the more accountable you’ll be to actually follow through. Once all your family and friends know that you’re going to train for a half marathon, you won’t want to fess up that you had to back out because you didn’t train, right?

Telling others also helps build your support system. I can’t tell you how many encouraging texts and Facebook messages I received throughout training that helped boost my confidence. I started telling friends and family (and myself) that I was going to do the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon back in October, and now, six months later I have the finisher medal to prove that I made it all 13.1 miles! However, it wouldn’t have been as easy without my truly inspiring supporters, my training buddies, my “race day crew”.

Run All the Miles: Buy good running shoesRun All The Miles.

I can’t stress how important it is to invest in a good pair of running shoes. You don’t want cross trainers or sneakers that give you flexibility to move from side to side like you would for a Zumba class. You need shoes designed for running and built to stabilize your foot in a forward motion. It’s worth going to a store and talk to someone who will help you find the perfect shoe for your foot – not just any shoe store, but one like Fleet Feet Sports or Bull City Running Co. You can call ahead to see if they offer this service. I have plantar fasciitis in one of my feet, so it was important to find a shoe that was lightweight but offered stability through the middle of my foot. Talk to a shoe expert and find the right fit – these shoes will protect your feet while you hit the pavement during training and on race day.

I’m Only ‘Half’ Crazy: Pack your snacks and tunes for race day

During training and especially on race day, make sure you have the gear to keep you pumped up and energized for long runs. If you like to run with music, make sure you have your tunes in a playlist so you don’t have to switch songs while running, and if you want to try interval running, I recommend the Interval Run app – you can program your intervals and the app will tell you when to switch from walking to running. Also be sure to wear sunscreen or a hat and pack lip balm with sunscreen if running outside – don’t get sunburned.

Also, if you’re running more than 40 minutes, pack snacks! Every 30 to 40 minutes you should fuel yourself while running because you’re burning so many calories. My favorites were the Clif Shot Block gummies – they were easy to pack in my pocket and eat along the route. You need to make sure you keep fueling yourself to push through for a strong finish.

Own This Hill: Stretch it out

The race course through Raleigh was riddled with hills that added an extra challenge on race day. After running, especially when hills are involved, it’s so important to stretch. Static stretches before running — when your muscles are cold – can set you up for injury, but you definitely need to stretch after you run. Stretching keeps your muscles lengthened as they cool down and will help prevent soreness. So stretch after each run, your body will thank you later.

Image: Stephanie Bruce

Image: Stephanie Bruce

Bonus Tip – “Don’t Give Up; Don’t Ever Give Up”: Running with Team V for Cancer Research

What could make achieving a personal goal much sweeter? Knowing you’re also running for a great cause. I was fortunate enough to run for Team V with many friends and coworkers to support Jimmy V’s Foundation for Cancer Research – a cause that definitely hits home for me and so many others. Just a few weeks before he died, Jim Valvano, the beloved former NC State men’s basketball coach, spoke at the very first ESPY Awards ceremony: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!” It’s the perfect mantra while digging deep at mile 10 to push through to the finish line, but it’s also a reminder that people fighting cancer are in a very different kind of race – and they need our support. Team V has raised over $146,000 for cancer research and will continue fundraising through the end of the month.

Training for and running the half marathon was a phenomenally rewarding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I hope you’ll be inspired to make a plan and set a goal for whatever seems impossible to you. Not ready for a half marathon quite yet? Check out how you can jump start your health by simply walking 10,000 steps a day or completing a 5k!

Top image, Stephanie Bruce; gallery images, Allison Bonner

About Allison Bonner

Allison Bonner works in Community Relations at BCBSNC where she coordinates and oversees community partnerships and employee volunteer opportunities. She’s deeply passionate about giving back to the community and changing the world one small step at a time.

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